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.

Smithsonian.com Explores the “Strange World That is the Escalator”

Detail from Jesse Reno’s 1902 patent for the “Inclined Elevator”; U.S. Patent 708,663 via Smithsonian.com

Smithsonian.com recently explored the “strange world that is the escalator” in “How the Escalator Forever Changed Our Sense of Space.” The piece takes readers through the early history of the invention, from a never-realized 1859 patent for “revolving stairs,” to Jesse Reno’s mechanical escalator that debuted to awestruck crowds in Coney Island, New York, to the piece of machinery most similar to the escalator of today — conceived by Charles Seeberger around the same time as Reno’s invention and acquired and marketed by Otis. The escalator stole the spotlight at the Paris Exposition of 1900, and quickly proved transformative to retail, the workplace and public transportation.

Of the Paris Expo, Smithsonian observed:

“Organizers and government officials were concerned how this exposition would make its mark — after the introduction of the Eiffel Tower at the fair in 1889, how could the [fair] 11 years later complete? Officials entertained many bizarre proposals, many of which involved alterations of the Eiffel Tower itself including the potential additions of clocks, sphinxes, terrestrial globes, and a 450-ft. statue of a woman with eyes made from powerful searchlights to scan the 562-acre fairgrounds.” It ended up, however, that the escalator “shone brightest” at the expo, winning Grand Prize and a Gold Metal for its “unique and functional design”

Otis trademarked the name “escalator,” but, like cellophane, kitty litter and aspirin, the term became so ubiquitous that competitor Haughton — since acquired by Schindler — successfully petitioned the US Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the trademark. Today, Otis and Schindler continue to be major players in a world in which the number of escalators doubles every 10 years.

thyssenkrupp escalator installation in Germany; photo courtesy of thyssenkrupp