Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Manhattan Building, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Manhattan Building (1891) William Le Baron Jenney, architect; (1982) Wilbert Hasbrouck, restoration and adaptive reuse architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The modern skyscraper was born in Chicago. And the innovative, boundary-pushing architect who is credited with fathering this miraculous occurrence is William Le Baron Jenney. His Home Insurance Building gave birth to the notion that technological advances in steel, glass and elevator manufacturing could make for taller buildings, and therefore generate more income for the owner of a relatively small piece of land. The building's 47-year-old, technologically innovative skeletal frame disappeared from its La Salle Street corner in 1931, but, luckily, a few of Jenny's pushing-the-limits buildings have made it into the 21st century, and the Manhattan on South Dearborn Street is one of them.

  [Manhattan Building, 431 S. Dearborn Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

C.C. Heisen was a rich man, and made his fortune in coal. He invested his money in, among other things, Chicago real estate. In the late 1880s he set his sights on a stretch of land located on south Dearborn street just outside the boundaries of the city's central business district, because the land was cheap and he saw a future in the forlorn warehouse district servicing the nearby railroad industry. Downtown Chicago was bursting at the seams and Heisen was willing to bet that the boundary-busting office district would eventually push southward, and he was going to be ready for it when it happened. He wasn't the only one, other investors were eyeing the area and Heisen wanted in on the action. He began assembling a group of city lots by buying them outright or negotiating long term - like 99-year long - ground rents, and hired Jenney to build on his assembled property, in between two existing buildings.

  [Manhattan Building, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Constructing a new building in between two standing structures happened all the time. The new building was simply be wedged in between the other two, sometimes sharing one half of the existing foundations or walls of the other two, or by just butting-up one building against the other. This building smash-up created party walls - walls that shared a building's load with one another, or sat independent of one another with barely a breath of air between them. Jenney's problem was that he and Heisen wanted to build taller than the neighboring 8 story buildings - much taller - which meant a lot of added weight and load. Heisen could have made deals with the adjoining property owners to increase the sizes of their foundations and parti-walled with them, but that would have meant digging into their basements, shoring up their walls, and disrupting existing businesses. The building to the north housed a number of printing operations and provided steam to the printing presses from large boilers in the basement. To build the Heisen/Jenney high-rise would require moving the boilers while reworking the basement and foundation. It was way too messy - and expensive.

  [Manhattan Building, City of Chicago Landmark /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Always thinking outside the box, Jenney solved the problem by doing something no one had ever done before - he would "float" his building's party walls next to the existing ones by bringing all that additional weight and tonnage inside the new building. How? The architect placed steel columns 15-feet away from the north and south walls of the two standing structures, cantilevered steel beams out from the interior columns to the neighboring walls, and essentially "floated" the weight of the 9-floor portion of the building, avoiding the neighbors altogether. Then he built taller using the same row of columns set 15-feet from the edges of the property, up to a height of 16 stories, which created a new set of problems - wind stress. Having nothing to do with Chicago's reputation as the Windy City, any building built above a certain height encounters stress brought on by upper air flow. Jenney had to devise a plan to deal with wind in this new-fangled tall building construction and came-up with the first ever steel skeletal frame that incorporated wind bracing. When Heisen's building opened for business in 1891, Jenney had given his client the right to brag that he was now the proud owner of the tallest building in the world.
By the late 1970s the Manhattan had outlived its usefulness as an office tower. Fortunately, rather than being torn down and turning Heisen's land assembly into an asphalt surfaced parking lot, the building was restored and converted into apartments under the supervision of Chicago architect Wilbert Hasbrouck.

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