Picturing America: The Chrysler Building
In the 1920s, the growing post-war economy and pro-business climate spurred fierce competition among the (usually male) business owners of the United States. The architectural manifestation of this competition is visible on New York City's skyline, where corporations and wealthy individuals sought to outdo each other by building ever-taller skyscrapers. The Chrysler Building, designed by architect William van Halen for Walter P. Chrysler, an enormously wealthy figure in the automotive industry, has become one of the most celebrated buildings of this period—though this wasn't the case when it was first built. To learn more, view the Picturing America video below.
View the video (6 minutes) from Picturing America.
- What makes the Chrysler Building so distinctive and captivating?
- Why might it be considered “the ultimate symbol of the Jazz Age”?
- How did Van Alen ensure that his building was taller than the competition?
- What were common responses to the Chrysler Building when it was first constructed?
Discussion Questions and EDSITEment Resources
The Chrysler Building can be studied from a variety of perspectives:
- Scraping the Sky: Architecture and American History: In this lesson on the skyscraper’s connection to industrialization, socioeconomics, globalization, and building technology, students construct original arguments regarding the relationship between the evolution of the skyscraper and the modern American city.
- Consider the symbolic importance of architecture by placing the Chrysler Building in conversation with the United States Capitol (Lesson Plan, grades K-5). Consider the following questions:
- How does architecture convey meaning?
- What historic or symbolically important buildings exist near you? Why are they significant?
- What is the difference between a privately-constructed work of architecture, and a publicly-constructed one?
- Situate the Chrysler Building in historic context:
- Lesson Plan: The Industrial Age in America: Robber Barons and Captains of Industry (grades 6-8)
- Lesson Plan: The Industrial Age in America: Sweatshops, Steel Mills, and Factories (grades 6-8)
- Lesson Plan: NAACP's Anti-Lynching Campaign in the 1920s (grades 9-12)
- Connect the Chrysler Building to other mediums of cultural production with this lesson plan about The Great Gatsby: The "Secret Society" and Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (grades 9-12).