Terri Meyer Boake BES BArch MArch LEED AP
Associate Professor :: Associate Director :: School of Architecture :: University of Waterloo

The Chicago Skyscraper

From the Reliance Building to the Sears Tower

part one: the early years

skyscrapers page 2

part one: the early years

The City of Chicago is called by some the "birthplace" of the modern tall building. Initially iron, and later, steel framing was the trademark of architects like William Le Baron Jenney, Burham and Root, and Louis Sullivan, who were part of the post Chicago 1871 fire building boom. Dense construction started in the area known as "The Loop", before expanding northward across the river along Michigan Avenue. The use initially of iron, then of steel framing allowed for the birth of curtain wall buildings. Although the Bessemer converter was invented in 1867, around the time of the Chicago building boom (1891), a mix of both iron and steel framing could be found.

Up to the invention of the steel frame, high rise buildings were reliant on load bearing masonry walls, such as those used in the 16 storey Monadnock Building built in 1891 by Burnham and Root. Since much of this construction was "post fire", fire protective methods of encasement were normally used around the steel framing. Floor systems were normally made of clay tiles within a steel/iron framework, although some of the earlier buildings used flat brick vaults to make the floors. To this day steel framing is favoured over cast in place concrete in Chicago high rise construction.

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Monadnock Building: North End, Burnham and Root, 1891; South End, Holabird and Roche, 1893::
The north end of the building rises to 16 stories, using load bearing masonry walls that range from 6 feet in thickness at the base to approximately 1 foot at the top..
The southern addition to the building made use of modern steel framing for the entire load bearing structure, allowing a great reduction in wall thickness and an increase in interior leasable space on the lower floors of the building. This images shows the intersection of the masonry load bearing (left) and steel framed sections (right).
Fair Store: William Le Baron Jenney, 1890-91::
The Fair Store was one of the first buildings to use the fireproof steel frame detail, along with "standard" steel members and connection details. The separation of the column from the outside wall also freed the envelope from load bearing responsibilities.
Reliance Building: Burnham and Root, 1891-5::
The section detail is similar to that used in the Fair Store, except for the detail of the outriggers that supported the terra cotta cladding and glazing system. This particular detail is cut through one of the many bay windows, as pictured immediately below.
Reliance Building: Burnham and Root, 1891-5::
This was considered to be the first "curtain wall" building in that the terracotta and glass exterior walls were non load bearing, the windows the largest ever constructed to this point in history.
On can see this window style mimicked in subsequent buildings throughout Chicago. The site was acquired in two stages. Burham built the first two floors, then the upper 13 later once the tenants of the previous building moved out. The upper floors were shored in place while the construction of the lower two went ahead.
Carson Pirie Scott and Company: Louis Sullivan, 1899-1904::
One of the earliest and most famous department stores. Still used as such to the present.
View of the cast iron store entry, under renovation in 2005.
Montgomery and Ward Building: Richard C. Schmidt. 1897-99::
This building was modified in the 1920s, part of the top of the building demolished.
Current restorations to Montgomery and Ward are underway (2005). The tear away of the corner reveals the now protected steel frame on the interior, behind the stone facing.
Auditorium Building: Adler and Sullivan, 1887-89::
This building now houses Roosevelt University as well as maintaining the original theatre space that is renowned for its acoustics, as well as viewlines due the steep upper levels of seating.
Chicago is built on a marsh. This building suffered initial uneven settlement of its foundations due to uneven soil conditions as well as differential load from the tower vs. auditorium vs. office block.
Chicago Athletic Association: Henry Ives Cobb, 1893::
University Club: Holabird and Roche, 1908-9::
Left: People's Gas Company: D.H. Burham and Co, 1911::
Right: Monroe Building: Holabird and Roche, 1912::
The Railway Exchange: D.H. Burnham and Co, 1903-4::
Wrigley Building (left): Graham, Anderson, Probst and White, 1919-25:: Headquarters of the chewing gum by the same name.
Chicago Tribune Tower (right): Hood and Howells, 1922-25::
The Chicago Tribune Tower was the result of a significant architectural competition, in part driven to describe this new building type, the skyscraper.
There were 264 internationally based entries, many of which included designs far more modern in feel than the more traditional "Gothic" version that was selected. Eliel Saarinen's second place design, went on to influence the "setback style" of architecture that was destined to become the trademark of the New York high rise.
Eliel Saarinen's Second Place entry
Walter Gropius' entry: Most modern architects favored this proposal.
B. Bijvoet and J. Duiker entry
Adolph Loos entry
Carbide and Carbon Building: Burham Brothers, 1929::
This 40 storey tower is characterized by the building setback lines that came into law in 1922.
View of the decorative top of the Carbide and Carbon Building. Such decoration at the top of buildings became characteristic of skyscrapers of the Art Deco period.


These images are for educational use only and may not be reproduced commercially without written permission. tboake@sympatico.ca

Updated July 20, 2005