In 1956, none other than iconic architect Frank Lloyd Wright suggested that it was not only possible, but highly probable, that a major American city would be the site of a mile-high office building. How, with advances in design and building materials, it was possible to construct a skyscraper of such magnitude, that it would tower over a city (Chicago being the proposed spot) some 5,000 feet from the ground floor. Granted, Frank Lloyd Wright was a visionary. His forward-thinking designs and concepts laid the groundwork for architectural designs for decades to come. But a mile-high office building?
Skeptics were all over this one – even if it was possible – consider the skyscraper would hold some 150,000 employees. The congestion from traffic in the surrounding area would be impossible to navigate. And safety concerns. What would happen if a fire broke out? How do you safely evacuate that many people from a building that tall, while trying to fight a fire, possibly on upper floors?
Those who saw the possibilities were equally as vocal. Building materials had greatly improved since World War 2. Wright was the pioneer of what came to be called the Prairie School movement of architecture, and he also developed the concept of the Usonian home in Broadacre City, his unique vision for urban planning in the United States. In addition to his houses, Wright designed original and innovative offices, churches, schools, skyscrapers, hotels, museums, and other structures. He often designed interior elements for these buildings, as well, including furniture and stained glass. Wright wrote 20 books and many articles and was a popular lecturer in the United States and Europe.
The only realized skyscraper designed by Wright is the Price Tower, a 19-story tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. It is also one of the two existing vertically oriented Wright structures (the other is the S.C. Johnson Wax Research Tower in Racine, Wisconsin). The Price Tower was commissioned by Harold C. Price of the H. C. Price Company, a local oil pipeline and chemical firm.
But in 1956, Wright was making a case for a mile-high office building – and this discussion, part of the radio series New World, assembles a group of architects to weigh the pros and cons and discuss the future of urban planning.
Fascinating stuff – sixty-two years ago.