Ever been to one of the big cities in the world? If yes, then the sight of high-rising buildings is definitely not new to you. Be it in New York, Shanghai, Bangkok, Dubai, London, Tokyo, Chicago, Paris and so on, the architectural/monumental excellence of high-risers is ever present. You see them built in different sizes and shapes, and of different heights and colours, but not without one thing in common: magnificence.

From ancient times, mankind has sought to create for themselves monuments of beauty in construction of buildings for whatever purpose be it for habitation or religious/ceremonial purposes. The ancient Egyptians were able to build high rising structures known as pyramids (with some standing well above 460 feet) used mainly for the preservation of mummies. Other places where the ancient world witnessed high rising constructions include ancient Babylon where the Etemenanki is said to have stood well above 290 feet, China where the Yongning Temple once stood at 448 feet in the city of Louyang, Anuradhapura city in Sli lanka, Korea, Columbia, Rome etc.

Unlike the Skyscrapers of the modern world built through the power of modern technology, the architectural feat of the ancient world in erecting such massive structures is still considered a wonder today. But despite their height and magnificence, none of those ancient structures can be passed as being a skyscraper. “Why?” one may ask. Well, let us consider what as skyscraper is.


What Is a Skyscraper?

According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 2016, a skyscraper is a tall, continuously habitable building having multiple floors. It also states that when the term was originally used in the 1880s it described a building of 10 to 20 floors, but now described one of at least 40-50 floors.

Dictionary.com provides two definitions on the term skyscraper which are:

  1. A relatively tall building of many stories, especially one for office and commercial use
  2. Architecture: a building of exceptional height completely supported by a framework, as of girders, from which the walls are suspended, as opposed to a building supported by load-bearing walls.

Most modern skyscrapers are very tall buildings as high as 50 metres (164 feet) characterised by large surface areas of windows with steel framework that supports curtain walls. The curtain walls according to Wikipedia, either bear on the framework below or are suspended from the framework above, rather than load-bearing walls of conventional construction.

Although tall and massive, ancient structures like the pyramids of Egypt a not considered to be skyscrapers because they were largely uninhabited and do not comply with the modern definition of skyscraper.



Origin of Skyscrapers

Many wonder when and where the first skyscraper was built. According to early modern standards, the term skyscraper was first attributed to any building of steel framed construction of at least 10 stories. Based on this standard, he first steel-frame skyscraper was the Home Insurance Building in Chicago, Illinois in 1885.  Originally 10 stories, the building stood at 138 feet (42 metres). Most early skyscrapers appeared around Chicago and New York toward the end of the 19th century ensuring a competition for the city with the tallest building in the world.

According to records, Rand McNally Building in Chicago own by Burnham and Root was the first all-steel framed skyscraper and was finished in 1889. Before then, no building has attained the status of true skyscraper, but with the completion of Louis Sullivan’s Wainwright Building in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1891, the world witnessed the unveiling of what was considered by many to be the first true skyscraper. The building according to Wikipedia was the first steel-framed with soaring vertical bands to emphasize the height of the building

The way skyscrapers are built have evolved in modern times with the construction of high-risers built with steel or reinforced concrete frameworks with curtain walls of polished stone or glass. Such gigantic buildings are equipped with such things like elevators and water pumps built mechanically.

Since the end of World War II, the world has witnessed a great deal of the construction of skyscrapers, each with its uniqueness in size, colour and elegance. This period also abandoned the classical designs of the early skyscrapers, instead adopting the international style for uniformity. This saw many older skyscrapers demolished or redesigned to suit contemporary style and taste. One example of a demolished skyscraper was the New York’s Singer Building,once the wold’s tallest skyscraper.


Design and Construction

Because of the complexity in skyscraper design, balances are required between engineering, economics and construction management of the building. Before designing and construction of a skyscraper begins, there are certain factors to be considered so as to overcome the problems posed by such complexity. This includes considering the topography of the land on which the building it to be erected, estimating the cost and planning a suitable budget for the building, creating a good design for the project. Also, getting the right people for the job should be a top priority for the planners. This involve getting a team of architects, constructors and engineers suitable for the job.

Skyscrapers should be designed and constructed in a unique and professional way so as to create safe and habitable spaces in them. They must support their weight, be able to protect occupants from fire outbreak, and be able to resist wind and earthquakes. This involves constructing a suitable foundation and above the ground framework for the building. Also, skyscrapers must be designed in a manner that makes them conveniently accessible on all floors and provide utilities and suitable climate for the occupants.

The Burj Khalifa


Standing well at 828 metres tall with 163 floors above the groundand occupying 309,473 metre square, the Burj Khalifa once known as Burj Dubai is the tallest man made structure in the world.  Completed 31 December, 2009, after five years on exterior construction, the Y-shaped tower is made of Steel, aluminium, glass and reinforced concrete and cost USD $1.5billion according to Stanglin and Douglas’ “Dubai and world’s tallest buildings.” It is located in the middle of a man-made lake and is serviced by 57 elevators (2 double deck and 55 single deck) said to move passengers at a speed of 36km/h making them one of the world’s fastest elevators.  The building rising to the sky in steps is said to symboliserising toward heaven in Islamic architecture. It has apartments, shops, spas, swimming pools and an observation platform on the 124th floor. The building is considered an architectural/monumental marvel, winning multiple awards over time.

Some of the world’s tallest buildings to have once topped the list of tallest buildings include

  1. Taipei 101 located in Taiwan and standing at a height of 509 metres.
  2. Petronas Tower 1 and 2 (also Known as the Twin Towers), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia standing at a height of 452 metres.
  3. Willis Tower (once known as Sears Tower), Chicago standing at 442 metres tall
  4. Empire State Building, New York city, at a height of 381 metres completed in the year 1931.

3rd September is designated as the global commemorative day for skyscrapers, known as “Skyscrapers Day”. 

Written by Ejiofor Ekene Maduabuchi and first Published on Olaedo and Arts



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