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Building Skyscrapers on Chicago's Swampy Soil

Photos © Chicago History Museum Hedrich Blessing Collection

Source: WBEZ

Architects in Chicago have dug enough foundations to know their way around the city’s famously swampy soil. But in many cities geotechnical engineers are still searching for solid footing. 

“For cities that are established, it's more a question of refinement,” says Bill Baker, a structural engineering partner at architecture firm Skidmore Owings & Merrill. “There are still cities where you're trying to figure it out. [In] Las Vegas you can't find the rock. There have been some buildings with very large settlements, so how do you deal with that? [In] Houston, believe it or not, you can't find the rock.”

Baker knows this problem well. In 1957 architects Walter Netsch and Bruce Graham used steel pilings to anchor Chicago’s Inland Steel Building to dolomite bedrock buried deep beneath the Loop — the first time after almost seven decades of skyscraper construction that design teams and engineers had accomplished such a feat. 

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