Steve Woods

The Cloudcutters: Origins and Future of the Skyscraper

In What Day is it? on September 3, 2009 at 12:59 pm
A modern, smaller skyscraper

A modern, smaller skyscraper

If you live in a big city, you simply walk or drive past them. They are part of your landscape, like Starbucks every other block, or that guy who smells like old cheese and wants to talk to you about the vampires. But to those of us that live in more rural settings, a visit to a city replete with these modern engineering and architectural marvels is full of wonder and awe. And fear of the vampire guy.

The term “skyscraper” was coined in the 1880s, when building techniques and inventions such as steel frames, elevators, centralized heating and plumbing systems and the telephone, allowed for taller structures, some of them up to 20 stories. The first modern skyscraper was the Tacoma Building, built by George A. Fuller, the first structure not requiring that the outside walls bear the weight of the structure. Using steel beams invented by Henry Bessemer, George created special cages to support the structure as a whole, then laid walls and floors upon them which were bolted together.  Every man’s ideal home to skyscrapers, New York City, got its first structure in 1902, and it was called the Flatiron Building.

There is a bit of disagreement among architects as to how to measure properly a skyscraper’s height. Some say it is from the street to the end of the roofline. Some say that the measure of a skyscraper must include all things attached to it, including spires, steeples and antennae, flagpoles and perhaps even the wayward pigeon. Want my opinion? If you don’t measure the attached trash cans and portly doorman when determining how big around the thing is, why measure the mishagoss that is added on top? The guy down my street who never talks to anyone and maintains his own personal CB radio tower in his ill-kept back yard, much to the chagrin of his neighbors, is not known to have the tallest house on the block. He just has the most annoying one.

As with all public erections, men have tried to demonstrate to a weary world that they have the tallest. What is the tallest occupied skyscraper these days? The Taipei 101 in Taiwan is measured at 1,671 feet, and was built in 2004. The Freedom Tower under construction near the footprint of the World Trade Center is to be 1,776 feet when completed. But are these the tallest? What lies in the near future of these incredible “scrapers of the skies?”

Chart showing relative heights

Chart showing relative heights

In Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the Dubai Tower is almost completed, and at 162 stories currently holds the record for being the tallest manmade structure ever built, at 2,684 feet (a full 1,000 feet higher than the Taipei 101!!!) The Dubai Tower will be ready for occupancy in 2009, and it cost over $4 Billion to construct.

Saudi business mogul Prince al-Waleed bin Talal announced in June of this year that he is building a skyscraper in the city of Jeddah (near the Red Sea) that will dwarf all previous skyscraper records, including the Dubai Tower. At over 200 stories tall, the Kingdom Tower, as it has been named, will spread over an area 23 million square meters, and will rise up to an incredible height of 3,280 feet.

But there’s more… The same company creating the Kingdom Tower has even bigger plans in store. It is called the Mile High Tower, and if approved will also be constructed in Jeddah. Yes folks, this one is said to be 5,250 feet tall when completed. Yes, a mile. This tower will cost $13 Billion dollars to construct. There is a dispute, however, as to whether or not the surrounding land can support such a structure, and rumors abound that it will be scaled back because of this… In the graphic, the Empire State Building is the third from the right, and the proposed Mile High Tower is on the left….


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