Chicago’s masterclass in the construction of skyscrapers

Chicago is the birthplace of the skyscraper. 1,315 high rise buildings crowd into downtown Chicago, 44 standing higher than 183 metres. You’ll get neck ache looking up at the sheer number straining to be the first up to the heavens. Different materials are used in their construction and this in turn has implications for the construction methods used. Carved limestone swirls neighbours steel-frame functionality neighbours concrete stability.

I particularly love the older, Art Deco buildings. The Wrigley Building is my favourite (the one in the middle next to Trump’s modernist, Dr Who’s screwdriver)


The first skyscraper was built in Chicago in 1885 using the steel-frame method. Originally 10 stories high, it stood 44 metres tall and was the tallest building in the world at the time. It was demolished in 1931In the 1920s eleven of the city’s tallest buildings were built. Another boom has lasted from the 1960s and continues today.

The tallest are in downtown districts on either side of the Chicago River and stretching along the waterfront into North Side towards Lake Michigan and into South Side. As they build up architect’s have to take into account the strength of the wind with higher stories actually swaying in certain conditions.

The fascinating thing about Chicago is that criss-crossing this glitzy, flashy, overpowering menagerie of high-risers is an infrastructure of century-old, flaking, steel bridges which carry vehicles over the river and around the city. If it’s not bridges, it’s the paint-pealed framework of pillars and girders that carries the overhead sections of the subway, its silver sardine cans trundling tight against the buildings that have been constructed so close to the track that one could almost drop in coffee to the passing carriages.


So some facts:
The tallest building, at 442 metres is the 110-storey Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower, built in 1974. Trump International Hotel and Tower is the second tallest at 423 metres when it was built in 2009. The view from the bar at the top of the fourth highest, the John Hancock Centre, is really impressive, particularly at night.

The entire city has over 100 buildings over 500 foot, 152 metres.

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