MASONRY TO STEEL, 1870S-1890S: How and When Masonry Systems of Construction Transitioned to Steel

Over the fall of 2020 during Covid restrictions, The Skyscraper Museum will present a series of webinar sessions designed as a free online course on the early development of the skyscraper as a distinct building type. The long description below covers the topics and contributing scholars. The virtual format for these talks will allow these professors from a wide array of institutions to come together for evolving discussion. Skyscraper Museum members can sign up for the entire course of lectures. Non-members must sign up for each individual program. All lectures are streamed live via the platform GoToWebinar. The sessions are capped at 150 attendees.

Rewriting Skyscraper History: Looking Back from the 21st Century

Week 2: MASONRY TO STEEL, 1870S-1890S: How and When Masonry Systems of Construction Transitioned to Steel

Tuesday, 9/29 at 6pm and Wednesday, 9/30 at 6pm

NEW YORK & CHICAGO, Similar but Different

Donald Friedman and Thomas Leslie

For Week 2, we present a pair of programs led by New York structural engineer Donald Friedman, author of The Structure of Skyscrapers in America, 1871–1900, and historian of Chicago Thomas Leslie, which revisit the fabled architectural rivalries of America’s largest and most innovative cities. Their talks will keep a tight focus on the key decades of the 1870s, the beginning of the end of “the age of masonry,” and the dawn of mass-production of rolled steel I-beams, which from the mid-1880s offered new economies for construction. Yet the eventual marriage of masonry and metal took time to birth the full steel skeleton, often called “the Chicago frame.”

Leslie and Friedman will explore the ways that traditional bearing walls enlarged window openings to illuminate interior workspaces until the wall became, in effect, a frame, and how hybrid systems of “cage construction” served practical purposes and were slow to disappear in practice. Both emphasize how construction moved toward industrial materials to reduce the cost of skilled labor, especially bricklayers. In Friedman’s succinct formulation: modern structure is industrialized structure.

These programs will build on several past lectures at The Skyscraper Museum by both speakers: the videos of these previous talks are highly recommended as background for this discussion.

29 September to 30 September 2020
Online Event
The Skyscraper Museum
Rewriting Skyscraper History