“These historic towers in Chicago are at risk, but not because there’s a shiny new development coming along that wants their site. The US Federal Government just wants to demolish them.
“In a move that’s apparently all about improving security, the Consumers and Century buildings on Chicago’s iconic Loop are currently slated for destruction. But as an important part of the city’s architectural history, many are fighting hard to keep them standing.
“‘What’s unusual is that there’s now an earmark to demolish them, a $52M earmark approved by Congress as part of a big omnibus bill,’ Ward Miller, Executive Director of Preservation Chicago said. ‘Earmarks we have not seen in the United States in a long time, but specifically to demolish these buildings.’
“Critics argue the move would be a major architectural and economic blow for Chicago. So why is the federal government getting involved in a local demolition project? Why are they picking on these buildings? And do people stand any chance of stopping it?
“This is the $52M federal quest to demolish two of Chicago’s towers.
“To really get your head around why the US government wants to demolish these buildings and why that’s so contentious, you need to understand where they came from.
“Back in 1871, the Great Chicago Fire devastated the city. Burning for more than 24 hours, flames destroyed over 17,000 buildings and killed 300 people. Left with over $200M in damages, Chicago looked to rebuild.
“In the wake of the destruction a group of architects came together and began experimenting with unique designs that could protect buildings from future fires and help jumpstart the economy.
“Enter the Home Insurance Building. Designed by William Le Baron Jenney and built in 1885 – it’s known today as the world’s first skyscraper. Its 10-storey steel frame was incredibly innovative at the time. Before that, buildings used iron frames with thick masonry walls as support.
“‘The development and integration of steel as a product to design buildings that were much taller and thinner, that allowed for more light and air to come into these structures prior to what we would known today as, you know, air conditioning and electric lighting,’ Miller said. ‘Basically the idea is almost a steel birdcage, if you will, which in which masonry is hung from that steel birdcage. And what that allowed for is larger window areas, larger spans, thinner buildings as far as their depth of their walls.’
“The style soon became known as the Chicago School of Architecture.
“According to Miller, ‘Those innovations still continued today in our skyscrapers and our superstructures buildings over 80 floors, sometimes way over a hundred floors that you see around the world, that technology developed in Chicago and continued to develop even in the superstructures, like the Sears Tower. Now the Willis Tower and the John Hancock Building of the late 1960s and early 1970s.'” (Mills, The B1M, 7/13/22)