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.

Chicago – the Windy City

Hello, everyone. I am here in Chicago visiting my daughter, Kate. She lives on the edge of downtown Chicago, high up on floor 26 which is an ideal place from which to get my bearings.

Stretching away from me to the far horizon, I can see through the gaps in neighbouring apartment towers, a toy town of miniature streets separating blocks of flat roofed commercial units, renovated warehouses, offices, multi-floors of dwellings and apartments. From up here there is nothing private, everything is out there and on show – the turquoise waters and lined-up sun beds of swimming pools, the balconies of apartments with their dolls house furniture all still praying to the sun and ignoring the fact that winter snows are around the corner. I can follow trucks and cars and Little People, fidgeting about the streets with purposeful intent going…..goodness knows where – work?

From up here I can watch the endless traffic on the tracks of the marshalling yards, six in one direction, three in another, bending and wriggling over and under each other. Two-storied, silver wagons are pushed and pulled about into convoys of shining transport worms before disappointing around the bend, sometimes four at a time are ringing the curves. This is all accompanied by the clanging of bells, the roar of diesel engines and the horn. Oh, the train horn. The sound of so many American movies. I can only be in the US.


Down at street level the neighbourhood becomes real, the tracks curving around the streets, embedded in the tarmac with only the flimsiest of barriers cutting the progress of pedestrians and cars at the approach of a locomotive. Evidence of the railways is everywhere.

Let’s get out there. First of all a doughnut and coffee at the Doughnut Vault, open until they run out of doughnuts. Here’s Josai with his wares.

The Blommer Chocolate Factory is just that. Boy, does it smell good as you walk past. Pictures of Mr Wonka’s factory come right to the front of the mind. Imagine deliveries of liquid chocolate in wagons like this.


The Loop is Chicago’s subway system. Some of it runs underground, some of it runs on the ground and some of it runs above the ground, supported on a gantry of steel girders. It can be seen throughout the city. These images are within a few metres of the apartment.

So that gives you a flavour of the local community. I am off now to go further afield. Will catch up soon.