BBC has a wonderful audio-slideshow about the history of the early skyscrapers in America.
The short show is kind of an ad for a BBC Radio 4 series called America: Empire of Liberty, which I would also suggest browsing. One assumes BBC Radio’s sudden interest in the states, out history and our “Empire of Liberty” has something to do with the recent election. It is, perhaps, evidence that the world view of the U.S. is starting to warm-up a bit. It is nice to see I probably won’t have to pretend to be Canadian this summer when I am abroad.
The slideshow lasts just three minutes, but it does an admirable job of showing off early examples of the skyscraper, one of the first completely American art-forms. I was happy to see the two-stage Monadnock Building was cleverly used to show the move from limits of masonry high-rises to the soaring heights of metal frame construction. The brevity of the clip cuts out the steps leading up to architects Holabird and Roche’s steel-frame addition to the Monadnock, making them appear to be the first to have conceived the idea.
Had the narrator, Professor of US History: David Reynolds, had more time he surely would have mentioned that the first steel skeleton buildings were the brainchild of the underappreciated William LeBaron Jenny. His Leiter buildings predated the Monadnock by decades, but they were mere epilogue to his 1885 Home Insurance Building, which perfected the steel-skeleton that subsequently allowed for the rapidly rising skylines of the American commercial center. Jenny rarely gets his due. He was, to his detriment, more engineer than architect and the busy, disjointed Home Insurance façade lacks the slim grace of the Monadnock and later Chicago masterpieces.
The show makes no mention of the relative sleekness of the American skyscraper, either, and its contribution to the modern aesthetic. Even a cursory comparison of the smooth, sloping, Egyptian inspired walls of the Monadnock to the fussier the European styles of the day illustrates that there is something there. The slideshow is only three minutes and change though, so I will cut them some slack.
Slideshows like this are the type of thing we soon hope to have here at TimeberPalace. Anyone who has topics they’d like to see explored is invited to COMMENT and let us know. I have some ideas up in the brain-chamber now which will hopefully be brought to fruition soon. Until then, please check out BBC’s slideshow, and while you’re online hop over to Fotofacade, the purveyors of fine architectural photography who tipped me off to the slide show.
Piqued your interest?
Check out these TimberPalace approved books on the subject:
Chicago School of Architecture by Carl Condit – an exhaustive tome on the Chiacgo School and the development of the skyscraper by Chicago’s preeminent architectural historian.
Skyscrapers: Structure and Design by Matthew Wells – A beautiful but rigorous examination of the skyscraper and how far it has come since those early days in Chicago.
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Fotofacade: Best damn architectural photo site on the webz.