Event—Public Programming

Chicago Skyscrapers, 1934-1986: How Technology, Politics, Finance, and Race Reshaped the City 

Thomas Leslie and Lee Bey will discuss Chicago’s skyscraper-filled skyline, its significance, and how it came to be.

This program will be held in-person at the Newberry and livestreamed on Zoom. The online version of this event will be live captioned.

Join Thomas Leslie and Lee Bey as they discuss Leslie's new book, Chicago Skyscrapers, 1934-1986: How Technology, Politics, Finance, and Race Reshaped the City, with a focus on the skyscraper's role in the city’s politics, demographics, and expansion during the postwar era.

Beyond achievements of engineering and design, or artifacts that define a city’s skyline, skyscrapers are also a ‘fossil record’ of the economic, political, and social forces that motivated their developers and creators. Reading deeply into stories of skyscrapers’ conception and realization brings new histories to light—of industry, government, labor, and finance, among others.

After twenty years of inactivity, Chicago’s Loop saw the greatest burst of skyscraper construction in American history between 1954 and 1974, coinciding with a political regime that saw these buildings as tools to reshape the city. Strengthening the fiscal and political power of downtown interests at the same time, hundreds of towers rose within a few miles of the Loop, designed to nourish commercial development with new high-rise housing for professional and executive classes. Tower blocks of a very different kind also emerged as the default solution to the city’s growing housing crisis throughout the city – but especially on the South Side – that tell an expanded architectural and urban history.

Chicago Skyscrapers will be available to purchase at the Newberry bookshop, and the author will sign copies after the talk.

This program is cosponsored by Chicago Collections Consortium.


Thomas Leslie, FAIA, is a professor in the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he teaches building design, technology, and history. He is also the author of Beauty’s Rigor: Patterns of Production in the Work of Pier Luigi Nervi.

Lee Bey is architecture critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. He is also a member of the Sun-Times editorial board, where he writes editorials on city governance, neighborhood development, politics, and urban planning. Bey is author of the much-praised book Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side, which showcases his architectural photography and social commentary. He was also host of the public television special, Building Blocks: The Architecture of Chicago’s South Side, which aired on WTTW in 2023.

Cost and Registration

This program is free and open to all. Advance registration required.

Registration opens September 1.

In-Person Registration

Support the Newberry

Your generosity is vital in keeping the library’s programs, exhibitions, and reading rooms free and accessible to everyone.

Make a Gift


Call us at (312) 255-3592 or send us an email.

Email Us

Past Public Programs

Check out video recordings of past Newberry public programs on our YouTube channel.


More Free Programs