“The story of these two artists’ similarities and differences is complex and entangled,” said Rudy, “but there’s something about the simplicity of a face-off, of a clear opposition that satisfied the public, and I daresay it does today.”

Rivalry can also be a great source of creativity, she noted, particularly in the architectural realm. She offered up the example of a 1922 design contest for a new headquarters for the Chicago Tribune. The competition received more than 260 submissions from 23 countries. The winning idea, a neo-Gothic design by New York-based architects Raymond Hood and John Mead Howells, is still a fixture of the Chicago skyline — but one of the losing drawings had an even greater impact.

When sketches for the competition were published in a book a year later, a submission by Adolf Meyer and his partner Walter Gropius, who founded the revolutionary 20th-century German school known as the Bauhaus, caused a stir. Their vision of a sleek geometric skyscraper “sought to be thoroughly modern without explicit references to past historical form,” said Rudy, and their approach “would be adopted by subsequent generations of architects, and today the style dominates many urban landscapes.”

Gropius eventually joined Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. His Tribune competition drawings and photographs are included in the collection of Harvard’s Busch-Reisinger museum, which houses the Gropius Archive and the largest Bauhaus-related collection outside Germany.

Almost 60 years after the Chicago competition, an undergraduate at a school a little south of Cambridge would design a transformative war memorial. In 1981, Maya Lin was a senior at Yale when her design was chosen for a Washington memorial honoring U.S. service members who died in the Vietnam War. Selected from more than 1,400 submissions, Lin’s “minimal plan,” said Spira, “was in sharp contrast to the traditional format for memorials, which usually included figurative heroic sculpture.”

Instead, Lin envisioned a “V-shaped form that would be literally carved into the landscape” of the National Mall, one that would relate directly to the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial and “tie the three together physically and historically.”

As a Washington, D.C., native, Spira said she considers Lin’s final product, a black granite wall engraved with the names of more than 58,000 dead or missing “one of the most significant and emotive on the Mall.”


Bringing monuments to life

Conceptual artist Krzysztof Wodiczko aims to give voice to the voiceless through his projections on buildings, statues

Creating art from Radcliffe archives

Tomashi Jackson draws on images from Schlesinger Library for pieces inspired by Brown v. Board of Education

Something darker than awe

Wrapping your mind around massive artworks of Christo and Jeanne-Claude is a complex process, psychologist says