Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Power of the Internet and Frank Lloyd Wright

This is kind of a side note.

As some may know, I am a blogger for the Archinect School Blog Project (check it out).  Recently I posted an update of the classes that I am taking at the University of Illinois Chicago.  The post included an quick rundown of a project I am working on for an Architectural Theory class. (I will probably post the whole project on here when it is done.)

The research project is about structures that were never built in Chicago.  My portion of the project focuses on the National Life Insurance Building by Frank Lloyd Wright.

While doing some follow up research, and searching for information online I came upon a slough of new blog articles on the building.  What was funny, they all quoted my post on Archinect!  My research is accurate, but I find this amazing.  What is perhaps funnier is that there is a great deal of conversation on these other blogs regarding the merits of the building, but people actually know very little about it.

These bloggers were kind enough to link to where they were reblogging from so I will give them a little shout out.  It is very clear that they did not all get the post directly from my Original post but rather through each other, but the idea of proliferation in this way is so interesting.

Some real information about the building based on graduate level research.

National Life Insurance Building (1923-25)
Architect- Frank Lloyd Wright
Client- A.M.Johnson/National Life Insurance Co
Material-Cantilevered reinforced concrete floors, reinforced concrete pylons, insulated extruded sheet copper curtain wall “Suspended sheet copper screens”

Project Description:

When commissioned by an eccentric money man, Frank Lloyd Wright set out to design a new type of skyscraper. It was to be an “Architecture of Democracy.” Claiming that the building would be earthquake-proof (most likely a gimmick for the insurance company it was to house), the National Life Insurance Building would stand 25 stories tall at the North end of the Magnificent Mile. A set of four main transepts, the floors would be cantilevered off of groups of reinforced concrete pylons. With the load of the building taken away from the exterior FLLW was attempting to have the walls “cease to exist as either weight or thickness” with what we would now refer to as a curtain wall, and what he referred to as “suspended sheet copper screens.” These “screens” were to be per-fabricated off site. A concept that would also become the norm of skyscraper construction. Wright is also quick to point out that “there is no unsalable floor space in this building created 'for effect', and no features manufactured 'for effect'.” This was to be a tower of rationalism at a time when less then a mile away two Gothic revivalist towers where being erected (Wriggly and Tribune). Many believe that, had this building been constructed, it would have turn Wright's career around at a time when he was facing many tribulations in his personal and professional life.

There is more but we will save it...


  1. Matt-
    I'm looking forward to seeing/hearing more about the tower, especially insofar as it would resist lateral wind and seismic loads. It looks like the massing itself acts as resistance--the 4 transepts seem to serve as massive shear walls. Then within those transepts, are the fins actual structural shear walls? I'd be interested to see some plans. Nice work!

  2. The final project will include plans and and sections.

    There are no shear walls in it though. The floor plates are hung off of central pylons. The image itself is somewhat deceiving as far as mass is concerned as the envelope of the building is completely glass in copper mullions, and the interior is completely clear of structure besides the pylons themselves.

    The building works like a Pagoda or a tree with a trunk and branches. FLLW rhetoric at the time about his structural systems was fueled by the "success" of his Imperial Hotel in the Earthquake of 1923.

    I imagine the transepts and the 300ft long footprint of the building would do a great deal as far as wind and seismic loads. Luckily Chicago generally does not have much seismic activity, but there obviously is a wind.

    Thanks for the comment. Watch for more on this project towards the end of the school year.

  3. I think that is right bout that. Nice info and thanks. Need to get in google feed.


  4. There are various types of universal life insurance they all have some common attributes. You pay an insurance company what are called premiums. At your death, the life insurance company pays an amount to the people you named in your policy, called beneficiaries. Also it's interesting that if you named a beneficiary(ies) they'd receive the insurance amount free of income tax.

  5. Some random thoughts -
    1. Looks like a giant car radiator.
    2. What would have prevented it from turning the sickly green color copper gets when exposed to the elements?
    3. Would all that copper make the building a giant lightning rod?
    4. Copper is also a very efficient conductor of heat. Would the tenants feel as though they were in a giant pizza oven on a sunny summer day?

  6. Matthew,
    This is fascinating information. Please send me your final report. I have just finished co-authoring "Frank Lloyd Wright: The Man who Played with Blocks, A Short Biography" and we're looking for a publisher. The information you uncovered may help us expand the section on Wright's office buildings.
    Leslie Freudenheim

  7. A very optimistic blog post. I am waiting for your next topic on how IoE has benefited us.

    Condenser Fans & Radiator Warehouse

  8. I am really appreciating very much by seeing your interesting posts.geriatric life insurance