JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post #106
This is the first in a series taking a little look at some big buildings—very big buildings, that is, monstrously putting the “b” in “big”, altogether too-big, impossibly-big, buildings.) There have been grotesquely, morph-aided, Babel-like buildings proposed that are bigger than the ones I’ve got in mind, but those tended to live in the science fiction world, or even more removed, in the self-published beyond-the-pale world—but what these later buildings have in common is that no one intended to actually build them, while the ones we’ll take a look at were serious proposals looking for real world serious money.
(For example of the former category, I own a 1935 pamphlet in which the self-published author proposed a 60-mile (?!) tall building with a bell on the top to summon all world peoples to celebration of unitary religion and other, odder, needs.)
The first of these intentional buildings was a proposal of a busy, respected and advanced architect named Leroy Buffington, of Minneapolis. His put forward this plan in 1889 to be considered for an exhibition building in the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893. It was rejected out of hand because of the obvious expense, but when you take a closer look at the thing it just seems to have been an impossible structure to build given the contemporary technology.
The building was meant to be a “steel tent”, with a corkscrew-like electric railway winding its way around the building to a globe with a cross on the apex at the top of the structure. (The detail below is from about the exact middle of the building and shows the railway cars.)
By my reckoning, the structure in this image is 150mm long; each of the railway cars on it seem to be about 3mm; if each railway car/pair was a relatively modest 30-feet long in real life, this would make the building about 1500 feet long, with a height of about 400 (measuring to the base of the globe). Since we know the structure was to be elliptical, this would give it a circumference of nearly a mile and an area of about 2 million square feet. Given that the skyscraper was basically invented at about this time, and that the idea of the steel skeleton was also practically brand new, and given the structure’s very odd shape and dimensions, and given the weight of the roof, well, thus building was just not getting done.
As a matter of fact Buffington himself tried to patent the idea of a steel skeleton building (U.S. Patent No. 383,170, presented May 1888)—a claim which has been refuted and dismissed by modern scholars (such as Adam Lathrop, formerly of the University of Minnesota, who said that Buffington drew direct inspiration from LeBaron Jersey) with documentary evidence—Buffington should’ve known better. Perhaps his proposal in 1889 was just a platform for publicity for his patent; perhaps not. But it just seems that the state of the art for the big structure, as we see in the patent drawings for this imaginary 28-story building, was just nowhere near the realistic edge of being able to support a steel roof that was something like 1/12th of a square mile.
Even though the building was enormous, and impossible to build, it was also very not pretty.
And for some reason Buffington just couldn’t get enough of his idea-that-wouldn’t die, as he presented it, again, for consideration for a pavilion for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. It was rejected then, too.