Fredrick Baumann Built a Skyscraper out of Paper

Nasser Turk
Regional Manager Middle East Africa
WATG, Abu Dhabi

In December 1884 the Architect and Engineer Fredrick Baumann made what is almost certainly the first presentation skyscraper in the form of a three-page printed pamphlet entitled “Improvement in the Construction of Tall Buildings.” Baumann’s previous pamphlet “The Method of Isolated Piers” (1873) established the standard for foundation design in Chicago’s notoriously soft soil. The method of isolated piers was the first necessary innovation in tall building assembly subsequently called the Chicago System.

The 1884 pamphlet is the first use of the term skeleton frame, and describes all of the remaining changes necessary at the time to build a skyscraper. It details the design and assembly of a cast iron frame, the attachment attachments necessary to make it rigid, the economy of material from the use of repetitive members, the manner in which fire cladding is attached to prevent damage from thermal expansion, and the bracing with which an entirely metal frame may resist wind shear. Baumann also details the numerous ways in which this method of construction would improve the efficiency and economy of construction, and produces buildings that are more easily repaired if damaged and more easily renovated, particularly regarding the placement of fireplaces.

Baumann practiced architecture in Chicago for 70 years, where he built the tallest building before the fire of 1871, more than a mile of frontage on Chicago streets, authored the first Chicago Building Code, and would go on to invent the automatic sprinkler. Yet like his close friend William Lebaron Jenny, there is not enough original source material to make for a proper scholarly monograph about Baumann, creating a scholarly conundrum – a three page presentation skyscraper that has almost disappeared for want of presentation.

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