5icch–building, construction, work

prudential train yardIt’s kind of hard to imagine, but the little day counter on this page has finally ticked down to zero and the 5th International Congress on Construction History is underway.  Lots of folks to thank who have made this possible and who have put in endless hours over the past six or seven years…

We’ve already been able to show off the city a bit at dinner last night, where some early arriving European scholars got to see some of the Loop’s best on a really glorious evening.  Seeing people see Sullivan for the first time is kind of priceless.

My bit of welcoming involves explaining the city in terms of its infrastructure–how exchange has really been the one constant in Chicago’s history.  This involves looking at grain elevators (via William Cronon, whose chapter on these long-lost monuments in Nature’s Metropolis remains one of the best reads in construction, economic, or urban history I’ve ever seen), at railroads, canals, expressways, etc.  And at how these things intersect.  So, skyscrapers above railyards (see the Prudential, above) seem like classic cases where the city’s commercial, civic, and infrastructural aims come together to create something new.

The back and forth between the activity of building, buildings themselves, and the activities that buildings then go on to support (think of Wacker Drive after the de-industrialization of the river shoreline and re-construction as the city’s greatest business address) calls to mind that Dewey quote that students of mine are overly familiar with…seeing “construction” as both a noun and a verb requires a certain blurred vision, but if Dewey was right then it’s precisely that blurriness where things get most interesting.  So, some thoughts on that today, too, to kick things off.

A good few days ahead, highlights to follow…

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