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Chicago Skyscrapers, 1871-1934

Thomas Leslie

Publication Year: 2013

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, 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. The book includes detailed analyses of how foundation materials, framing structures, and electric lighting developed throughout the years, showing how the skeletal frames of the Rookery, Ludington, and Leiter Buildings led to the braced frames of the Masonic Temple and Schiller Building and eventually to the concealed frames of the City Opera, Merchandise Mart, and other Chicago landmarks. Leslie 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 shows how during these decades, Chicago's architects, engineers, and builders learned from one another's successes and failures to create an exceptionally dynamic, energetic period of architectural progress.

Published by: University of Illinois Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-11

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pp. xi-xxii

For half a century, Carl Condit’s 1952 book, The Rise of the Skyscraper, and its subsequent expansion in 1964 as The Chicago School of Architecture have served as the definitive histories of tall building construction in Chicago during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.1 Condit (1914–1997), a Cincinnati native with...

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pp. xxii-xxv

This project has enjoyed support and sustenance from several funding sources that have enabled it to persist and thrive since its inception in 2004. In particular, a Faculty Professional Development Assignment from Iowa State University, a Visiting Scholar position in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Northwestern...

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Chapter 1. October 1871

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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...

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Chapter 2. “Built Mostly of Itself”: Chicago and Clay, 1874–1891

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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 fireresistant masonry...

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Chapter 3. Iron and Light: The “Great Architectural Problem” and the Skeleton Frame, 1879–1892

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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...

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Chapter 4. Steel and Wind: The Braced Frame, 1890–1897

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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...

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Chapter 5. Glass and Light: “Veneers” and Curtain Walls, 1889–1904

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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...

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Chapter 6. Steel, Clay, and Glass: The Expressed Frame, 1897–1910

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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...

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Chapter 7. Steel, Light, and Style: The Concealed Frame, 1905–1918

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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...

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Chapter 8. Power and Height: The Electric Skyscraper, 1920–1934

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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...

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Chapter 9. Chicago, 1934

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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...

Appendix: Chicago Skyscrapers, 1871–1934

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pp. 185-192


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pp. 193-208


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pp. 209-220


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pp. 221-233

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About the Author

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pp. 234-265

Thomas Leslie, AIA, is the Pickard Chilton Professor of Architecture at Iowa State University and the author of Louis I. Kahn: Building...

E-ISBN-13: 9780252094798
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252037542

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2013