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Biography reveals inventor of skyscraper was British

by Ian Mitchelmore. Published Tue 20 Aug 2013 15:54
The Water Street entrance to Oriel Chambers in 2013.
The Water Street entrance to Oriel Chambers in 2013.

The inventor of skyscrapers was a British and not American contarary to popular belief, according to new research.

Peter Ellis, an architect from Liverpool, began a worldwide boom in tall buildings, using a groundbreaking method with cast iron frames were to allow large windows storeys.

His works which are earmarked as the blueprint for skyscrapers include Liverpool's Oriel Chambers and Cook Street buildings.

Built during the 1860s, they included the world's first looping lifts and large windows in their design.

Ellis was widely criticised at the time for his groundbreaking methods, with critics compared them to greenhouses.

The architect was so dismayed by the comments, he never designed another building and spent the rest of his working life in obscurity as a surveyor.

But author Graham Jones aims to win recognition for Ellis as the father of skyscrapers with his biography In The Footsteps of Peter Ellis.

The book also reveals that Ellis invented the world's first paternoster lift, which was installed at Oriel Chambers.

Author Graham Jones claims several American architects took inspiration from the Liverpudlian's designs when creating their own buildings years later.

He said: "Peter Ellis should be remembered as the inventor of skyscrapers as we know them today and a figure of pride for British architecture.

"Ellis deserves great recognition for his work, because it wasn't until about 20 years after he built his designs that skyscrapers in America started to go up.

"The historians I've worked with all believe John Wellborn Root may well have used some of Peter's ideas in his buildings in Chicago after he stayed in Liverpool during the American Civil War.

"Many also believe that Louis Sullivan who is widely regarded as the father of skyscrapers took ideas from Peter after he saw his buildings when he came through Liverpool during one of his tours to England."

"Peter was the first to build structures using cast iron, so each floor could then be reproduced and huge windows could be fitted.

"Oriel Chambers was so far advanced for its time that it got heavily criticised by the architectural press, who didn't realise how groundbreaking the building was.

"He was the man who envisioned concept of skyscrapers and it's very important that his achievements are recognised.

"I became fascinated with Peter Ellis and I couldn't believe how little was known about him.

"He also invented and patented the world's very first paternoster lift, so his achievements were simply phenomenal.

"In 1868 he installed the world's first paternoster lifts in Oriel Chambers, a decade before what people believe was the first, which was built by another company."

The book will be published by Liverpool History Society on September 4.


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