Essay on Great Chicago Fire as One of the Biggest Influences in Architecture

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As one of the biggest influences in architecture, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 left a very imprinted memory on the city itself. The fire itself altered many aspects, from the rapid growth of Chicago to the changes in building codes that impacted on the birth of a new style that represents one of many American architectures.

The Great Chicago Fire was said to be started on the evening of October 8, 1871, in a barn that belonged to the O’Leary’s (which later became the first firefighter school in Chicago). The fire spread through 73 miles of street, into the center of the windy city’s business district on the North, the Loop. Because of that, the fire consumed almost all the buildings that were mainly using timbers for their construction. Though the business district was down for a while, the stockyards and other agriculture products on the South are left untouched by the fire.

Many were grieving due to the loss of approximately 300 people and 100,000 were homeless during the time of occurrence. Just like a phoenix that rises from its ashes, as soon as the fire completely put out by the rain two days later, began a historic event of the Great Rebuilding of Chicago. The event took a lot of time and effort, and money too. A new building code was announced; one of them is about the fireproof materials of brick, stone, marbles, terracotta, and limestones. Although these materials are considered expensive, those who could afford the cost of rebuilding from the debris has no problems with it. However, some people could not even afford to rebuild their houses – the homeless situation. These people are the ones that had lost their fire and business insurances when the fire occurs and could not reapply it due to certain circumstances.

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In between the timeline during the rebuilding of Chicago, many things happened. A group of innovative architects, later known as the Chicago School, helped to rebuild the city in hope of creating a modern American city from scratch. These people are the ones who ‘invented’ skyscrapers, as Chicago could not expand its location horizontally due to railroads and the lake Michigan that surrounds it. Skyscrapers are also made with the help of the invention of elevators and steel frames. Other inventions, such as terracotta material for fireproof tiles and roofing are some of the methods used to speed up the rebuilding. That way, Chicago could still position as one of many busiest business cities in the United States.

The Chicago School’s architect, Louis Sullivan, also came up with the term ‘form follows function’ or functionalism as a modern way of thinking which later contributes to the 20th century Modern Movement. The term was embraced by many modernist architects, such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, and Mies van der Rohe. Not only that, but the Great Rebuilding of Chicago also contributes to the thinking of utopian city, ‘Garden City of To-morrow’, by Ebenezer Howard, an Englishman, who at the time of the fire was living in the city.

Looking back, if the city of Chicago was never to be set ablaze, it may still grow rapidly – though maybe not as rapid as it is today, taking notes at all the aspects it already offered. Chicago was Illinois’s, even America’s, center of economic, cultural, and political growth in the mid-19th century. The geography of the city itself – being surrounded by train tracks, Lake Michigan, and other bodies of water – becomes the privilege for the rapid growth of the city’s economy. However, the city was built on a swamp and was raised for over 4 feet (over 1 meter) above the surface in the 1880s, post-fire. If the Great Conflagration never occurred, the Great Rebuilding would never happen, and the land might sink much faster than today, thus, the arrival of skyscrapers and modern movement could be delayed, or there might never be any of such things in the early 20th century.

However, the Great Chicago Fire was only one of the many aspects of the American modern movement back in the 1880s. American architects are mainly influenced by the European architecture styles, meaning, they have no characteristic of style that could represent themselves yet. The original American styles, for example, the Organic or Prairie style, only emerge after the fire, in the 1900s.

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Essay on Great Chicago Fire as One of the Biggest Influences in Architecture. (2023, January 31). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 17, 2024, from
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