Skyscrapers are a common sight in cities around the world today. However, this was not always so. There was a time when the height of a building was limited to only a few stories. “In the late 1800s, new technology redefined these limits” (Harris, “How Skyscrapers Work”).
The First Skyscrapers
One of the major advancements that made skyscrapers possible was steel. In order for early buildings to be taller than three stories, the walls had to be thick at the base. An example of this is a building in Chicago. This 16-story building was constructed in 1891 and had 6 ft. thick walls at the base (“History”).
However, this soon changed. Steel became much cheaper, partially due to the Industrial Revolution, and started to be used in building skyscrapers. Thick walls at the base soon died out, and a steel frame to support the weight of the building was instead. With steel, buildings were able to be built taller and stronger than before.
The first building to use steel frame construction was the Home Insurance Company Building. This 10-story tall building was built in Chicago in 1885. The Woolworth Building, built in New York City in 1913 and standing at 792 ft. and 60 stories tall, was the first building to combine all the components of a true skyscraper (“History”).
It can be argued that the building of the Empire State Building was the start of the modern era of skyscraper building. In 1931, the Empire State Building became the world’s tallest building, and held this title for 41 years. As of 2009, there are only six buildings taller than the Empire State Building (“History”).
These buildings, in order of increasing height (height of roof without antenna or spire), are: Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai, China, 2 International Finance Center in Hong Kong, China, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia, the Willis Tower in Chicago, Illinois, Taipei 101 in Taipei, Taiwan, and Shanghai World Finance Center in Shanghai, China. However, The Burj Dubai, which is currently under construction, will tower over all these at an amazing 636 meters tall, minus the spire at the top.
Today, skyscrapers are still built the way they were 80 years ago. However, they have since become an art form, losing the traditional rectangular appearance and replacing it with abstract designs. An example of this is shown in the Sears Tower. The Sears Tower looks as if the bottom half is a single block and the top half is made up of carefully stacked smaller blocks.
While the Sears Tower retains some of the appearance of a traditional skyscraper, other, more recently built skyscrapers do not. The Burj Dubai, currently under construction, does not at all have the shape and appearance of a traditional skyscraper. The skyscraper’s appearance is made up of a single central cylinder, with ten smaller cylinders extending up the sides like steps.
There are many obvious differences between skyscrapers built about 100 years ago to skyscrapers built in the last 80 years. Appearance is one of them. Older skyscrapers are much squarer and have very little decoration aside from windows and the occasional spire at the top. The appearance of modern skyscrapers, however, can vary from a building made up of cylinders to a building made up of many abstract shapes (“Burj Dubai”).
What the skyscrapers are built of also has changed. Early skyscrapers were built using stone, such as limestone and granite, along with aluminum and steel (“Empire State Building”). Modern skyscrapers have done away with the stone in the building of the structure itself, replacing it with just steel and aluminum (“Burj Dubai”).
Also different are what skyscrapers are used for. When skyscrapers were first built, they were mainly used as office buildings. However, this changed. Soon skyscrapers were used not just as office buildings, but also as residential buildings and some floors were even used as radio or television stations. Even today you can find television stations in skyscrapers.
In some ways, skyscrapers are still the same. Skyscrapers are still built using the steel frame method of construction, with only slight differences. The foundation of the skyscraper, needed to hold the skyscraper in place, is still made of stone and concrete. Even parts of the appearance are still the same, as skyscrapers still have windows.
As different as past skyscrapers are to present ones, many things remain the same about skyscrapers. They are still used as office space, as living space, and as business space. Without skyscrapers, much more city space would be taken up. They still tower above our heads and extend into the heavens. Skyscrapers still make up a big part of cities all around the world.