Study Aid 10: Proud and Soaring Things -- The Rise of the Skyscraper and the Development of Reinforced

More than any other building type or form, the tall office building or "skyscraper" is seen as a distinctly American invention. Encouraged by increasing land values, technological advances, and the growth of large corporations, the skyscraper became a universal symbol of American commercial ambition and power. The safety elevator (Elisha Otis, 1850's) was the most significant invention that enabled an increase in building height above 5 storied, e.g. the cast-iron Haugwaut Store, New York City, 1857, J.P. Gaynor architect, Daniel Badger ironworks. Skyscraper construction was also made possible by the development of self-supporting metal frames, effective fireproofing and curtain wall construction. Many of these technological experiments took place in Chicago, which was growing wildly, despite the devastating fire of 1871. According to some historians, the first tall office building to bring together the essential elements of the modern skyscraper is the Home Insurance Builking in Chicago, built in 1883-85 by William Le Baron Jenney. New technological processes in the 1880s reduced the price of steel which was even stronger than iron. As the principles and potential of the steel frame became known, new skyscrapers became less reliant on heavy masonry facades, and buildings became "lighter" with large plate glass windows, e.g. the Reliance Building, Chicago, 1894-5, Burnham & Root & Atwood architects. The most famous Chicago architect associated with the development of skyscraper aesthetics was Louis Sullivan, who was in partnership with Dankmar Adler from 1883-95. Sullivan advocated an integrated tripartite building whose form and detaining would express its function, and give strong expression to the building's vertical orientation, e.g.: Wainwright Building, St. Louis, MO, 1890; Guaranty Building, Buffalo, NY, 1894-5. Sullivan's innovative and non-revivalist styling was not widely adopted. Rather skyscrapers were often clad in classical or Gothic detailing, e.g. American Surety Building, NYC, 1894-5, Bruce Price; Singer Building, NYC, 1906-08, Ernest Flagg architect; and the Woolworth Building, (NYC, 1911-13, Cass Gilbert architect) which was the tallest building on earth for abou 20 years. But skyscrapers were not without their critics, especially when buildings reached such dimensions as to be detrimental to the quality of urban life, e.g. Equitable Life Building, NYC, 1913-15, Ernest Graham architect.

The development of concrete reinforced with metal would also have a profound impact on the course of modern architecture. Like the metal frame, a number of independent designers in Europe and America experimented with metal reinforcing in concrete. In France, Francoise Hennebique patented a system that became widely adopted around the world. In America, Ernest Ransome also developed a system of twisted rod reinforcement that proved influential, e.g. Pacific Coast Borax Factory, Bayonne, New Jersey, 1903. Among the first European architects to attempt to develop a "high-style" aesthetic based on reinforced concrete structure were: Auguste Perret, (apartments, 25 rue Franklin, Paris, 1902; 51 rue Ponthieu garage, Paris), 1905; Tony Garnier, (Cite Industrielle project, 1904-17), Frank Lloyd Wright (Unity Temple, 1904-1906, Oak Park, Ill.); and Max Berg, who took the ancient idea of the dome and radically reconfigured it in his Jahrhunderthalle, Wroclaw, Poland, 1911.

Reliance Building

Date: 1894-95
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Architects: Burnham, Root and Atwood



Photo Taken During Construction Showing Steel Framing

Section - Terra Cotta Panel System

Detail of Exterior Facade

Wainwright Building

Date: 1890
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Architects: Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan

Exterior View


Cornice Detail

Woolworth Building

Date: 1911-13
Location: New York City, New York
Architect: Cass Gilbert

View of Woolworth Building with the World Trade Center in Background

Elevation Detail

Postcard View

Exterior View at Night

51 Rue Ponthieu Garage

Date: 1905
Location: Paris, France
Architect: Auguste Perret

Exterior Facade


Interior View


Date: 1911
Location: Wroclaw, Poland
Architect: Max Berg

Bird's Eye View of the Exposition Grounds with the Jahrhunderthalle in the Center

Section View



Cut-away view of structure