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2. History and development

Source: Oxford University Press

(i) Before 1945

The first building in which many of these technological developments converged at a sufficient level of maturity, and one that was consciously planned to be conspicuously higher than existing commercial structures, was New York’s Equitable Life Assurance Company Building (1868–70; by arthur delevan Gilman and Edward Kendall, with George B. Post; destr. 1912), which had only five working storeys but was the first office building in the city to have an elevator from the time of its completion. It was constructed with granite piers, brick partitions and wrought-iron beams, but the ironwork was left exposed, a fact that contributed to its destruction by fire. Its counterpart in Chicago, the Equitable Life Assurance Society Building (1872–3; by Van Osdel) was the first building with hollow-tile floor arches.

The New York Equitable clearly proclaimed the forces and motives underlying the creation of the skyscraper. Foremost was intensive land use and the consequent rise in the value of land, particularly in the dense street pattern of downtown Manhattan, which followed economic expansion and the increasingly financial and institutional nature of business. The need to earn a maximum return on the investment in land and buildings and to centralize all services necessary to public occupancy were the chief economic factors in erecting ever higher buildings. Personal and corporate aims were satisfied by the combination of the sensational advertising value of great height, the prestige conferred by elegant design, and the image—especially important to insurance and banking companies—of integrity, respectable wealth, civic idealism and community service. A feature that achieved major importance was the elevator: it not only allowed construction to the available height limits but gave the top-floor space the highest status in the business hierarchy, commanding the highest rents.

The progressive increase in the height of skyscrapers and more assured architectural control resulted in tall buildings of great visual power and technical audacity. The most decisive step for architectural form after the Equitable was the New York Tribune Building (1873–6; by Richard Morris Hunt; destr.) in New York. Hunt sought an entirely new form, something that proclaimed the idea of ‘skyscraper’, at least in youthful but promising form. The masonry building had eight storeys and a two-storey mansard-roofed attic and dormers, with a vertical emphasis provided by prominent piers and a tower capped by a spire. The technological innovations of the 1880s that culminated in Gilbert’s Tower Building (1887) were adopted in a series of elegant towers in various classical modes erected in New York in the 1890s; notable examples include the Gillender Building (by Berg & Clark), the Central Bank Building (by William H. Birkmire) and the 20-storey American Surety Building (1894–5; by bruce Price; now the Bank of Tokyo); the latter established the braced and riveted steel skeleton frame in New York, enabling heights to be increased further.

Technological innovation developed rapidly in Chicago, where reconstruction was taking place after the fire of 1871, and it was accompanied by a more functional architectural expression to suit the technology. The Home Insurance Building (1883–5; destr. 1931) by william le baron Jenney, which introduced the use of steel, had a classicizing masonry skin, but it was quickly followed by three distinguished works that demonstrated the city’s pre-eminence in skyscraper design: the 16-storey Monadnock Building (1889–91; by daniel h. Burnham and john wellborn Root), a narrow slablike form that depended on great simplicity and sculptural mass in brick for its powerful expression; and the 22-storey steel-framed, terracotta-clad Masonic Temple (1890–92; by Burnham and Root) and the Schiller Theater Building (1891–3; by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler; destr.), which were lighter and more open, marked by a pronounced vertical emphasis, particularly dynamic in the Schiller. The aesthetic and philosophical aspects of the skyscraper were explored by Sullivan in an influential essay (1896), in which he wrote that the tall building should be ‘every inch a proud and soaring thing’ and evolved his famous maxim ‘form ever follows function’. His rationalized, but ornamented designs of this period (, ) contrasted with the structural expression of the 15-storey Reliance Building (1889–95) by Burnham & Co., which marked the culmination of the Chicago school. Further technical innovations appeared in the 17-storey Old Colony Building (1893–4; by Holabird & roche), Chicago, which introduced an exceptionally rigid form of wind bracing known as portal-arch bracing. Another innovation at the turn of the century had revolutionary implications: the 16-storey Ingalls Building (1902–3; by Elzner & Anderson) in Cincinnati was the first skyscraper supported by a reinforced-concrete frame, and although it was modest in height, it held immense promise for the future.

A strict height-limitation ordinance arrested further progress in Chicago until after World War I, but unparalleled increase in height, progress in braced steel framing and imaginative formal expression produced three sensational triumphs in New York in the early years of the 20th century. The 47-storey Singer Building (1896–8; tower, 1906–8; by ernest Flagg; destr.), a slender tower in the Beaux-Arts mode, established a new height record. This was quickly exceeded by the Metropolitan Life Building (1907–9; by Napoleon Le Brun), an adaptation of the campanile form to the skyscraper. Both gave place to the 55-storey Woolworth Building (1910–13; for illustration see Gilbert, cass), an acknowledged masterwork of skyscraper design. Its Gothic inspiration was later echoed in the 34-storey Chicago Tribune Tower (1923–5; by Raymond Hood and John Mead Howells), Chicago, the winning entry in a famous competition that produced a wide variety of designs, including some strikingly modern ones from European architects .

Concern over the effect of the succession of tall buildings on the crowded streets of Manhattan resulted in a zoning ordinance (1916) that required them to be stepped back above a certain height; this led to the distinctive shape of skyscrapers in New York (e.g. McGraw-Hill Building, 1931–2; by Raymond Hood and others). Meanwhile Gothic and classical forms were superseded in the mid-1920s by the Art Deco style, which reached its culmination in the 77-storey Chrysler Building (1928–30; by william Van alen), the 86-storey Empire State Building (1931; for illustration see Shreve, lamb & harmon)—both erected to be the world’s tallest building—and the 70-storey RCA Building (1932–4; by Hood and others), which is part of the Rockefeller Center (for illustration see Rockefeller). The 37-storey Daily News Building (1929–30; for illustration see Hood, raymond; see also Howells, john mead), on the other hand, reflected a more functional approach. These buildings marked the end of the great age of skyscraper design, abruptly terminated by the Great Depression, but by this time the skyscraper had spread to every major city in the USA, and one of the first International Style skyscrapers in the USA, the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society Building (1929–33; by george Howe and William Edmond Lescaze), had been erected in Philadelphia.

In Europe, isolated projects for tall buildings were produced by Antoni Gaudí (‘American Hotel’, 1908) and Adolf Loos (Gartenbaugründe, Vienna, 1916), and they appeared in the urban visions (1913–14) of the Italian Futurists Antonio Sant’Elia and Mario Chiattone (for illustration see Sant’elia, antonio). It was not until the 1920s, however, that the skyscraper became a subject of widespread interest outside the USA. In 1922 Le Corbusier made the skyscraper the centrepiece of his utopian urban schemes: cruciform residential skyscrapers were placed along broad thoroughfares in a park-like landscape in his Ville Contemporaine project (1922) and the Plan Voisin (1925) for the centre of Paris. At the same time many architects in Germany were making an intensive study of very tall buildings. Projects were produced for almost all cities, although most of them ignored both the demand and the economic possibilities. They were part of an intense cultural preoccupation with the USA and an attempt to regain confidence after World War I by means of bold, large-scale projects. While most architects involved were conservative, some avant-garde projects caused a stir, among the most famous being the two Expressionist glass skyscraper designs by Mies van der Rohe (1919–21), which pointed the way for 20th-century architecture. One of the few realized projects was the 16-storey Hansahochhaus (1924; by Jakob Koerfer), Cologne, which was then the tallest office building in Europe. The most inventive and unusual high-rise designs of the 1920s were produced in the context of Soviet Constructivism between 1919 and 1934, for example the ‘Wolkenbügel’, (Cloudprop) skyscraper design (unexecuted; Moscow, Tret’yakov Gal.) by El Lissitzky, and office-block designs (1927 and 1934) by Ivan Leonidov. In the 1920s the triumphant march of the skyscraper spread to other continents: the 26-storey Palacio Salvo (1923–6; by M. Palanti), Montevideo, was the tallest building in South America until World War II.

(ii) 1945 and after

The International Style, featuring skeletal steel frames and glass curtain-walls, which emanated from the USA, was widely adopted for skyscrapers in countries around the world in the 1950s and 1960s. The main influence on the development of this style were buildings by Mies van der Rohe, including the Lake Shore Drive Apartments (1948–51), Chicago , and the Seagram Building (1954–8; with Philip Johnson), New York, and others by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), such as Lever House (1950–52), New York . The Seagram Building, set in an open plaza, became a model for a change in the city zoning code (1961), in which the step-back rules were replaced by requirements for public open space. A notable example in Europe is the Pirelli Building (1956–8; by Gio Ponti, with Pier Luigi Nervi), Milan, which was one of the first skyscrapers of this period designed on a non-rectangular plan (for illustration see Ponti, Gio). It was moreover designed with the floors cantilevered out from a central support, a concept used by Frank Lloyd Wright in such individual buildings as the Johnson Wax Laboratory Tower (1944), Racine, WI, the Harold Price Tower (1953–6), Bartlesville, OK, or his project for a Mile-High Skyscraper (1956; unexecuted) in Chicago, which formed an elongated pyramid tapering to a needle-like point.

In the 1960s utopian projects for so-called megastructures were produced, particularly in Europe and Japan, and at the same time attempts were made to develop an entirely new type of skyscraper in which interchangeable living units were attached to a central service tower (e.g. Nakagin Capsule Tower, Tokyo, 1972; by Kishō Kurokawa; for illustration see Metabolism). More significantly, this period was also marked by the development of a new structural system in which a load-bearing exterior structure acts as a rigid tubular cantilever, the most efficient solution for resisting wind loads on buildings over c. 70 storeys. It was first applied to reinforced-concrete structures from about 1963, but the development of the braced tubular cantilever in steel (by Myron Goldsmith and Fazlur Khan) made possible the most spectacular skyscrapers of the 1970s: SOM’s 100-storey John Hancock Center (1969), Chicago, in which a tube structure is combined with diagonal bracing expressed on the exterior; their 114-storey Sears Tower (1974), Chicago, which is designed as nine ‘bundled tubes’ tied together with trusses every 30 floors (banks of express lifts run within each separate section); and the twin 110-storey tube towers of New York’s World Trade Center (1964–74, destr. 2001) by Minoru Yamasaki and Emery Roth & Sons, clad in stainless steel with gothicized detailing at base and top. Meanwhile, notable reinforced-concrete skyscrapers were built, for example in Australia, as seen in the 68-storey MLC Centre (1972–5; by Harry Seidler, with Pier Luigi Nervi), Sydney, then the second-highest concrete building in the world; it has eight columns at the angles of the octagonal plan, and structurally expressive precast façade beams provide sun-shading for the windows (for illustration see Seidler, harry).

From the mid-1970s the skyscraper was influenced by changing stylistic tendencies. Late modern design produced a series of taut, prismatic, geometrical forms (some circular or elliptical in plan), often clad in mirror glass or aluminium. Examples include buildings by I. M. Pei & Partners, such as the John Hancock Tower (1967–76), Boston, and Allied Bank Plaza (1986; now first Interstate Tower), Dallas; and others by Cesar Pelli, such as the Canary Wharf Tower (1988–91), London (for illustration see Property development). A variation on this theme is provided by the National Commercial Bank (1977–82), Jiddah, a triangular building with a smooth, unbroken masonry skin pierced by three large openings providing shaded glazing (for illustration see Skidmore, Owings & Merrill). In the 1980s the influence of Post-modernism became apparent, as seen in the AT&T Building (1980–83; now the Sony Building), New York, by Philip Johnson and John Burgee, featuring a ‘Chippendale’ pediment , and the Republic Bank Center (1981–4), Houston, with Flemish Guildhall allusions (for illustration see Johnson, Philip); a collage-like approach was adopted by Michael Graves in his Public Services Building (1983), Portland, OR .

At the opposite stylistic pole are buildings shaped by a constructional High Tech aesthetic, such as the Lloyds Building (1977–86), London (for illustration see Rogers, richard), and the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank (1985), Hong Kong (for illustration see Foster, norman). The design of other buildings of the late 1980s and 1990s moved between these tendencies, having articulated masonry or glass skins, historicist detail and eccentric rooftop silhouettes. This can be seen in the work of the New York firm of Kohn Pederson Fox (e.g. the Heron Tower, New York, 1984–7) and in that of the Chicago firm of Murphy/Jahn; while Helmut Jahn’s 1 South Wacker Drive (1980–84) is a late modern complex of glass towers, the Northwestern Terminal (1979–87), Chicago, reflects the style of the Art Deco skyscrapers of the 1930s. Jahn also designed the 56-storey Convention Centre (1991) in Frankfurt am Main, the tallest building in Europe in the mid-1990s.

Carl W. Condit
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press


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