Joseph Urban’s Rainbow City

by Admin on Wednesday, December 9, 2009

in Architecture,Color,Design,Expositions & Fairs

(Designs by Joseph Urban.)  Progress in Industrial Color and Protection at “A Century of Progress.” Chicago (American Asphalt Paint Co.)  1933. [45366]

Color and Protection (front cover).

Color and Protection (front cover).

Celebrated architect, interior decorator, exhibition designer, illustrator and color theorist Joseph Urban (1872-1933) went out on a high note.  His final project, a commission to oversee an inventive color scheme for The Rainbow City exhibits of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, drew on the full range of his talents and interests.Fair organizers contracted the American Asphalt Paint Company to realize Urban’s plans, who in turn printed this gorgeously illustrated booklet to commemorate the project.


The Federal Group towers, symbolizing the three branches of U.S. government.


The Hall of Science, featuring a dramatic 176-foot blue and white central tower.

The massive undertaking covered over 10,500,000 square feet of surface in 28 custom colors designed specifically for use in The Rainbow City.  At the time, the American Asphalt Paint Co. estimated the job to be the largest single paint contract of its type ever awarded.  Its completion required the efforts of 350 workers a day for more than six months.


The Travel and Transport Building, featuring a 300-foot suspension dome.

Urban sought to use pigment not as mere decoration, but as a harmonizing element for the disparate structures of the fair’s campus.


The Electrical Group (interior view)

He died in July of 1933 shortly after the opening of the fair–which itself was dismantled less than a year later.  Despite its fleeting materiality, Urban’s vision for the Rainbow City continues to serve as a powerful example for architects and designers of the extent to which bold color can be deployed on a massive architectural scale.

FAB Item I.D. #45366

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Doug Blumenthal Thursday, October 16, 2014 at 4:07 PM

I’m just an Art Deco fan who would like to find an original copy of the “Color and Protection” pamphlet, or perhaps just a copy. Do you have one or know of a source where I might buy one? Thanks much, Doug B, Glendale, California

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Previous post:

Next post: