Raymond Mathewson Hood

Inducted: 1988
Born: 1881
Died: 1934

Raymond M. Hood has been called the last great architect of America’s Metropolitan era. He is best known for his designs of the Tribune TowerAmerican Radiator Building, and Rockefeller Center. Through a short yet highly successful career, Hood exerted an outsized influence on twentieth century architecture. He was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island on March 29, 1881, to John Parmenter Hood and Vella Mathewson. John Hood was the owner of J.N. Polsey & Co., a crate and box manufacturing company. In 1893, the Hood family visited the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, an experience that may have sparked young Hood’s interest in architecture. In 1898, he graduated from Pawtucket High School. Later that year, Hood enrolled at Brown University, studying, mathematics, rhetoric, French, and drawing. In 1899, seeking more opportunities to pursue an architectural education, Hood enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At MIT, Hood studied under Constant-Désiré Despradelle, a prominent proponent of the Beaux-Arts style.

Hood excelled at creating meticulously rendered architectural drawings, and after graduating worked as a draftsman for Ralph Adams Cram, architect and writer, and the foremost Gothic revival architect in the United States. Inspired by the influential English critic John Ruskin, Cram became an ardent advocate of and authority on English and French Gothic styles. In 1888 he opened an architectural firm in Boston, where he became associated with B.G. Goodhue and later with F.W. Ferguson. Together they designed St. Thomas’ Church (New York City), Euclid Avenue Presbyterian Church (Cleveland), the First Baptist Church (Pittsburgh), and many other major churches, as well as the buildings of the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. Cram and Ferguson transformed the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (New York City) from a Romanesque to a late Gothic building, making it one of the great cathedrals of the world.

During his time with Cram, Hood worked on the 1899 design of the Classical Revival Deborah Cook Sayles Public Library in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and proposed designs for Pawtucket City Hall, Providence Civic Center and the Providence County Courthouse.  In June 1904, Hood left Cram for Europe to study at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Hood failed his first attempt at the entrance exam in October 1904 though he was accepted after his second attempt in 1905. His project at the École was a city hall for Pawtucket, Rhode Island, his hometown. The project, which was never realized, fused classical features with modern technology. While a student at the École des Beaux-Arts, Hood met John Mead Howells, with whom he later partnered. Hood frequently employed architectural sculptor Rene Paul Chambellan both for architectural sculptures for his building and to make models of his projects. Hood is believed to have coined the term “Architecture of the Night” in a 1930 pamphlet published by General Electric.  

In 1911, Hood returned to the United States and  designed an ambitious plan for downtown Providence. The project’s defining feature was a 600 feet civic tower, whose pedimented base occupied the entire southern edge of Exchange Place. The plan, which was likewise never realized, was published in The Providence Journal under the headline “A Striking Plan for Dignifying Civic Centre.” In 1922 the Chicago Tribune hosted an international interior and exterior design competition for its new headquarters to mark its 75th anniversary, and offered $100,000 in prize money with a $50,000 first prize for “the most beautiful and distinctive office building in the world.” The competition worked brilliantly for months as a publicity stunt, and the resulting entries still reveal a unique turning point in American architectural history. More than 260 entries were received. The winner was a neo-Gothic design with buttresses near the top, designed by Raymond M. Hood and John M. Howells. They beat the designs of prominent competitors, including Eliel SaarinenWalter Gropius, and Adolf Loos. Built for Chicago Tribune owner Robert R. McCormick, the tower was the home of the Tribune, and the related Tribune MediaTribune Broadcasting, and it is listed as a Chicago Landmark. Its predecessor, the first “Tribune Tower,” had been built in 1868 and was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

The design proved pivotal in Hood’s career, catalyzing his emergence as a preeminent architect of the era. Among the commissions received by Hood in the immediate wake of his design for the Tribune Tower, was a design for a New York office tower for the American Radiator Company. In his 1924 design for the building, Hood moved towards a looser interpretation of Gothic architecture, cladding the structure in black brick. The design was additionally noted for its revolutionary use of lighting. According to art and architectural historian Dietrich Neumann, the design “helped to introduce a new age of color and light in American architecture.”

Hood did not consider himself an artist, but saw himself as “manufacturing shelter,” writing: “There has been entirely too much talk about the collaboration of architect, painter, and sculptor; nowadays, the collaborators are the architects, engineers, and plumbers. Buildings are constructed for certain purposes, and the buildings of today are more practical, from the standpoint of the man who is in them than the older buildings. We are considering effort and convenience much more than appearance or effect.” Hood’s design theory was that he valued utility as beauty: “Beauty is utility, developed in a manner to which the eye is accustomed by habit, in so far as this development does not detract from its quality of usefulness,” Hood wrote. 

Despite his devotion to utility, Hood’s designs featured non-utilitarian aspects such as roof gardens, polychromy (the practice of decorating architectural elements in a variety of colors) and Art Deco ornamentation. As much as Hood might insist that his designs were largely determined by the practicalities of zoning laws and the restraints of economics, his major buildings were different enough to suggest that Hood’s design artistry was a significant factor in the result.

Hood’s major works include:

Unbuilt Projects


In 1984, the Whitney Museum hosted an exhibition of Hood’s work entitled “City of Towers.” Curated by Carol Willis, the exhibit featured Hood’s sketches and blueprints. In 2020, The David Winton Bell Gallery at Brown University, Hood’s alma mater, held an online exhibition titled “Raymond Hood and the American Skyscraper.” The exhibition focused on a selection of Hood’s built and unbuilt skyscrapers, and included about 70 of his architectural drawings, photographs, models, and books.

For further reading:

  1. Conklin, Jo-Ann; Duval, Jonathan; Neumann, Dietrich (2020).Raymond Hood and the American Skyscape, Providence, RI, David Winton Bell Gallery.
  2. Talmey, Allene (April 11, 1931). “Man Against the Sky,” The New Yorker.
  3. Robins, Anthony W. (September 11, 1979).New York Landmarks Preservation Commission.
  4.  “Architecture of the Night.” General Electric Company (1930)
  5. The Raymond Hood Photograph Collection at the New-York Historical Society
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