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Did you know that it was Chicago, not New York, where the first skyscraper, a symbol of America, was built? I didn’t (shame on me).


Since my Soviet childhood and before coming here, to the  third most populous city in the United States, I had been pretty sure that New York, with its iconic Empire State Building, was the cradle of this very recognizable architectural concept.


NYC is home to the tallest building in the United States, but the original trend-setter was Chicago, which became a pioneer in the new urban design in an effort to meet the needs of its rapidly growing population (thanks to immigration from the Old World) and the flourishing businesses on the land of the Native Americans.


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A tragedy of enormous size added new impetus to the construction boom. In the summer of 1871 the Great Chicago Fire claimed hundreds of lives and destroyed – in just two days – almost all of the city’s houses and office buildings, most of them wooden structures. When the rebuilding of the new city had begun, it was based on  steel-skeleton construction introduced as a substitute for wood, as the residents of settlement on the bank of Michigan lake had learnt a sad lesson. 14 years after the blaze, the world’s first skyscraper was built in Chicago.


The WPI fellows were among the hundreds of thousand travellers to Chicago every year, and got a chance to to admire unique views of the modern look of the city – both from the bottom up during the spectacular Architectural Boat Tour that winds through the very heart of the Windy City, and from a bird’s eye view in the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower, one of tallests in the world.


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The parallels with NYC are obvious, but while the “Second City” is a home to an impressive global commodities exchange and thus is a major financial center, it still seems much more relaxed in comparison to the Big Apple, famous for its crazy rhythm of life. But in terms of actual rhythm, you can’t beat Chicago: its legendary blues serves as persuasive proof of that.

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