Skyscrapers have come to define our major cities. From London to New York, and from Dubai to Kuala Lumpla these iconic buildings are the recognisable symbols of their cities. But where did this upward drive begin? The word, skyscraper has a long history of describing objects that are tall. The term first began to be associated with buildings in the early 1880s as the skylines of Chicago and New York started to rise. Following the Great Chicago Fire in 1871,
rapid economic development placed ever increasing demands on land in the city, forcing developers to build upwards. This demand combined with several important technological advances culminated in the construction of Chicago’s Home Insurance Building – the world’s first skyscraper. Known as the father of the modern skyscraper, the building, completed in 1884, was the first tall structure to be supported internally
and externally by a fireproof metal frame. Rising to 138-feet tall (around 42 meters),
the 10-storey tower is short by today’s standards. However, according the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats it stood as the “World’s Tallest Building” for just five years after its completion. At the time the majority of tall buildings
relied on brickwork or masonry load-bearing walls for support. However, by the end of 19th Century this construction method was limiting height As taller towers required thicker walls on lower levels to support the weight of floors above. Engineer architect, William LeBaron Jenney, a classmate of Gustave Eiffel, was convinced that a metal-frame would allow buildings to rise taller while reducing there weight. Legend has it he was inspired after seeing his wife place a heavy book on a metal birdcage that didn’t break. A fireproof metal-frame had first been used in 1797 at Ditherington Flax Mill in the UK. Utilising this method of construction at the Home Insurance Building allowed Jenney to hang light masonry walls (like curtains) from the frame. Reducing its weight by two thirds as compared to an equivalent stone building. Jenney’s innovative approach alarmed city officials, who were so concerned the building might topple, that they halted construction to investigate its structural safety. Not only did the building prove structurally sound, it was considered so strong that in 1890, six years after completion, two additional
stories were added to the top of the structure. The Home Insurance Building also incorporated another innovation that was essential for the progression of skyscrapers – the elevator or lift. After solving several dangerous design flaws, by the 1880s the hydraulic elevator had become a viable solution. This technology had been used in tall buildings before, most notably in New York’s Equitable Life Building, completed in 1870. The Home Insurance Building was not the first tall tower, the first to incorporate a metal frame or include a hydraulic lift.
However, it was the first tall tower to include all of these elements, making it the blueprint
for the modern skyscraper. Although the Home Insurance Building was deconstructed in 1931, it’s legacy lives on in hundreds of skyscrapers across the globe. If you enjoyed this video and would like to get more from the definitive video channel for construction, subscribe to The B1M.