Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Chicago Skyline Camouflage | Merchandise Mart

Camouflaged Merchandise Mart (c1943), Chicago
In its May 23, 1943 issue, The Milwaukee Sentinel included an illustrated article on the “Newest Tricks of Camouflage” (p. 41). Among the featured topics was the application of disruptive patterns to buildings in urban centers like Chicago, to make it more difficult for enemy aircraft to recognize conspicuous landmarks. The article included the above image, a “doctored” aerial photograph of that city’s Merchanise Mart (which had been at one time the world’s largest building) to show the effects of disruption.

The caption with the photograph reads—

The Merchandise Mart in Chicago as it would appear after camouflaging by the Army’s hocus pocus artists. Through a Nazi’s bombsight the single large object would seem a number of smaller innocuous ones—all by the ingenious use of paint.

In the accompanying article, the following paragraph also appears—

If and when Nazis fly over an American city, say Chicago, our camouflage artists are ready for them, along with our anti-aircraft crews. Every large building, such as the Merchanise Mart, will be so camouflaged that even with binoculars from on high the Nazis will see only a crazy quilt confusion that will give their bombardiers trouble in distinguishing steel and concrete from mere razzle-dazzle.

Experiments in building camouflage had been used earlier in World War I, as seen in the camouflage pattern applied to the Victoria Hospital in the UK (shown below). The WWII proposal to camouflage the Merchandise Mart may have originated with Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (founder and head of the New Bauhaus in Chicago) and Hungarian designer György Kepes (who taught camouflage at the same school). In 1969, Moholy’s widow, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, recalled the following in her book, Moholy Nagy: Experiment in Totality (pp. 183-184)—

On December 19, 1942, Moholy was appointed to the Mayor’s personal staff in charge of camouflage activites in the Chicago area.…[in the course of which] he pondered how to conceal the vastness of Lake Michigan with a simulated shore line and floating islands…As head of the Camouflage Workshop, György Kepes produced a wider range of new techniques and concepts. When they were displayed for the first time in 1943, they aroused wide attention.

Camouflaged Victoria Hospital (c1918)