Friday, October 26, 2012

The Miami Herald and the Chicago Sun TImes: A Tale of Two Buildings


The Miami Herald headquarters, Miami of 1963 (Wikipedia Photo)

A few days back the online Architectural Record contained a piece by Miami Herald writer Andres Viglucci which detailed the 6-4 vote by Miami’s historic preservation board to consider the Miami Herald’s 50-year-old bay-front headquarters for historic designation.  This sets the stage, according to Mr. Viglucci, for a pitched battle, not all that different from the current battle in Chicago over the fate of Prentice Hospital.

In the case of the old Miami Herald building a Malaysian casino outfit, Gerling, bought the building last year for $236 million and would like to develop the 10-acre site as a resort complex.

The article described the design of the newspaper’s headquarters as “twentieth century tropical-modern architecture,” which is a label that you don’t see kicked around too much.

So I was curious to see what the building looked like.  I wasn’t familiar with the structure, and I searched for a passable picture of it even before I finished the article.

As soon as I found the photo, I had a sense that I had travelled a long distance and discovered an old friend.  In fact, I thought, “They can call this a twentieth-century tropical modern building or anything else if they want to, but whatever they call it, it’s a Chicago building.”

The Sun Times headquarters of 1958 (Google Images)
Then I went back and finished Viglucci’s article, in which four paragraphs from the end the writer paraphrased the sentiments of a member of the Miami historic preservation board, David Freedman, “’It’s not a MiMo work of art,’ he [Freedman] said,  “dismissing the Herald building as a ‘duplication’ of the old Chicago Sun Times building done by the same architect, Sigurd Naess, though in a markedly different, stripped-down architectural approach known as the International style.”

The Sigurd Naess to whom Mr. Freedman refers was the planning expert who along with Charles F. Murphy and Alfred Shaw, were locked out of the offices of Graham, Anderson, Probst and White the day after Ernest Graham died in November of 1936.  The three men, Shaw, Naess and Murhpy, went on to form their own firm.

Naess & Murphy's Prudential Building in Chicago - 1955 (JWB, 2008)
Mr. Shaw left that firm in 1947, and Naess and Murphy soldiered on, designing the very first tall buildings in Chicago in nearly a quarter of a century, including the Prudential Building of 1955.  Sigurd Naess, who had come to the United States from Norway at the age of 17, retired from the Naess-Murphy partnership in 1958 at which point Charles Murphy scooped up some of the finest young architects that the Illinois Institute of Technology was turning out. 

So I’m guessing that Mr. Freedman didn’t exactly have his facts right and simply went for the first name of the firm when he made his remarks.  The planning for the Chicago Sun Times building, which began in the mid-1950’s, may have involved Sigurd Naess in the early stages, but the Miami Herald headquarters, finished in 1963, certainly did not involve Naess.

In 1967 Helmut Jahn joined Murphy’s firm, and by 1973 was Director of Planning and Design.  Mr. Jahn took control from the aging Murphy in 1981, and the firm was renamed Murphy/Jahn, the name it carries today.  Charles Murphy, who, with no architectural experience to speak of, started his career as Earnest Graham’s executive assistant, died in 1985. 

Trump Tower, SOM - 2009 (JWB, 2012)
But all of that is water under the Chicago bridges.  It was old C. F. Murphy’s firm that came up with the plans for the Miami Herald building, completed in 1963 and for the Chicago Sun Times building, completed five years earlier, as well.

At least they are talking about a stay of execution for the building in Miami.  The Sun Times building has been gone for eight years now, demolished to make room for the second tallest building in Chicago, Trump Tower.

Interestingly, it was today, October 26, back in 1958 that the old Sun Times building opened for business.

And, in another coincidence, Helmut Jahn announced today (October 26) that he is naming Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido as president of the firm, which will from now on will be known simply as Jahn.  

Mr. Jahn will retain the title of Chief Executive Officer at the firm.  Mr. Gonzalez-Pudlio, the new president joined the firm in 1999 after completing his master's degree at the Harvard Design School.  According to Crain's Chicago Business Mr. Jahn, in a press release said of Mr. Gonzalez-Pulido, "His original design approach, first-hand experience with the physical construction of buildings, and his collaborative style of mentoring young architects, will be represented in how we push the limits in future work."

So it's quite a trek . . . from Miami to Chicago.  And in Chicago from old Daniel Burnham, to Earnest Graham, to Shaw, Naess and Murphy, to Naess and Murphy, to C. F. Murphy, to Murphy/Jahn to, finally, simply Jahn.  Six generations descended directly from Daniel Burnham . . . seven generations that produced some of the greatest architecture in the city, perhaps the world.

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