Cool Building Wednesday: NBC Tower

February 24, 2010


(photo by Lee Bey)

It's been more than 20 years--can it be?--since NBC Tower popped up on Cityfront Center. An Art Deco building 60 years after the fact; a piece of the 30 Rock that had landed in the Midwest.

There was more than a little discussion about the retro design of the 37-story tower when it was completed in 1989. Shouldn't Chicago look forward rather than backward and all that. And that the building came from the design studios of SOM--a firm that was in the forefront of modern architecture for 40 years by then--only added to the chatter.

(And before we go any further,‚  let me point out this blog is subtitled "Beyond the Boat Tour" and this post--admittedly--kinda flies in the face of that. There is even a tour boat in the lower right of the photo above.)

But the tower's design has held up well 21 years on. It looks like a broadcast building, doesn't it? You can almost see the RKO radio bolts emanating from that spire. Designed by Adrian Smith (who left SOM in 2006 to form his own firm) the upswept, limestone clad tower recalls Raymond Hood's‚  70-story RCA Building in New York City from 1933, yet the decorative flying buttresses at midsection are reminiscent of the ones that crown Hood & Howell's Tribune Tower.

Still....you gaze at NBC Tower and you can't help but think of what has changed since the building opened.‚  The building represents‚ the time when the Peacock reigned supreme--before the internet, the iPod, reality TV shows and cable TV fractured its viewership.‚  It was Cosby, Johnny Carson and Seinfield then. Seems like almost 80 years ago, even if it isn't.

Maybe Smith and SOM were really on to something after all.