As discussed in the first post on glass, Architecture is one of those words that is difficult to define. It is the creation of form which evokes emotion through its composition of materials. Some of these materials are structural and some are cladding. Steel is a versatile material which can be both. I would like to explore two areas - the evolution of the material and the manner it is used today. This post addresses the former while the next post will address the latter.
|BC Pyramids at Giza, 2580|
|Eiffel Tower, Gustave Eiffel, 1889|
It must have been something truly extraordinary when Gustuv Eiffel's tower soared into the Paris sky. Despite its magnificent size, the wrought iron structure was so light and airy. This identifying monument of the 1889 World's Fair was many years in the making. In fact, the Tower was the last monumental structure made from wrought iron. Even as its properties were being pushed to the limits in France, they were being fundamentally changed across the ocean in America.
Willam LeBaron Jenny was a leading Chicago architect, trained as an engineer. The wrought iron frame of his ten story Home Insurance Building had already reached six stories when he learned of an amazing discovery. Carbon added to iron resulted in a much stronger material - steel. Jenny immediately made the switch to steel, even using it on the remaining four floors. The use of steel for the skeletal frame of the building had obvious benefits. It allowed for quicker construction, thinner walls and thus more efficient space planning. It allowed for the curtain wall, where virtually any material could be hung on the frame - terra cotta, masonry, granite, and glass. It permitted more light into the depths of the buildings and allowed developers to build ever taller buildings. The race to the skies was on.
|Home Insurance Building, William LeBaron Jenny, 1884|