"The skyscraper establishes the block, the block creates the street, the street offers itself to man."
Roland Barthes, literary and social theorist
Before the advent of the skyscraper, tall buildings were built to showcase great wealth, power, or religious beliefs. For the architect and civil engineer William Le Baron Jenney (1832-1907), the urge to build great edifices was born from a necessity to solve commercial (and later residential) needs in his native Chicago, where ground space was at a premium.
Two obstacles to the construction of highrise buildings were overcome in the mid-nineteenth century, paving the way for the skyscraper. In 1853 Elisha Graves Otis devised a mechanism to prevent elevators from falling if their cable broke, enabling passengers to be transported upward safely. The second breakthrough came with a steel-framed structure that could support the entire weight of its walls, instead of the traditional load-bearing walls that carry the more...