Designed by William Le Barron Jenny and engineer George B. Whitney, the Home Insurance Building, completed in Chicago in 1885, is generally regarded as the world’s first skyscraper where the load-bearing capacity of the façade was liberated by a structural steel frame. 1 Compared to load-bearing high-rise structures, such as the 17-storey Monadnock Building (Figure 7.1), lightweight steel construction provided a number of sustainability benefits. These included freeing up the façade for larger windows to admit more light into the office floors and increasing the efficiency of the structure by reducing column sizes (Willis, 1995). Lighter construction also meant smaller foundations, and therefore less material consumption. The brick piers of the Monadnock Building, for example, are almost two metres thick at ground 2 (Figure 7.2).

There must be sufficient building material and no more, for it is essential, not only for economy but also to reduce the weights on the foundations, and the construction should be as light as possible consistent with stability.

[William Le Barron Jenney, 1891, p. 41]