The time is probably near when a new system of architectural laws will be developed, adapted entirely to metallic construction.John Ruskin (1855) The Seven Lamps of Architecture
Ruskin was spot on in this prediction, and the use of steel in particular gave rise to the modern skyscraper. The mass production of inexpensive steel in the mid 19th century made it possible for urban planners to bring to life the idea of skyscrapers. And it all started in Chicago.
The method had been tested in Liverpool, England, on the five storey Oriel Chambers building. But it was in Chicago that the capacity of steel to support taller buildings was first exploited. The city’s Home Insurance Building (1885) is considered the world’s first skyscraper. This ten-storey building was supported by a revolutionary steel frame consisting of vertical columns and horizontal beams, which allowed for much greater stability. It also allowed for more light to enter the building, as the masonry no longer needed to provide support, it simply served as an outer shell or curtain.
At the time of the great Chicago fire of 1871 the city was still largely built from wood. The fire devastated huge swathes of the city centre. When rebuilding began it was still a few years before the skyscraper revolution really took off, but when it did, it transformed the city. It’s impossible to know, of course, what Chicago would look like today were it not for the fire, but historians speculate that its creative new skyscrapers might well not have been designed so early without the incentive of the skyrocketing land values in the downtown area post-fire.
Today the city is dominated by skyscrapers both older and very recent. The gallery features some of my favourites and is my contribution to Terri’s Sunday Stills ‘Metallic’ theme. I’ve thrown in a few metallic details too!
The Bean in Millennium Park, and downtown skyscrapers at dusk
[see here for a slightly different angle, and in black and white]
Skyscrapers in downtown Chicago reflecting the lights of the Crown Fountain in Millennium Park
The Willis Tower (originally the Sears Tower), with low cloud clearing
875 North Michigan Avenue (formerly the John Hancock Center) with its distinctive X-bracing structure
On North Michigan Avenue
The Vista Tower (my favourite of the modern skyscrapers) and others seen from the river
The Carbide & Carbon Building (my favourite older example) surrounded by newer skyscrapers
Entrance to the Carbide & Carbon Building, North Michigan Avenue
Lift in the Carbide & Carbon Building
Detail of a building on South Michigan Avenue
Detail of the Harold Washington Library (built in the 1980s but these aluminium ornamental features added in 1993)
Frontage of the Burberry shop on North Michigan Avenue
On one of the older skyscrapers on North Michigan Avenue
The We Will sculpture by Richard Hunt, Randolph Street
Fire escape on West Erie Street
I visited Chicago in September 2023