Looking Back at a Megaproject


Structural bracing near the portal just north of WMATA’s Grosvenor station; image courtesy of GWU Archives via Greater Greater Washington

Subways and commuter rail systems are important transportation options in most of the large cities in the U.S. They help reduce roadway congestion and the pollution produced by automobiles and, because they are either underground or elevated, they provide quick and efficient travel throughout metro areas. And, as we all know, thanks to the Americans With Disabilities Act, their stations and platforms are equipped with vertical transportation: large-capacity elevators and heavy-duty escalators that keep people on the move. In a nostalgic look back at the genesis of one of the nation’s best-known metro systems, website Greater Greater Washington has posted photographs documenting the construction of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Metrorail system serving the Washington, D.C., area, the first segment of which opened in 1976. The digitized photographs were released by the George Washington University (GWU) Archives, and include a rendering of the Wheaton Station escalators, the longest single-span escalators in the Western Hemisphere. If you’re into construction photographs, these will give you a fascinating look behind the scenes at the work involved in creating the nation’s second-busiest metro system.

Five Decades of Innovation

When it opened in 1969, 875 North Michigan Avenue (then the John Hancock Center) in Chicago represented cutting-edge construction technology, becoming the first high-rise building to employ a braced-tube structural system; photo courtesy of CTBUH.

In recognition of its founding in 1969, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) has spent 2019 looking at the past five decades of skyscraper construction and development, as well as imagining what the next five decades might bring — hence, its 50th anniversary theme, “50 Forward | 50 Back.” The celebration will come to a head at the end of this month with the CTBUH 10th World Congress in Chicago. As in previous events, the congress will feature workshops, presentations, panel discussions and a symposium. The special focus, however, will be “The 50 Most Influential Tall Buildings of the Last 50 Years,” a global roster of landmark structures that, each in its own way, “represented a significant change in thinking or technique” from what came before. The list includes 1969’s 875 North Michigan Avenue (the former John Hancock Center) in Chicago; the Lotte World Tower in Seoul (2017) and the Burj Khalifa (2010), Dubai’s awe-inspiring megatall. Whether it was construction technique, environmental friendliness or outside-the-box architectural design, each building on the list had a notable role in advancing the art and science of the skyscraper, one of humankind’s most iconic creations.

CTBUH is expecting more than 1,500 delegates from at least 45 countries to attend the congress, which opens on October 28. An online registration portal will be open until October 18, so there’s still time to sign up. For more information or to register, visit the CTBUH website’s 2019 program page.

Germs? What Germs?

The Te Papa Museum in Wellington, New Zealand, wants to find the subject of this nearly 50-year-old photograph taken by Max Oettli; image via nzherald.co.nz.

An exhibition of historical photographs in New Zealand has launched something of a sleuthing effort to identify the subject of one of the show’s many compelling images: a young girl, apparently seeing an escalator for the first time, captured on film licking the moving stairs’ handrail. The 1970 photo was taken by noted photographer Max Oettli, a Swiss-born longtime resident of New Zealand whose iconic images are part of a show called “The New Photography — Life in the ’60s and ’70s” on display through October 13 at Wellington’s Te Papa Museum. Athol McCredie, a curator at the museum, told the NZ Herald that Oettli captured the image inside a department store that had new escalators. “To a child who had never seen an escalator before, this belt (handrail) might have looked like a giant licorice strap,” McCreadie said.

Then again, who knows what goes through the mind of child? If she comes forward, maybe we’ll find out.