Chicago's architectural innovations are world renowned. But before Burnham, steel, and skyscrapers, a wooden structure that was built in 1833 may have introduced an idea just as influential. The "balloon frame" buildout of St. Mary's Church, utilizing wooden boards held together by newly mass-produced nails, became a model for construction worldwide that inspired some of the first prefab buildings in the country. The concept (which has alternately been attributed to other builders and designers) was derided at the time; the name was an insult, suggesting it would tumble in a stiff breeze.
Nearly two centuries later, architect Jeffrey Sommers of Square Root Architecture + Design, also wants to revolutionize the way homes are built in Chicago, with a similar eye towards large-scale shift in building and manufacturing. And he's also fighting an uphill battle.