Father Pitt

Why should the beautiful die?

The Convention in Sky-Scrapers, 1903

Hartje Building
The Hartje Building, later the West Penn Building, at First Avenue and Wood Street, is a classic example of the Beaux-Arts skyscraper formula of base, shaft, and cap. The architect was Charles Bickel.

The three original homes of the skyscraper were New York, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. When people first began to talk of “sky-scrapers,” those were the three cities they mentioned. And for the first three decades or so of skyscraper building, a definite style predominated in all three places—the Beaux-Arts formula of base, shaft, cap. From 1903, only a few years into the skyscraper age, a writer in the Architectural Record observes the uniformity that had quickly come to pervade American skyscraper design.

When steel construction began to have its effect upon the height and the looks of office-buildings, two tendencies were traceable in their design. In New York there was no attempt to make their appearance express their structure. A convention of treating them as columns with a decorated capital, a long plain central shaft, and a heavier base, was early adopted; and within the limits of this general idea, the regular architectural, structural and decorative forms were used regardless of their ordinary structural functions and associations. In Chicago, on the other hand, while many buildings were designed along the same lines as New York, there was a tendency, partly owing to the influence of Mr. Louis Sullivan, towards a franker expression in the design of these buildings of the plain facts of their steel structure. Such is no longer the case. The new sky-scrapers, which have been, and are being, erected in large numbers in Chicago and Pittsburgh, as well as New York, almost all conform to the conventional treatment, long since adopted in the metropolis—and this in spite of the fact that Mr. Louis Sullivan had between the two bursts of building activity completed several brilliant and comparatively good-looking attempts to solve the problem within the limitations imposed by the structure. Whether or not the American architect has, in this instance, chosen the wrong alternative, he has at any rate, for the time being, adopted a comparatively uniform type for the design of the “skyscrapers.”

The Architectural Record, December, 1903.

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One response to “The Convention in Sky-Scrapers, 1903”

  1. […] skyscraper—the attributes that became dogma for early skyscrapers across the country. (See “The Convention in Sky-Scrapers.”) And with good reason: a bunch of these skyscrapers may create a certain monotony in the […]

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