Steel Buildings – A History of Skyscrapers

Think \’steel buildings\’ and think immediately of monolithic skyscrapers ascending through the clouds to the stars. Think a little longer; steel buildings come in many shapes and sizes to perform a variety of functions, from airplane hangars to dog kennels, from workshops to garden sheds. Having taken a moment to acknowledge their humble steel cousins, cast your mind back to skyscrapers because that\’s where the story is.

The road skywards began when Englishman Henry Bessemer (1813-1898) invented a process for removing the impurities out of pig iron using a blast of air to make steel. This enabled the inexpensive mass production of steel. Modern steel is still produced using the Bessemer Process, for which he was knighted in 1879.

George Fuller (1851-1900) was an architect from Massachusetts who, against the prevailing wisdom of the time, recognized the benefits of using steel in constructing buildings. Until this point, the heights of buildings had been limited by the load bearing capabilities of the exterior walls. In 1889, George Fuller built the first ever structure using steel cages to carry the weight of the building instead of the outside walls. This was the 13-floor Tacoma Building in Chicago, demolished in 1929. In some circles, architect Peter Ellis in 1864 who was credited with being the first to use internal steel beams as the load bearing structure in the five storey Oriel Chambers Building in Liverpool. William Le Baron Jenney used Bessemer steel in the ten-storey Home Insurance Building, also in Chicago, which was completed in 1885.

Steel skeletons themselves were not enough to enable buildings to break through the 10-20 storey glass ceiling and reach for the skies. The Otis \’safety\’ elevator was another essential technological breakthrough along with the telephone, electrical plumbing pumps and central heating.

The 55-storey, 793 foot Woolworth building in New York is regarded as the first true skyscraper. During the opening ceremony in April 1913, American President Woodrow Wilson pressed a button in the White House and simultaneously lit up every internal light along wth the floodlights that illuminated the facade. The building was also remarkable for the fact that its construction was funded entirely in cash and never held a mortgage until its sale to the Witkoff Group for USD 155 million in 1998.

The Woolworth Building was the tallest building in the world and remained so until the Bank of Manhattan toppled its record in 1929 at 927 feet (71 storeys). By now, the race to erect the next \’tallest building in the world\’ became a frantic competition the \’Chrysler Team\’ and the \’Empire State\’ team. When the Empire State Building opened on May 31, 1931, with the same Presidential fanfare enjoyed by the Woolworth Building, it had 102 storeys and reached 1,250 feet in the air. The Chrysler Building, completed the previous year, had 77 storeys and was \’only\’ 1,046 feet high. The Empire State Building held the record until the opening of the North Tower of the World Trade Center in 1972.

Minoru Yamasaki was the chief architect for the World Trade Center. He specifically made the windows of the building unusually narrow, reflecting his fear of heights, a feature that was ultimately criticized by the building\’s ultimate occupants. Structurally, the two towers implemented a new \’tube frame structural system\’, allowing for a more open floor plan than conventional designs.

On completion, the towers were 1,368 feet tall and contained 417 storeys. Both towers were destroyed by terrorists on September 11, 2001, a date that is now indelibly etched into history.

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Category: Business
Keywords: metal buildings, steel buildings, business, construction, society, family, building

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