What Skyscrapers Mean to Us

 I opened a checking account today at a Chase branch in my new town, Chicago; first, because it is next door to my office building at 30 North LaSalle (the 68th tallest building in the city at 553 feet), and second, because they gave me $100 to do so (not necessarily in that order.  The debit/bank card to go with the account could display the Chicago Bears logo, or the Chicago skyline.  The associate asked me if a was a Bears fan yet; I said no, but that I was already a fan of the Chicago skyline–so I chose that card.

After living and working in the loop for two months, I am a fan of the Chicago skyline, which is a dramatic mix of old and new, with varied and creative architecture, and many of the tallest buildings in the world in the city considered the birthplace of the skyscraper.

I’ve already written about turning a corner and finding myself in the shadow of the tallest building in the U.S–Willis Tower (Sears Tower). 

In the midst of my skyscraper fascination, I read a good blogpost by Jonathan Merritt on the Q Blog about what towering builidngs tell us about ourselves.  An excerpt:

Mason Cooley stated it most succinctly: “A skyscraper is a boast in glass and steel.” As such, our city’s buildings have become a statement on our prosperity spoken through the megaphone of architecture. Someone has well said, if one wants to know what America thinks of herself, look at her skylines.

In a city where winter will not ease its frosty grip and Spring is rumored but unfulfilled to date, Chicago can use the boost of a boast.

Of note, as Merritt points out, is that office buildings have replaced towering church spires as the central symbols of city centers:

But skyscrapers tell us about more than the material realities we’re facing. Spiritually, they tell us about America’s changing religious landscape. City skylines were once filled with more than tall buildings. In America’s early years, churches broke the rhythm of banks and businesses. As Harvard Professor Edward Glasser has pointed out, early city planners in the West took note of the Bible’s “Tower of Babel” narrative, and as a result, the tallest buildings in city centers were almost always churches.

There are still good, vibrant churches in the city.  It’s just become more difficult to find them.

A church on Monroe Street that I walked by one evening last week.


About Jim Jewell

I am a writer and consultant on faith and public life, active for many years in management and communications in the evangelical community. I now work as the director of the nonprofit practice at The Valcort Group (www.valcort.com). Everything on this blog, however, is my personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Valcort.
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