Beginning in the late 19th Century, high-rise buildings were constructed with an internal system ofinterlocking steel columns and beams known as the “skeleton frame.”Like the human body, the outer shell/facade mostly served to protect the interior organs/systems fromthe elements.While very rigid, the amount of steel and mechanical equipment needed in skyscrapers past a certainheight rendered this system uneconomical to the developers of new office towers and apartments.
Lake Shore Drive Apartments Mies van der Rohe 1951 Lever House Gordon Bunshaft/SOM 1952 860, 880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments Mies van der Rohe 1952The initial response to the issues of economy and aesthetics was a Led by Mies van der Rohe, this movement allowed theturn towards an “International Style” of architecture that removed developer to save money on material costs and the the ornamental masonry and replaced it with walls of glass and architect to adopt this style as an honest progression of steel. a truly modern building type, the high-rise.
However, the limitations of the skeleton-framed skyscraper toproduce an artistic and varied expression of its structural form ledmany architects of the day to ponder the future of building design. Many practitioners of 20th century architecture sat down withauthor John Peter to discuss the "state of the art" in the 1950’s and beyond……….
SC Johnson Research Tower (1946) "Form follows function, certainly… But who the hell cares? Its the form and the function, not reducing that to some scientific analysis, that will separate it and take it all apart… We want it together. We want the poetry of the thing." –Frank Lloyd Wright (1955)
Pennzoil Place (1976) "... the problem is the same that Mies solved in the technique of our day what Sullivan solved in the technique of his… And that is a basic pattern from which it is extremely difficult to diverge. Many of us had tried... …but the more you try to make a building cheap, which you have to do in todays economy and socio-setup, the more you try to make it expressive, the closer to 860 (Lake Shore Drive ) you’re going to end up.” - Philip Johnson (1955)
"Today buildings are primarily being built as they were forty years ago. The skins aredifferent, but the basic construction is the same. Tons of water, tons of sand, tons ofbrick, moved up and down structures, the same old way they did when they built the Woolworth Building." - Gordon Bunshaft of SOM (1956) Union Carbide Headquarters (1961)
"I feel quite strongly that the all-glass facade is in the long run really no solution. It lifts borrowed glory. It does not give the effect of light and shadow which we are used to connecting with an architectural appearance." - Victor Gruen (1957) (1962)
“Mies van der Rohe has mademost eloquent the steel framein this country, and its reallydifficult to see how that canbe carried further…One of the things that we alllong for is much moreplasticity or depth in thetreatment of the exterior ofour buildings…This, I feel, will come to alarge degree throughmanipulation of reinforcedconcrete.” - Paul Rudolph (1960) Boston Governmental Services Center (1962-1971: rendering of never-built tower)
"The materials are beautiful today.Concrete is a marvelous material.Its stone that can span with guts.Its just stone and steel.Stone that can understand…I like certain things.I like brick.I like stone.I like all these materials ...I got to like concrete.I sort of moderately like steel,you see."- Louis Kahn (1961) Richards Medical Research Building (1965)
Although he was trying to achieve a“pure” form of architectural expression Mies often relied on the traditional skeleton structure which was, by itsnature, meant to be covered by a façade. In the Seagram Building and many subsequent designs, Mies employed ornament to “express” the buildings structure of interlocking I-Beams. Decorative “I-Beam” Mullion Structural Column To artistically showcase the structure, new ways of engineering and design needed to be developed.
Skidmore Owings & Merrill’s Fazlur R. Khan (left) and Bruce Graham developed innovative solutions to the economic and philosophical challenges of high-rise design in the post-war era through the creation of new, tube-based structural systems.Efficient in function and honest in form, these systems do not need to be “expressed” through ornament. Instead, they are an integral part of the buildings’ architectural design. A masterwork of this era stands among us in Rochester…
Intent on reducing the “premium for height” of tall buildings (the taller the building, thehigher the cost per floor) of the rigid frame system, Khan developed tube systems that ofteninvolved load-bearing exterior walls to provide more open floor space, while requiring lessmaterials per floor than conventional construction. They also offered structural variety tothe architect who no longer was confined to the economy of the “glass box.”
Khan and Graham collaborated on many projects but are best known for a pair of iconic towers of steel and glass in Chicago, the “birthplace of the skyscraper.” Sears Tower (1974) John Hancock Center (1969)
Still, concrete was Khan’s preferred material to build with.It was also his specialty, dating back to his first projects in Bangladesh in 1950. Fittingly, the first buildings in which Khan utilized the tube system were reinforced concrete high-rises in his adopted hometown of Chicago. The Brunswick Building And The Chesnutt-Dewitt Apartments Both were Completed in 1965
Innovative they were, yet Khan was frustrated by the necessity of using large transfer beams above the first floor of both buildings.To properly redistribute the weight ofthe structure and create more openspace at street level very deep beamshad to be placed between the thin,closely spaced columns of the upperfloors… …and the larger and more widely spaced base columns. Khan was determined to find a better way to accomplish this load transfer.
Khan solved this problem by first mapping out the natural load flow (the path that gravity takes on its way to the ground) ofa skyscraper (center). He then varied the size of the columns and spandrel beams to “follow” the load flow, creating tree-like formations on HSBC’s lower floors (right).
This “arching effect” is expressedon both the vertical and horizontalplanes. The columns’ width anddepth vary with their stress loads.
The corners are free of columns to add visual excitement and texture to the façade, which is best appreciated as one walks around the building.
The concrete columns become thinner as the tower rises.The delicate column design of the tall mechanical penthouse both compliments and contrasts with the vertical and sturdy second floor façade.
The additional stiffness required to resist the lateral forces of the wind is provided by the hollow core of solid reinforced concrete. Connected by aninnovative flooring system that includes a hybrid joist-waffle layout, the shear walls of the core and the external load- bearing structure allowed a flexible, column-free interior.
The local newspapers chronicled theconstruction of the complex, often referring to the unique design of its structure.
“Topped out” on July 11, 1969Officially opened on April 14, 1970
The following slides feature material from a flyer that introduced the building to the community when it opened in early 1970.
Within months it was necessary to widen the curve leading into the 300-spacegarage below the plaza as it was too sharp a turn for cars. Otherwise, it has proven to be an attractive, strong and versatile building.
When asked what they noticed most about the building’s effect on their workplace experience, somedaily occupants replied that although it had strange cold and warm spots and no direct elevator access from the garage to their floors, they didn’t notice the building most of the time. To them, it is a pleasant building that doesn’t get in the way of their work. From a functional point of view, that is the highest of compliments.
This presentation is the intellectual and artistic property of Daniel J. Palmer, 2008. Sources available upon request.