Chicago Tribune, September 13, 1891
If there is one feature of Chicago’s phenomenal business enterprise which receives general recognition it is her high buildings. The towering office building structures which have been erected during the last five years have brought the city prominently before the investing public all over the country. They have given to to what is known as the Chicago style of architecture or Chicago construction an established character. The verdict of the New York press, never considered to over enthusiastic in commendation of Chicago, is that to Chicago more than any other city is due the development of the revolution in modern buildings, in consequence of which there is practically no limit to the height to which buildings of sufficient foundation area may be carried.
Such advances have been made in the adaptability of building materials that the only problems which are to be solved by the builder of a thirty or forty story building are a suitable foundation and an elevator service which will place tenants on all floors in easy communication with the street traffic.
W. L. B. Jenney, who justly claims to have been the first architect to introduce the method of building known as the Chicago construction, gives the year 1884 as the date of the introduction of that system. The following description of the system is of special interest as coming directly from him:
- In 1884 the Home Insurance company of New York built the first tall fire-proof, finely finished office building erected in Chicago. It determined the maximum amount of light, reducing the piers and wall to dimensions that forced the architect to adopt a new method of construction that has since been generally adopted and is now known as the Chicago construction.
This construction carries all the loads on metal columns which are placed in the piers and in the walls. They not only carry the floor girders, but also the entire walls, story by story, by means of beams or lintels from column to column. Those in street walls are usually placed so as to carry the window heads. Those in the party walls are usually placed so as to carry the floors. The masonry is reduced on the exterior to what is necessary to hold the window frames and to fireproof the metal. Party or partition walls are only of the thickness desired for protection. They are usually the same thickness in all stories, eight, twelve, or sixteen inches.
The columns were at first of cast iron with ingenious devices to tie the beams rigidly to the columns. As soon as riveted steel columns of a proper quality could be manufactured, their superior advantages at once brought them into use, which has now become general. All columns connections are now made with hot rivets. The metal for the work is all tested, and the workmanship inspected at the mills by professional inspectors. The same science, and the same Superintendence is required in calculating and erecting one of these high buildings as in a steel railroad bridge of the first order.
When the use of the cellar or basement is not inconvenienced by aq pyramidal footing, dimension stone may be employed. Therefore the steel footing is in general use. It is composed of cross layers of steel railroad rails or beams as the calculations and conditions may decide. Usually, the lower tiers, resting on a bed of concrete twelve to eighteen inches thick, are of rails and the upper tiers of beams. The weight on the column is distributed over the top beams by a cast iron shoe. The entire footing is bedded in a rich Portland cement concrete.
The thorough riveting together of the beams and columns and the rigidity of the fireproof arches in the floors prevent any movement at the joints. The bending movement of the columns under wind pressure must, however, be looked after. Counters or wind tracing set up with turn buckles placed between columns from floor to floor are excellent when their use can be tolerated. Where there are permanent tile partitions nothing further is desired. Knees or brackets, as in shipbuilding, are sometimes the only means available.
Underlying the business quarter of Chicago is a thick bed of soft clay sixty to ninety feet thick and coming up to within twelve or fifteen of the sidewalk grade. This clay will carry only about 3,000 pounds per square foot without too great a settlement. Even with this load the settlement will be three or four inches, and the building is set four or five inches high anticipating this settlement.
That the settlement may be uniform the greatest care must be exercised to obtain a uniform distribution of the actual dead and live loads of the building, that the same weight per square foot of bearing on the clay may obtain over the entire structure. As far as practicable each pier and column has its own independent footing.
The question is often asked why pile foundations are not used more generally in Chicago surrounded as their business location is by the lake and river. Pile foundations are used wherever the building is so saturated that the tops of the piles can be maintained permanently under water. This is, however, seldom the case with the tall office buildings which are at some distance from the water. The Chicago clay is so impervious that the height of the water in the lake and river is not the permanent water level under the business center, which at times is often materially lower, so that it is uncertain at what depth is safe to saw off the piles.
Following the Home Insurance building, the Rookery, the Tacoma, and later the Chamber of Commerce and Owings Buildings were built. The construction of the three buildings last named ushered in the era of construction of buildings whose stories extended up into the teens.
All of these are built after the Chicago system. Two great buildings on opposite corners of the intersection of Dearborn and Jackson streets are apt illustrations of two methods of construction. The Northern Hotel with its rows of handsome bays is a steel framework with a covering wall which is not expected to carry even its own weight. The walls of the Monadnock Building, which give it a severely plain but massive appearance, are of solid masonry. Both these buildings were planned by Burnham & Root.
Two great buildings in the erection of which sentiment is mingled with cold business policy are the Masonic Temple and the Woman’s Temple. Both are nearing completion, and both will stand as monuments of fealty to an order. The Masonic Temple is the first eighteen-story building to be erected in Chicago. As it is a little out of the office building district it is one of the most striking buildings in the city. It has a frontage of 170 feet on State street and 114 feet on Randolph street. The building will rise to a height of 254 feet. The building in itself without consideration of the value of the land on which it stands will represent an expenditure of $2,000,000. A peculiar feature of this building which is now being discussed is the arrangement of tghe roof. High gables, which make the structure in reality twenty stories high, rise on all four sides several feet higher than the surface of the roof proper. Outside of the dome, which will be built over the light shaft extending down through the building, there will be 9,000 feet of floor space on this roof. This is to be covered with glass and turned into a roof garden. The main entrance to the building is a splendid arch forty-two feet high and twenty-eight feet wide, opening into a rotunda containing fourteen elevators arranged in a semicircle. The two upper floors of the building will be devoted to lodge rooms and halls for the Masonic fraternity.
Both the Masonic Temple and the Woman’s Temple were designed by Burnham & Root. As might be naturally expected in the latter building some deviation from the severe types of building in which outside effect is sacrificed to space and light has been made.
The style of the building is French Gothic. It is thirteen stories in height, with an arched entrance from La Salle street. Above the second story the front center is cut away, and at the tenth story the building line retreats and the three-story roof begins. This is broken into Gothic turrets, from the center of which springs a fléche of gold bronze seventy feet high, surmounted by the beautiful form of a woman in the attitude of a prayer.
The Unity Building, planned by Clinton J. Warren and now being constructed by a company headed by Judge P. Altgeld, is to be one of the Dearborn street giants. It has caused considerable comment on account of the raopidity with which it has gone up and the return to iron columns in its framework construction. Work on three great buildings of Chicago began practically at the same time. The framework of the Unity Building has been erected as high as the sixteenth story, while the foundation of one of the other buildings has not been laid, and the first story of the third has not been finished. The framework skeleton of the Unity Building was built as high as the eleventh story before a single brick of the outside buff facing was laid. The builders have have not yet received the granite for the first three stories. This has not delayed matters at all. The first three stories were skipped and the outside wall was begun at the third story. Cast-iron columns with steel cross-beams have been used. Mr. Warren’s defense of cast-iron is exceedingly simple.
- In the iron construction which we are using the factor of safety is 8. That is, the structure will carry eight times the load placed on it The manufacturers of steel columns to meet the price of iron columns, have cut down the factor of safety to 4. The difference in safety, other things being equal, is as 8 to 4 in factor of iron columns.
This easy explanation of the comparative values of steel and iron is not accepted by all the architects in high buildings. Mr. W. S. B. Jenney, the architect who made plans for the Manhattan Block and the new Fair Building, takes the opposite view of the question.
- The cost of iron and steel columns per pound is almost the same. The tensile strength of steel as compared with iron is 64 to 48. The use of iron in securing a given amount of solidity in construction is at an extra cost which may be shown by the difference in the above figures.
The Manhattan Building is considered by its owner to be one of the finest office buildings in the world. It was the first sixteen-story building to be erected in Chicago and has attracted some attention from the fact that its location is out of the office-building district and that a $400,000 loan has been advanced on it by a New York insurance company.
In the Manhattan, lying between party walls, eight stories high, on which little or no additional weight could be placed, the cantalever principle of construction was employed. The floor weights of the north and south wings of the building for nine stories in height are carried by heavy fifteen-inch cantalever beams, the first row of columns at either end of the building being fifteen feet from the oarty walls, no weights resting upon the walls.
The Cook County Abstract and Trust company’s building, now in construction on Washington street, promises to be one of the finest office buildings of the city. Henry Ives Cobb’s plans for the structure provide for a sixteen-story building, to cost about $700,000.
The Ashland Block, designed by D. H. Burnham, is one of the great office building projects. It is to be of steel frame construction and will occupy the site of the old Ashland Block, at the corner of Clark and Randolph streets.
The Cook County Abstract and Trust company’s building will be 60×183 feet and will be 210 feet high. The foundations and first story structure of this building are completed, while the foundations of the Ashland Block are finished.
The new Fair Building, if completed in accordance with the accepted plans, will be one of the greatest commercial structures in the world. It is a plain building, regular in shape, and will occupy over 16,000,000 cubic feet of space.
The Fair Building as planned will be eighteen stories high. It has not been decided whether it will be completed before the close of the World’s Fair. At present it is being built in sections to a height of eight stories.
As a fitting climax to the building enterprise shown during the last five years comes the announcement of of the intention of the Odd-Fellows to build a thirty-four story structure, 556 feet in height. It is considered possible from an architectural standpoint, but not probable from a financial point of view. It remains to be seen whether the Odd-Fellows’ Temple will lead the buildings of Chicago or go to swell the list of unsuccessful building projects.
Railroad Gazette, October 30, 1891
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