Tall Office Buildings Image Map

The typology of the tall office building, or skyscraper as we know it today, has been considered a largely American phenomenon, one that architects embraced eagerly. Influential in the formation of the skyscraper aesthetic were H.H. Richardson, William LeBaron Jenney, and Louis Sullivan, each schooled in the Boston area. MIT professors Désiré Despradelle, Stephen Codman, and Jaques Carlu were advocates of this building type, as were a number of alumni including Raymond Hood, Cass Gilbert, Louis Skidmore, and Gordon Bunshaft.

The tall office building was made possible by three advances in the building trade. Of primary importance was the invention of the elevator, for without it there is a physical limit to the number of stories a person can climb. A sturdy method of construction was also necessary to allow for upward building. Masonry load-bearing walls could only support a limited number of floors but the Bessemer converter process used in steel production made high quality steel commercially available and revolutionized building practice by allowing steel frames to carry heavy loads to unprecedented heights. Lightweight materials, predominantly terra cotta, were used to sheath these frames. The final requirement for a skyscraper was that it be fireproof. Terra cotta and brick were frequently employed for encasing steel building members to ensure protection, thus replacing highly flammable timber framing.

The Chicago model of the tall office building was exported and modified to suit the environments of other American cities and it found an eager audience in Boston. Local examples include the Ames Building by Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge (1889), the Youth's Companion Building by Hartwell & Richardson (1892), the Carter Winthrop Building by Clarence Blackall (1894), and the Berkeley (1905) and Pelham (1907) Buildings by Codman & Despradelle.

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