Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Disputing Jenney's reputation as the father of the iron skeleton frame

As part of ARCHITECTURE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, AN INTRODUCTION, course by Antoine Picon, Harvard University.

Larson G. R., Geraniotis R. M., "Towards a Better Understanding of the Evolution of the Iron Skeleton Frame in Chicago," in Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, vol. XLVI, 1987, pp. 39-48.


Context of the paper Technology has become international since 1850's because of the possiblity to travel. At the same time nationalization emerged (the idea of the most sophisticated country). The British story: in 1860's, the boat store by Godfrey Green, in Sheerness, to stock, structure totally framed, 200 feet long. France: Chocolate factory in Noisiel (Meunier). It is a frame structure that does not look like a frame structure. In Europe the frame
building is done horizontally, the idea of transportation of the Middle Age into the modern happens in the framed building structure in Europe. Chicago: in Europe frame building does not become a type versus in the US it becomes a type (tower). The Home Insurance Building (1885) becomes framed later with the Fair Store but the office buildings become the fathers of the skyscraper. The frame buildings becomes skyscrapers when they become horizontal. In this context, William le Baron Jenney has the reputation of being the father of the iron skeleton frame, but this position has been discussed.

Not only this paper disputes Jenney's reputation as the father of the iron skeleton frame with the Home Insurance Building, but also claims that Jenney did not conceive or detail its structure as an independent iron skeleton frame.
The home insurance building was not the first building in Chicago to be called a Skyscraper, indeed the term skyscraper to describe a tall building dates from at least 1884 from a Chicago magazine. Burnham and Root's Insurance Exchange Building were taller and completed in 1884, when the Home Insurance building was only 2 stories out and its exterior iron work had not yet started. Boyington, Beman, and Burnham and Root had already built more and taller skyscrapers before the Home Insurance Building.
Also the only difference from the typical building of this period is the two street facades, and rather than describing this technique as wrapping or enclosing the iron column with a masonry skin, Jenney stated that he embedded the column within the masonry pier.
The iron framework in the home insurance building was not conceived as a modern skeletal frame that is entirely self sufficient and independent of its masonry enclosure. Jenney did not refer to the masonry as a covering but always stated that he embedded the iron column within the masonry pier in order to reduce its size and maximize the amount of daylight. Baumann in 1873 was a leading theoretician on construction and was the first to articulate the principle of the uniformly stressed, isolated pad foundation, and writing about the iron skeleton prior to Jenney's design of the Home Insurance Building.

the Home Insurance Building

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