- The skyscraper first developed in the United States as urban property became more expensive and cities were increasingly crowded. A skyscraper does not have a specific style or height requirement but is generally considered taller than what is often called a "high-rise." The skyscraper was initially an economic solution, but it went on to become a symbol of American architectural ingenuity, in spite of the fact that the idea was generated with the older cast-iron framed buildings constructed in England during the Industrial Revolution, such as the flax mill built in Shrewsbury in 1797.Henry Hobson Richardson anticipated the development of the skyscraper in the United States with his Marshall Field Warehouse, built in Chicago in the 1880s and demolished in the 1930s. On the exterior, the building featured seven registers of fenestration grouped to demarcate several tall warehouse floors on the interior. Although this building, with its rusticated stone and arched windows, resembled at first glance a Renaissance palace, its clean lines and lack of exterior sculptural detail also show a break from the Beaux-Arts tradition in which Richardson had been trained. The building set the stage for the subsequent construction of many more austere skyscrapers in Chicago, in a style sometimes called the "Chicago School." The skyscraper originated in Chicago because of the large amount of construction that took place there after the Fire of 1871; by the turn of the century, the building type had quickly spread to all major urban areas of the United States. Skyscrapers were made possible with the introduction of steel, which by the mid-19th century was beginning to be mass-produced through a more efficient and economical method. Steel was superior in its tensile strength to iron and allowed for greater structural possibilities, which were immediately explored by architects. In addition to the industrial production of steel, the invention of the electric passenger elevator in 1889 made the skyscraper logistically feasible.Chicago's first steel-framed buildings were constructed by William Le Baron Jenney. Jenney's two earliest steel-framed buildings have been demolished, but in 1891 he constructed the Leiter II Building on State Street, which still exists as the city's oldest department store. Built with a tall, fenestrated gallery level at the street, the structure rises with six registers of double windows capped by a thick cornice. Piers anchor each of the four corners, providing the building with several strippeddown historical references that give a visual organization to the structure. Jenney's Manhattan Building, also constructed that year in Chicago, is a 16-story building—unprecedented for its day—with a façade of bay windows that allow considerable light into the building. Granite sheathes the first three stories, while a lighter, less expensive brick is used on the upper registers. Louis Sullivan's Wainwright Building, constructed in St. Louis in 1891, is even more austere, yet it maintains a basic organization seen in its clearly articulated tripartite division that mimics the column. Here the street-level story forms a base delineated by a cornice, while the middle of the building rises up like the shaft of a column and is capped with a heavy cornice at the roofline, much like a capital.Sullivan's firm was in Chicago, but by the early 1900s New York City began to dominate skyscraper construction. The Woolworth Building, constructed in 1911-1913 by Cass Gilbert, is a good example of the restrained historicism that continued to pervade skyscraper designs. At 55 stories tall, it was built with a clearly articulated base at the street level, and then a wide shaft rises punctuated by cornices that provide visual pauses to minimize the building's vertical consistency. From the shaft, a spire rises, tiered three times and topped with a pinnacle. These features provide the building with a more austere form of the Gothic Revival that continued to be popular through the early 20th century. By 1930, Art Deco was the skyscraper style of choice, seen in the Chrysler Building and Empire State Building in New York City. William van Alen, who built the Chrysler Building in 1928-1930, and the architectural firm of Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon, who completed the Empire State Building in 1931, vied for "tallest-building" status, and indeed the Empire State Building held the honor for 40 years.The first International style skyscraper built in the United States is the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society Building (PSFS), constructed by George Howe and William Lescaze in Philadelphia in 1931. This 32-story rental office tower is an elegant polished black granite and glazed brick building with copper, brass, and stainless steel detailing. A big sign with "PSFS" written in block letters angled across the top of the tower fully integrates the design of the building with its corporate identity. By the middle of the century, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson also began to use the International style in their skyscrapers, resulting in such glass structures as their Seagram Building in New York City. Constructed in the 1950s, this skyscraper has a clearly articulated street level and then a shaft that rises up in a dark glass curtain wall, uninterrupted by cornices or any other applied decoration, and capped by a smooth top. These International style buildings continued to grow taller, and when the seven-building World Trade Center was completed in 1973 by Minoru Yamasaki, its "twin" towers stood 110 stories tall and were briefly the tallest structures in the world, soon surpassed by the Chicago Sears Tower.More sophisticated structural advances characterize Norman Foster's Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, built in 1986, which is a good example of High-Tech architecture. This 47-story-tall building has exterior girders that allow for a more open interior space and a reduced need for a strong structural core. By the 1990s, "supertall" skyscrapers began to challenge existing structural advances. Cesar Pelli's Petronas Twin Towers, built in Malaysia in 1996, is an 88-story twin tower with a two-story skywalk at the 41st story. Currently, the tallest building in the world is the 164-story Burj Dubai, under construction in the United Arab Emirates by Adrian Smith of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. These "supertall" buildings not only fulfill the need for dense urban housing but also challenge existing architectural innovations in their technical sophistication.
Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. Allison Lee Palmer. 2008.
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