In Chicago itself, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Midway Gardens was a new type of urban emplacement — a megablock of dining, entertainment and performance space, both enclosed and open; and its position to the south of the city centre was indicative of a new pattern of growth to which the electric railway was key, just as the elevator was essential to the skyscraper.
Wright’s efforts to detail and ornament the scheme spoke to speed and location — landmarking with pylons and towers. But the material language and texture had another purpose: Midway was one of the few built instances among a vast catalogue of sculpturally adventurous metropolitan structures in concrete that Wright proposed in the years immediately after his return to Chicago from Europe in the hope of weaving together a modern, unified city landscape like that of Otto Wagner’s Grossstadt, fit to new functions and ideas.
It is the idea of the city conceived as a whole to which Nicholas B Vassilieve returns in his fashion in a setback study from the 1940s, which animates Le Corbusier in his projected campus for Olivetti at Rho-Milan, and of which Ugo La Pietra and Adolfo Natalini are dreaming in their metropolitan visions of the 1960s.
In the wake of its destruction by fire in 1871, Chicago had emerged, with the railroad as its engine of growth, as the hub for the product of a vast developing region of agricultural, mineral and timber resources that furnished consumer goods throughout the American economy. As the small city rapidly grew into a working metropolis, its remaining wooden buildings were torn down and a system of large-scale engineering through masonry and steel frames developed — of which Sullivan’s shoe factory was an early example.