Chicago Skyscrapers, 1871-1934, by Thomas Leslie

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Chicago skyscrapers have always been
seen as a really important moment in architectural history when art and
technology come together and create a completely new building type. We have this collection of artifacts,
buildings in Chicago between the Great Fire and the Great Depression, that show
us not just what the technology was and how the technology evolved, but also what
it was like to be an architect, or an engineer, a builder, or even an office
worker in that era. These buildings are often right up next to buildings from
the 21st century and they show us not just how the skyscraper has evolved and
how the technology of building has evolved, but also how the city has grown
and evolved and how Chicago of the 1880s has become Chicago at the 21st century. Surveys always talk about technology as
being an important part of the skyscraper, but there’s never been a
survey that goes back and looks really closely at what the materials actually
were, who actually built these buildings, what the economics of getting them done
were, and what the politics were of building high in a city like Chicago at
the time. What I’ve tried to do with the book is to trace these through to find
out what choices faced architects when they sat down at the drawing board, what
it was like to be on a job-site riveting steel together, and to think about these
buildings as emerging from this really complex set of negotiations between
economics, politics, technology, all of which come came together and created
this new building type and created a city around them. Architects, of course, were concerned with what the buildings looked like and what style they were in, but there’s also a
story there about the architect as problem solver and trying to take a
program that was often very very stringent and using the tools that were
available at the time, the engineering, the materials, to make that as efficient
as possible, to get the best possible solution to the problem to hand, and then
of course to make it look good on the outside, but the problem solving,
especially in Chicago, always came first and that’s really what the book
tries to focus on is how the problem solving became the aesthetic for the


  1. Professor Tom is teaching summer studio class now. He is a super cool guy I have ever seen. Nice job, Tom. We are proud of you.

  2. Chicago is an awesome, architecturally beautiful treasure chest of gorgeous old landmarks and cutting edge modernism. It is America's most American city and one of the friendliest of big major US cities. It is one of my favorite big cities.

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