Deep space, Thin Walls: Environmental and material precursors to the Postwar Skyscraper

Thomas Leslie, Saranya Panchaseelan, Shawn Barron, Paolo Orlando

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The glass skyscraper was a dream of architects and historians alike throughout the early and mid-twentieth century, but the ubiquity of the "glass box" occurred decades after Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's seminal proposals in 1922. In fact, these and other proposals for all-glass building skins were ridiculed by the profession, in particular Chicago architect George C. Nimmons, designer of the first "windowless department store" for Sears, Roebuck in 1934. Heating and cooling costs, he argued, would be prohibitive in such a building, and scientific writers sided with him; with modern services, noted Architectural Forum, the window "dies hard." As Thomas Leslie, Saranya Panchaseelan, Shawn Barron, and Paolo Orlando describe in Deep Space, Thin Walls: Environmental and Material Precursors to the Postwar Skyscraper, despite the critics, enthusiasm for new technologies - fluorescent lighting and air-conditioning in particular - influenced a generation of solid curtain wall structures, including Pittsburgh's Alcoa Building and Chicago's Prudential Building. Improvements in glazing lagged behind the development of air-conditioning and lighting, however, and problems with the performance of glass challenged these structures' solidity. Insulated window units and heat-absorbing glass emerged in the late 1940s and early 1950s, providing technical answers to the formula suggested by interior services, and the resulting glass skins emerged - some thirty years after Mies's experiments - as economically logical responses to the changed material possibilities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-96
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of the Society of Architectural Historians
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Architecture
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • History


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