William Van Alen (1883 – 1954) was an American architect born in Brooklyn, New York. He was professionally active in New York.
He studied at the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn. In 1908, he was at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, under Victor-A.-F. Laloux.
He was an office boy in the architecture office of Clarence True in New York. He worked for architecture firms Copeland and Dole and Clinton and Russell. He became an H. Craig Severance partner and known for distinctive multi-storey commercial buildings that abandoned traditional base, shaft, and capital arrangement. From cl 925, he practised alone.
His architecture included the 1926 Child’s Restaurant Building, 1928 Reynolds Building, both in New York.
Van Alen was best known for his 1928-31 Chrysler Building, 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue, New York. Its distinctive features included the decorative brickwork frieze of automobile wheels and radiator caps, and stainless-steel gargoyles at the 31st-floor level, with other notable work on the 63rd-floor facade. The decoration was derived from the 1929 Chrysler automobile hood ornamentation. The building’s lobby was one of the most striking examples of Art Deco in the USA and incorporated dramatic murals, beige and red marble walls, and other walls and elevator doors inlaid with African woods based on floral abstraction.
Womb and shell chairs, biomorphic tables, cat’s cradle pedestals, and architectural shapes are reminiscent of the Second World War’s fertile furniture design era. Hand in hand with fashion trends – the “new look” of the 40s by Christian Dior and the “sack” dress of the 50s by Balenciaga – home furnishing designers cast aside wartime limitations and played with new shapes and materials such as plastics, tubular and stainless steel and lightweight alloys.
In Chicago, the Institute of Design was established by László Moholy-Nagy in 1939, following several short-lived precedents beginning with the New Bauhaus in Chicago, established in 1937 under the direction of Moholy-Nagy, with Walter Gropius, a former member of the Bauhaus, as a consultant.