Chicago Steel, Strength and Structure

December 19, 2013

Mies van der RoheWe’ve all heard of Chicago’s steel mills, now most of them gone, and we know it shapes our modernist buildings. It has inspired poetry, like “Smoke and Steel” by Carl Sandburg, and it has become symbolic of strength and endurance. For Chicago, as one of the world hubs for the industry, steel is iconic, and an essential element of our city’s great history and architecture.

In my studies of Chicago architecture, I’ve always found the technological advancements of materials to be fascinating in its influence on the building possibilities of architecture. To start, the steel industry erupted here because of the geographical advantage to the Great Lakes, which were rich in iron ore deposits, and of course steel is an alloy of iron and carbon. In the 1800s the burgeoning industry appeared in Chicago, Joliet, and North Chicago. In 1901 New York financial mogul JP Morgan organized U.S. Steel, the largest corporation on the planet. A lot of this steel went towards making farm equipment, railroads, bridges, and most importantly to this blog post – buildings.

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