Diving into press coverage of the 1957 Inland Steel Building and finding good corroboration for my research team’s work over the last couple of years that argues for its curtain wall as a true touchstone in the development of the postwar high-rise.
Inland Steel was really the Reliance Building of its day–a groundbreaking advance in moment frame steel structures clad by an equally visionary thin cladding system that, together, defined a generation’s worth of skyscraper engineering and design. I’m currently working on the influence of the city’s 1951 Building Code on its generation, and Inland did take advantage of new performance based provisions that allowed its skin to be far thinner and more open than its predecessors–more on that later this Fall.
For the moment, it’s interesting to read in contemporary press coverage how shocking its glass curtain wall was. Ernest Fuller, one of the Tribune‘s real estate columnists in the 1950s, expressed surprise and excitement over its “non-budging” windows:
“If you have a window at home that won’t open no matter how you tug at it, consider the owner of a building with 1,491 windows that refuse to budge. Yet, Inland Steel company is putting up such a building and intends to live happily in it.
“The company’s 19 story office building under construction at the northeast corner of Monroe and Dearborn sts. is currently being outfitted with the glass part of its stainless steel and glass exterior. The window work is progressing from the top and the bottom of the structure at the same time.
“Architects report the concept of intentionally fixed windows is about eight years old, said a company spokesman. (There is no record of when windows first became fixed out of pure orneriness). Both the Seagram’s and Lever House buildings in New York City have the fixed type and some smaller installations have been made in Chicago.” [Ernest Fuller, “Inland Unit Windows Are Nonbudging Kind.” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 28, 1957. A9.]
This is a good reminder that, although air conditioning had been installed in Chicago commercial buildings throughout the 1930s, Inland was only the third high-rise in the Loop to be built in the intervening decades. Prudential’s windows, Fuller notes, were designed to stay shut, but could be pivoted open for cleaning. The Sinclair Building, completed in 1954 at the corner of Wacker and Randolph and designed by Holabird, Root & Burgee, may have been the “smaller” installation referred to by Fuller (long since demolished).
It’s interesting to note that Lever House and Seagram’s were the examples that immediately came to mind for Fuller–showing that these two buildings were in fact considered state-of-the-art for Chicago’s frustrated skyscraper designers in the 1950s. The city would have to wait for a comprehensive re-zoning before buildings taller than Inland were constructed, though by 1957 relief was in sight.
Fuller goes on to note what my team documented–that these ‘non-budging’ windows were important counterparts to air conditioning in enabling the glass curtain wall, since they were composed of glass that was not only insulated, but also heat-absorbing:
“Inland’s double-paned windows will do more than admit light, however. They will insulate against cold in the winter and heat in the summer, aided in the latter job by the sun filtering blue-green tint of the outer pane. Incidentally, although the glass will have a decided hue to outsiders, insiders will not be aware of the color, said the Inland spokesman.”
What really struck Fuller and others, though, wasn’t just Inland’s non-budging, insulated and tinted windows. It was the way these were to be maintained. Borrowing from Lever House’s intentionally visible window-washing system (appropriate, of course, for a soap manufacturer), SOM’s Chicago office detailed a similar system for Inland that relied on rail-like window mullions, providing sidewalk drama for pedestrians who had, to that point, yet to see anything like it in the Loop.