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Chicago Skyscrapers, 1871-1934

Chicago Skyscrapers, 1871-1934

Thomas Leslie
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Chicago Skyscrapers, 1871-1934
    Book Description:

    For more than a century, Chicago's skyline has included some of the world's most distinctive and inspiring buildings. This history of the Windy City's skyscrapers begins in the key period of reconstruction after the Great Fire of 1871 and concludes in 1934 with the onset of the Great Depression, which brought architectural progress to a standstill. During this time, such iconic landmarks as the Chicago Tribune Tower, the Wrigley Building, the Marshall Field and Company Building, the Chicago Stock Exchange, the Palmolive Building, the Masonic Temple, the City Opera, Merchandise Mart, and many others rose to impressive new heights, thanks to innovations in building methods and materials. Solid, earthbound edifices of iron, brick, and stone made way for towers of steel and plate glass, imparting a striking new look to Chicago's growing urban landscape. Thomas Leslie reveals the daily struggles, technical breakthroughs, and negotiations that produced these magnificent buildings. He also considers how the city's infamous political climate contributed to its architecture, as building and zoning codes were often disputed by shifting networks of rivals, labor unions, professional organizations, and municipal bodies. Featuring more than a hundred photographs and illustrations of the city's physically impressive and beautifully diverse architecture, Chicago Skyscrapers, 1871 - 1934 highlights an exceptionally dynamic, energetic period of architectural progress in Chicago.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09479-8
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-ix)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xxii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxiii-xxviii)
  5. Chapter 1 October 1871
    (pp. 1-14)

    Peter Bonnett Wight was one of many entrepreneurs and builders who went to Chicago following the Great Fire.¹ Frustrated by a stalled career in New York and seeking to leverage connections he had made during an earlier sojourn to the city in 1858, Wight and a young, talented colleague took up with builders Asher Carter (d. ca. 1890) and William H. Drake (n.d.). Carter, Drake, and Wight would design more than fifty buildings over the next two years, almost all of them four-story mercantile structures in the burned district; Wight’s fellow traveler, John Wellborn Root (1850–1891), became the firm’s...

  6. Chapter 2 “Built Mostly of Itself”: Chicago and Clay, 1874–1891
    (pp. 15-34)

    Timber, stone, and cast iron seemed to be natural materials for Chicago’s commercial architecture, but they all proved susceptible to fire and were eventually relegated to ornamental purposes. These materials were all readily available to Chicago’s market, but the local brick industry made fire-resistant masonry construction even more economical. By 1890, brickmaking had evolved from an artisanal into a fully industrialized process. Investment in clay-bearing pits, machinery, and expertise led to consolidation and better-capitalized brick companies, and Chicago took over from Philadelphia and St. Louis as the center of American brickmaking.¹

    Traditional masonry did not meet the new functional demands...

  7. Chapter 3 Iron and Light: The “Great Architectural Problem” and the Skeleton Frame, 1879–1892
    (pp. 35-60)

    Iron structures protected by terra-cotta offered hope against conflagration, but they also enabled interiors that were more spatially efficient and better illuminated than pure masonry structures. Masonry’s low compressive strength made for large, space-consuming piers that congested floor plans, especially on lower levels where owners typically desired more open retail spaces. It also meant thick, solid exterior walls that restricted natural light. Iron offered solutions to both problems. It required less cross-sectional area than brick or stone for a given load, which allowed smaller interior columns and thus more open and flexible floors. But architects began to recognize that it...

  8. Chapter 4 Steel and Wind: The Braced Frame, 1890–1897
    (pp. 61-77)

    Fireproofed iron brought greater planning efficiency, more effective daylighting, and new forms of expression, but brick remained an important structural component in Chicago skyscrapers well into the 1890s. Despite its formidable strength, cast iron was a troublesome material to fabricate and erect, making it impossible to construct an iron frame stiff enough to resist wind in addition to gravity. Iron’s rise to new heights in Chicago was thus accompanied by brick walls that continued to brace tall buildings against wind even as they relinquished much of their responsibility for gravity loads. This lingering reliance on spatially inefficient masonry eventually found...

  9. Chapter 5 Glass and Light: “Veneers” and Curtain Walls, 1889–1904
    (pp. 78-99)

    The self-braced frame offered benefits in spatial efficiency, building weight, and flexible planning. Freed from the bulk of masonry bearing or shear walls, wind-resistant steel frames largely fulfilled the promise of the metal skeleton on their interiors. Outside, however, the reduction of exterior walls to environmental enclosures offered a tectonic and stylistic conundrum. The continuing charge to build light in order to reduce foundation loads implied that exterior walls might now be seen as the simplest and thinnest possible coverings engineered to take up as little floor space and to add as little weight as possible. But designers were still...

  10. Chapter 6 Steel, Clay, and Glass: The Expressed Frame, 1897–1910
    (pp. 100-124)

    The synthesis of self-braced frame and curtain wall demonstrated by the Reliance and Fisher buildings was remarkably short-lived in Chicago. Only a few similar buildings were erected due to the depressed national economy of the mid- to late 1890s and Chicago’s long real estate lull after the 1892–1893 Columbian Exposition. But as building resumed toward the end of the decade, a new typology, that of a more thickly jacketed steel frame with inset, usually tripartite windows, defined the city’s commercial architecture. This formula became the city’s architectural signature, with terms like “Chicago construction,” the “Chicago window,” and the “Chicago...

  11. Chapter 7 Steel, Light, and Style: The Concealed Frame, 1905–1918
    (pp. 125-143)

    The expressed frame defined Chicago’s commercial architecture for nearly fifteen years. But like the curtain wall and other types before it, it was surpassed by a new tectonic formula as material and performance technologies evolved. The type’s large windows and gridded facades faded in importance after 1910, and in their place came building elevations of remarkable solidity—overtly classical in appearance and detail, with small windows and vast expanses of cut, trimmed, and elaborately ornamented stone and terra-cotta. To many historians, these buildings were not worthy of the name “Chicago School.” Yet these solid skins and concealed frames were also...

  12. Chapter 8 Power and Height: The Electric Skyscraper, 1920–1934
    (pp. 144-172)

    For thirty years after the implementation of the 1893 Code, Chicago skyscrapers were limited by absolute height restrictions. As a result, their designs were focused on making their limited volumes as efficient as possible—first, by bringing in as much daylight as possible while maximizing floor area, and, later, by developing exteriors as environmentally effective solid skins. While structural developments were important—particularly the distillation of wind-bracing systems into efficient moment frames—Chicago’s strict limits foreclosed any serious attempt to build higher than 180 or, later, 260 feet. Instead, intensive research and development into taller skyscrapers occurred in New York,...

  13. Chapter 9 Chicago, 1934
    (pp. 173-184)

    The Field, the Merchandise Mart, the Board of Trade, and the twin riverfront monoliths of the Chicago Daily News and the Chicago Opera represented the end of the 1920s boom, and of three generations of Chicago construction that had pushed toward greater height, efficiency, and performance. With the onset of the Depression, the only major construction in the Loop involved corporations exploiting distressed construction costs or syndicates so broad as to be nearly public, like the Board of Trade. The Field Building went forward only after it proved less expensive than severance payments to desperate subcontractors, and it stood largely...

  14. Appendix Chicago Skyscrapers, 1871–1934
    (pp. 185-192)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 193-208)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 209-220)
  17. Index
    (pp. 221-234)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-236)