Concrete in a Steel City:
Structural Innovation in Postwar Chicago

Tue, Jun 27, 2023

Image by Dave Burk, Courtesy of SOM

Continuing the series In Situ: The Modern Concrete Skyscraper, which examines in depth key experiments in concrete construction, the Museum presents Concrete in a Steel City: Structural Innovation in Postwar Chicago, a conversation between Bill Baker, Consulting Partner of structural engineering at SOM, and Thomas Leslie, Professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and author of Chicago Skyscrapers, 1934-1986. They'll discuss SOM's development of tube construction with the Brunswick and DeWitt-Chestnut buildings and explore the origins of the structural thinking and engineering ideas birthed in Chicago in the postwar decades. Designed by Bruce Graham and Fazlur Khan of SOM in the early 1960s and completed in 1966, DeWitt-Chestnut is a 43-story apartment tower that pioneered the concept of tube structure in concrete, an idea that would later form the basis for steel towers such as the John Hancock Building, Willis (née Sears) Tower, and many others.

Bill Baker, PE, SE, FASCE, FIStructE, NAE, FREng

Consulting Partner, SOM

Bill Baker joined SOM in 1981, led the firm’s structural engineering practice for over twenty years and is now a Consulting Partner. He is best known for the design of the “buttressed core” structural system for the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest manmade structure. Active with numerous professional organizations and institutions of higher learning, Baker has received many honors, including four honorary doctorates. He is a Fellow of both the ASCE and the IStructE, a member of the National Academy of Engineering (United States), and an International Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering (United Kingdom). Recently he has been splitting his time between Chicago and the UK as an Honorary Professor at the University of Cambridge.

Thomas Leslie, FAIA

Thomas Leslie is Professor of Architecture at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where he researches the integration of building sciences and arts, both historically and in contemporary practice. He is the author of Chicago Skyscrapers, 1871-1934 and its sequel Chicago Skyscrapers, 1934-1986 (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2013 and 2023). He is also the author of Beauty's Rigor: Patterns of Production in the Work of Pier Luigi Nervi (University of Illinois Press, 2017).


After a brief introduction by Museum Director Carol Willis, Tom Leslie discusses the context for postwar innovations in "tube construction" in Chicago, including the key figures Myron Goldsmith and Fazlur Kahn. Bill Baker then analyzes SOM's earliest tube structures and places those in a wider context of postwar structural engineering.