Article: All about Skyscrapers

Whats a Skyscraper?
Let us start with what does a skyscraper mean: Quoting a wikipedia definition here, "A skyscraper is a tall, continuously habitable building. There is no official definition nor height above which a building may clearly be classified as a skyscraper. Most cities define the term empirically; even a building of 80 meters (262 feet) may be considered a skyscraper if it protrudes above its built environment and changes the overall skyline."

The skyscrapers were not new to common man even couple of centuries back. Examples of such astonishing creations include the pyramids in Egypt, most of the the towers in Italy and the gothic cathedrals of France. In contrast to the present day skyscrapers, which are built by steel, high quality reinforced cement concrete and glass, these were built with masonry or stone walls supporting most of the weight (load-bearing walls), including that of the floors, the people, and everything the rooms contained.

Why go tall?
Most of the early structures were built more for the desire to build big. Big buildings have been used to show off power and wealth, to show case the limits of what's possible and even as simple competition among owners, families, architects, and builders. Although some of the structures also had significant importance from a security point of view.

However modern day skyscrapers were built more from a utility popint of view rather than prestige. It all started from Chicago, the industrial city of America. In 1871, Chicago city experienced explosive growth forcing people to strain against its natural boundaries. By the 1880s, the available land for new buildings in this area could not keep up with demand. What was left for them then was to build up. And with this new building method, the skyscraper was born and the race for the tallest building began.

What lies beneath?
The race for sky began by the end of ninteenth century. The buildings were lunging to the sky. But in order to achieve the desired height, construction techniques had to change. A new method of building was developed that used a grid of steel beams and columns strong enough to support any stresses or forces a building might experience, including both the weight of the floor and the building contents, as well as the force of wind or even, in some areas, earthquakes. Concrete became another most common materials, beyond the steel supports, because it is enormously versatile. With central structure complete in solidarity, the architects were free to experiment with other materials for the outer skull. Here entered glass. Since steel was able to take almost all of the weight, the skin was just required to sheild the building from weather. Using glass meant the building could allow maximum light and keep the weather out. So glass walls became very popular also because they were cheaper-than masonry or concrete and at the same time they made the buildings look extremely beautiful.

The timeline...
The tallest building in ancient times was the Great Pyramid of Giza in ancient Egypt, which was 146 metres (480 ft) tall and was built in the 26th century BC. Its height was not surpassed for thousands of years, possibly until the 14th century AD with the construction of the Lincoln Cathedral (though its height is disputed), which in turn was not surpassed in height until the Washington Monument in 1884.

In the early 20th century, corporations built skyscrapers for the promotional value to increase name recognition. Among the early skyscrapers in Manhattan were the Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower (700 feet, 50 stories), the Woolworth Building (the world's tallest from 1913-1930 at 792 feet, 60 stories), the Bank of Manhattan (927 feet, 71 stories), and the heavily decorated Chrysler Building (briefly the world's tallest in 1930 at 1046 feet, 77 stories). The Chrysler Building soon lost its crown to the Empire State Building, built during the Depression by a real estate developer, which reached a stunning 1,250 feet and 102 stories. The Empire State Building would reign supreme among skyscrapers for 41 years until 1972, when it was surpassed by the World Trade Center (1,368 feet, 110 stories). Two years later, New York City lost the distinction of housing the tallest building when the Sears Tower was constructed in Chicago (1450 feet, 110 stories). And twenty-four years later, for the first time the tallest skyscraper was no longer in the United States at all, but in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where the Petronas Towers were built in 1998 (1483 feet, 88 stories).

The tallest completed building so far in the 21st century is Taipei 101, built in Taiwan in 2004, which tops out at 1,670 feet and 101 stories. Currently under construction in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the Burj Dubai is expected to be completed in 2009. As of September 2008, Burj Dubai was 2,320 feet tall with 160 completed floors. The exact height is top secret but is estimated to be at least 2,684 feet and 167 floors. If it reaches this height, which is close to a half mile tall, it will be tallest man made structure of any kind in history.


  • Kaustubh Katdare
    Kaustubh Katdare
    😀 Very good article, Mayur!

    [PS: Civil engineer in you is 'acting up'? 😉 kidding! ]
  • Kaustubh Katdare
    Kaustubh Katdare
    PS: Just a hint. Our next small talk is going to be related to skyscrappers! Yay!
  • Mayur Pathak
    Mayur Pathak
    Yeah thanks. And I knew about the next Small Talk. So I thought it was a good opportunity to tell people about it. ;-)
  • shalini_goel14
    Hi All,

    Just a quick update from Karnataka in the concept of sky scrapers 😀. Karnataka's state govt. has decided to make 100 storeys trade center in Bangalore inspired by New York's WTC(World Trade Center). It is going to be India's tallest tower and central hub for trade.

You are reading an archived discussion.

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