Though modernism was developed in the 1920s, and was popular among many architects by the time the 1930s arrived, in many places it took years for the style to gain favor among clients. In the USA, people often point to the 1922 Chicago Tribune Tower Competition as a turning point, the winning entry was actually a neo-gothic design. In this article, which originally appeared on Curbed, Marni Epstein looks at another potential turning point: three high-profile competitions in the late 1930s where modernist designs were (sometimes controversially) successful.
The Great Depression of the 1930s hit everyone, and hard—even architects and draftsmen found themselves out of work as development and construction dried up amid vanishing capital. They found a partial solution in the Historic American Buildings Survey and Historic American Engineering Record, two programs of Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration that involved surveying and cataloging the country's existing infrastructure. These programs, however, were a long way from the prestige, creativity, and financial rewards that came with new architectural commissions. The work available was limited, and what work existed was focused on the architecture of the past, not designs for the future.