Wednesday, July 17, 2024


Chicago was given the nickname “city of skyscrapers” after the appearance of the first high-rise building in the American metropolis. These structures boasted complex and impressive designs, giving rise to a new architectural movement called the Chicago School.

The Chicago School was renowned for its unique architectural style, where the façade was designed to reflect the logic of the building’s structure. The buildings featured steel frames with glass dominating the structure, with vertical elements primarily used in the facade compositions. Read more at Chicago-Future.

The concept of constructing a skyscraper with a frame was born in Chicago

The first skyscraper to be built in Chicago was the Home Insurance Building. The idea of construction belongs to architect William Le Baron Jenney. He invented a way to significantly reduce the massiveness of construction and thus build high-rise buildings.

The architect was tasked with constructing a modern office building for the Home Insurance Company. According to the legend, one day, William Jenney returned home after a hard day at work. He felt tired and exhausted. The architect wanted to sit down to rest in his favorite chair, but there was an old photo album on it. Jenney took the photo album off the chair and moved it to a wire parrot cage. Surprisingly, the thin wire cage easily supported the weight. That’s how the architect came up with the idea of a frame structure, which was later used extensively in the construction of skyscrapers.

Subsequently, construction of the Home Insurance Building began. The building was constructed much faster than a traditional structure. Another advantage was the use of fewer building materials than usual.

In total, the skyscraper weighed only a third of the weight that a similar brick building would have achieved. In addition, it became possible to use large panoramic windows without weakening the entire structure. The building was completed up to the 10th floor when the local population became afraid that the structure might not withstand the load. Therefore, the construction was stopped by the city authorities.

An expert commission checked William Jenney’s invention and confirmed the safety of the building’s structures. The new construction method became popular among entrepreneurs. In a short period of time, many office buildings made of frame structures appeared on the streets of Chicago.

How Home Insurance Building looked like

The construction of the Home Insurance Building was the first to use a revolutionary structure consisting of vertical columns and horizontal beams made of steel. Previous buildings in Chicago were supported by stone walls, which were quite heavy.

The new method consisted in a kind of suspension of thin stone walls on a steel frame. As a result, the walls of the skyscraper were not too thick, and thus the structure could have a greater height without collapsing under its own weight.

In total, the height of the skyscraper was 42 meters and had 10 floors. In 1890, two more floors were added to the House of Home Insurance, and its height increased to 55 meters. The skyscraper in Chicago was recognized as the first building in the world to be taller than five floors.

In addition to its unique design, the skyscraper introduced other innovations in construction, including modern plumbing, wind protection, safe elevators and more.

Demolition of the largest skyscraper

In 1893, the authorities had to limit the height of skyscrapers to 40 meters, because Chicago, like other megacities, was experiencing an acute shortage of space for new buildings. The Home Insurance Building exceeded the permissible construction standards, so in 1931 the skyscraper was demolished. A newer and more beautiful office building, the Field Building, appeared in its place.

The Chicago authorities did not take into account that the Home Insurance Building was of historical value to the city. Unfortunately, other skyscrapers built in the second half of the 19th century suffered a similar fate. Only a few buildings designed by architect William Le Baron Jenney have survived to this day.

An interesting fact is that the first skyscraper appeared in New York only in 1889. It was the Tacoma Building located on Wall Street. At that time, at least five skyscrapers had been built in Chicago, so the city was ahead of New York in terms of economic development.

Architects of the Chicago School

The achievements and successes of William Le Baron Jenney marked the beginning of a group of talented architects and engineers who united to form the Chicago School. The architects worked successfully in Chicago in the 19th century.

Their style was characterized by multi-story buildings and vertical lines in skyscrapers. In particular, after a large-scale fire in Chicago in 1871, there was a need for new solutions related to construction. The ideas of William Le Baron Jenney, who developed a project for a multi-story metal frame structure, became a breath of fresh air.

In 1860, Jenney opened his own architectural studio in Chicago. The architects of the Chicago School designed and created buildings where the composition had a pronounced plasticity of details, structures with logical elements.

The most prominent representative of the Chicago School was the architect L. Sullivan. His buildings impressed with the novelty of architectural images. The architect usually designed the upper floors in an elegant, simple style, while the lower floors were characterized by lavish decor with display windows. The window panes were decorated with architectural ornaments with a combination of floral and geometric shapes.

It is worth adding that the highlight of the Chicago School is the rectangular windows. Each window was a large glass pane with movable window frames that opened like doors.

A few years later, the construction of skyscrapers in New York City reached a new level, but thanks to the work of the Chicago School architects, Chicago managed to retain its status as the birthplace of skyscrapers.

Popular skyscrapers in Chicago

In addition to the Home Insurance Building, Chicago has many other skyscrapers that brightly decorate the city’s architecture.

One of the most popular is the Chicago Chamber of Commerce building, which was built in 1930. It is in this building that the features of the Chicago School of Architects can be traced. The skyscraper has a dismembered facade and a strict rhythm of window openings. The top of the skyscraper is decorated with a stainless steel sculpture of the fertility goddess Ceres.

Chicago is famous for its impressive skyscrapers, and one of the tallest in the world is the Aon Center, which was built in 1972 by architect Edward Stone. With a height of 346 meters and 83 floors, it is the third-tallest building in Chicago, surpassed only by the International Hotel and Willis Tower. Its facade is adorned with white granite, giving it a sleek and modern look.

Another notable skyscraper is the Hancock Tower, built from 1965 to 1969, which has 100 floors and a unique design resembling a column. It is fully glazed, showcasing the hallmark of the Chicago School of Architecture.

While the appearance of skyscrapers has evolved since the first one was built, Chicago remains the most recognizable city in the world for its skyline. Each year, millions of tourists visit Chicago to witness its iconic landmarks and skyscrapers.

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