HISTORY OF HEIGHT
This interactive website presents illustrated episodes in the history of height from the pyramids to the present, highlighting themes and buildings that relate to the evolution of the skyscraper and point the way to 21st-century supertalls. It examines the ambition to build high, the technological advances and engineering innovations that enabled that desire, the economics that drove commercial development, the influence of outstanding architectural designs, and the codes and regulations that shaped buildings and skylines.
On the top row is a lineup of the successive structures that held the title of "world's tallest building." On the lower range these are scaled in silhouettes that chart that ascent through the traditions of building in masonry, metal, and concrete, leading up to the first skyscrapers in New York and Chicago in the 1870s and 1880s. From the 270-foot New York Tribune Building to the 2,717-foot Burj Khalifa in Dubai is an astonishing tenfold rise, but the acme of size in terms of overall scale, rather than sheer height, came in the 1970s, with the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Sears, now Willis, Tower.
The central timeline is illustrated with historical prints, photographs, and text boxes that are color-coded: light blue labels describe buildings and events in New York City; green labels refer to Chicago; dark blue in the final panel refers to Asia.
The History of Height was created for the 2011 exhibition SUPERTALL! It was installed as a 28' mural as an introduction to the show. The mural remains on permanent display in the Skyscraper Museum gallery.
GREAT PYRAMID OF GIZA
With its apex at 481 feet, the tomb of the Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu remained the world's tallest structure until Gothic cathedrals. Masonry was the principal material for structures of great height until the invention of metal construction.
Maison Bonfils, Beirut, Lebanon,Vue générale des pyramides, between 1867 and 1899. Library of Congress.
TOWER OF BABEL
The biblical Tower of Babel was imagined by artists over the centuries as a great ziggurat, like the stepped pyramids of ancient Babylon. One of the most famous images was a painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder of c.1563 portraying the tower as a vertical city.
"Building the Tower of Babel," Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1563
LIGHTHOUSE OF ALEXANDRIA
One of the Wonders of the Ancient World, the Lighthouse of Alexandria was for centuries one of the tallest masonry towers. Reaching 393-450 feet, it used fire and mirrors to guide ships into the harbor at night.
The Romans invented concrete construction and perfected a method of building with massive walls and barrel vaults that could achieve great height, as in the dome of the Pantheon, which measures 142 ft height and width.
Throughout Asia, tiered towers represent religious aspirations. Known as the Iron Pagoda because of its red-brown color, the 187-foot structure was built of glazed brick and stone, replacing a famed wooden pagoda that burned down in 1044.
The 'Iron Pagoda' of Kaifeng, Henan, China, built out of glazed brick in 1049 CE during the Chinese Song Dynasty (960–1279), Gary Lee Todd, Ph.D., 2008.
Adapted from Wikimedia Commons: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Iron_Pagoda_d.JPG
The Gothic cathedral builders of the 12th and 13th century developed a structural system of stone ribs and vaults, much like a skeleton and curtain wall, that could achieve great height and open large expanses of wall for stained-glass windows. The tallest vaults were built at Beauvais, which achieved a height of 159 ft / 48.5 m.
Cathedral in Reims, France, Magnus Manske, 2004. Adapted from Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Reims_Cathedral,_interior_(4).jpg
At 404 feet, the spire of this British cathedral is the tallest extant from the medieval period in Europe. The tower attained its final height in 1330, 110 years after the cathedral's first foundation stones were laid in 1220.
Salisbury Cathedral, England, Detroit Publishing Co., 1905. Library of Congress
CAMPANILE, FLORENCE CATHEDRAL
Rising 278 feet, the polychrome bell tower of the painter Giotto soared above the medieval church. The campanile was completed by Francesco Talenti in 1359, and Brunelleschi later crowned the cathedral with a Renaissance dome which rose to a height of 374 feet.
Giotto's Campanile, Florence, Tuscany, Italy, Jim Linwood (Flickr), 2001.
ST. MARK'S CAMPANILE
At 323 feet, the brick bell tower of St. Mark's Cathedral reigned over Renaissance Venice. In 1902, the free- standing campanile collapsed and was rebuilt with reinforcement. The Metropolitan Life Insurance Building was modeled on the Venetian icon.
St. Mark's Place, with campanile, Venice, Italy, Detroit Publishing Co. 1905.
At 5-7 stories, sugar houses were constructed with thick masonry walls and stood taller than most contemporary buildings. At least 5 sugar refineries were erected in lower Manhattan in colonial times. Later, refineries of 10 stories or taller were built near the waterfront.
"Old Sugar House in Liberty Street," Mary Louise Booth, History of The City of New York, pg.316. 1867.
John Smeaton developed a new type of quick-drying cement that set under water, revolutionizing both lighthouse design and the use of concrete in buildings. Only 72 feet tall, the original lighthouse was replaced, but remnants of Smeaton's tower survive in the second version to this day.
"Eddystone Lighthouse," John Platts, A Library of Wonders and Curiosities Found in Nature and Art, Science and Literature, pg. 890. New York J.B. Alden, 1884.
Spanning 100 feet over the River Severn in Shropshire, England, Coalbrookdale was pivotal to the development of iron construction. The world's first cast-iron bridge, it was designed, fabricated, and constructed by the ironmaker Abraham Darby III.
"Iron Bridge," Roantrum (Flickr), July 2005.
MONTGOLFIER HOT-AIR BALLOONS
The Parisian Montgolfier brothers enabled human flight and unprecedented height with their invention of the hot-air balloon, constructed mostly of sackcloth. The first untethered flight attained an altitude of 3,000 feet, covered a distance of 9 km, and lasted 25 minutes.
"Montgolfier Brother's Flight," Paris, France, 21 November, 1783. Bildarchiv Preussuscher Kulturbesitz, Berlin.
The third Trinity Church on its site still stands today at the head of Wall Street. The neo-gothic landmark was the highest point on New York's skyline until the completion of the World Building in 1890.
Trinity Church, Ezekiel Porter Belden, New York, Past, Present, and Future, pg. ix. Putnam, 1849.
DUANE STREET FACTORY
Described as "the first complete cast-iron edifice ever erected" by its designer and manufacturer James Bogardus, this 4-story factory on Duane Street was composed of cast-iron members. The walls, floors, and interior columns were prefabricated, making the building an important precursor to metal-framed skyscrapers.
Designs for Cast-Iron Store Fronts. Daniel D Badger, Major Sarony & Knapp Lith. Illustrations of Iron Architecture, Made by the Architetural Iron Works of the City of New York, Plate 45. 1865. Collection of The Skyscaper Museum.
By 1850, most of lower Manhattan east of Broadway was replacing residences with commercial buildings. On Wall Street, the emerging financial district, banks erected imposing neoclassical façades, while in the pre-elevator age, Trinity Church still dominated the street.
Moses King, King's Views of New York Stock Exchange, pg. 67
LONDON'S CRYSTAL PALACE
The tour-de-force of London's Great Exhibition of 1851 was the Crystal Palace, the creation of gardener Joseph Paxton, who used his experience building large greenhouses to design the 128-foot tall structure of cast iron and plate glass. Constructed in only eight months, the exhibition hall enclosed 990,000 square feet. The structure required huge quantities of prefabricated materials, which demonstrated England's industrial power.
The Crystal Palace from the northeast, London, Comprehensive Pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851, pg. Dickinson, Brothers, Her Majesty's Publishers.
NYC CRYSTAL PALACE AND LATTING TOWER
Constructed for the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, New York's Crystal Palace occupied the site behind the Croton Reservoir between Fifth and Sixth Avenues at 42nd St., today's Bryant Park. Crowned by a dome 100 feet in diameter, the cruciform structure of cast iron and glass prefigured the glass skyscrapers of midtown. It was destroyed by fire on October 5, 1858.
"New York Crystal Palace built for World Fair in 1853," Sidney Currie.
1853 – 1870
The visual order of Paris with its broad boulevards and uniform cornice lines was in large part the creation of the building codes enacted under Napoleon III and his prefect Baron Haussmann. In 1859, earlier height limits were raised slightly to 20 meters on wide streets; buildings were limited to six stories, though a mansard-style dormer was allowed.
Ariel view of Paris, France, Alphonse Liébert, 1889.
The 315-foot iron-braced wood tower was erected for the 1853 New York World's Fair. Steam elevators accessed three observation platforms, affording panoramic views. Despite its popularity, the tower failed to pay off its debts and burned down in 1856.
Latting Observatory near 6th. Avenue, between 42nd and 43rd Street, New York, Wiliam Naugle, Seiber &Shearman Robertson, 1853, Adapted from Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Latting_Observatory.png
MCCULLOUGH SHOT TOWER
Shot towers produced round bullets by dropping molten lead from a great height. In 1855, for the 175-foot McCullough Shot Tower at Centre and Pearl Streets, James Bogardus created a 8-tiered structure that carried an in-fill brick wall entirely on the cast iron frame.
Centre Street Shot Tower, Hollyer Samuel, 1858. New York Public Library.
OTIS ELEVATOR SAFETY BRAKE
At New York's Crystal Palace exhibition, businessman Elisha Graves Otis demonstrated his invention, the safety break, which reduced the danger of elevator free fall, revolutionizing vertical transportation.
Elisha Otis demonstrating his free-fall prevention mechanism, Crystal Palace, 1854. Adapted from Wikimedia Commons:
BESSEMER STEEL PROCESS
By blowing air through molten pig iron, the Bessemer process oxidized the pig iron into steel more quickly than any previous steel making process, allowing for inexpensive industrial-scale production of steel.
This six-story dry goods store on the corner of Broadway and Broome Street had an ornate façade of cast iron by architect and manufacturer James Bogardus, as well as the first passenger elevator in a commercial building.
Huaghwout Building, Samuel.north, March 2009. Adapted from Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:E.V._Haughwout_Building.JPG
COOPER UNION FOUNDATION BUILDING
The landmark Foundation Building of the Cooper Union, established by industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper, was the first to feature a structural system of rolled wrought iron. Together with a unique circular elevator shaft and ventilation system, the building's innovations were a harbinger of the technological advancements in skyscraper design.
Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art Building, New York. Library of Congress.
Elisha Otis obtained a U.S. patent in 1861 for his "hoisting apparatus" and safety break, a catch that sprang open if a cable failed.
Elisha Otis's Elevator Patent Drawing, 1861.
The 5-story Oriel Chambers in Liverpool by the little-know architect Peter Ellis was the first British building with a metal frame and a curtain wall of enlarged glass oriel windows.
Ignacio Fernández Solla. "Is Oriel Chambers the First Curtain Wall Ever?" Façades Confidential. June 2013. https://facadesconfidential.blogspot.com/2013/06/is-first-first-curtain-wall-in-liverpool.html
FIRST EQUITABLE BUILDING
Often included, along with the Tribune and Western Union buildings, in the trio called "New York's first skyscrapers," the first headquarters of the Equitable Life Assurance Society was a seven-story building. The upper-floor offices were leased at high rents because the building was the first in the city to include elevators–two "vertical steam cars" that rose in 130-foot shafts.
Equitable Life Assurance Building, New York. George Browne Post, 1868-70.
Fireproof construction became a great concern with the increasing height of buildings. This early system published in 1870 in The Technologist shows wrought-iron floor-beams encased in concrete to protect them from heat. Non-combustible hollow tiles span between beams. Wood flooring and a plaster ceiling were placed on either side of the fireproof floor.
Fire Proof Floor Constructional Diagram. The Technologist, vol 1. 1870.
THE GREAT CHICAGO FIRE
Lasting two days, the Great Fire consumed four square miles of the center of the city, north to the Water Tower, and destroyed $200 million dollars of property. Developers immediately began rebuilding high-rises.
An artist's rendering of The Great Chicago Fire, Chicago in Flames—The Rush for Lives Over Randolph Street Bridge, John R. Chapin. Harper's Weekly, 1871.
Located at Wall and Broad streets, the Drexel Building, headquarters to financier J.P. Morgan, became the first office building in the world illuminated by electric lights. On September 4, 1882, Thomas Edison and the Directors of the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York switched on lights powered by the Pearl Street generating station.
"Drexel Building: J. Pierpont Morgan & Co." --King's Views of NYSE 1897-1898, pg. 42. Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
Designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt, the headquarters of the New York Tribune newspaper was the tallest building in the city, rising 260 feet to the tip of its ornamental tower. In 1883, the first 10-story masonry structure became the base for an addition of nine stories, a common practice in the late 19th century.
Tribune Building view from Northwest, 1874. Library of Congress.
CHICAGO BUILDING CODE
Four years after the Great Fire, Chicago enacted a code intended to prevent another disaster. Unlike New York, it embraced steel-frame construction, becoming the leader in innovative high-rise design.
Begun in the 13th century, Cologne Cathedral reached its full height of 516 feet only in 1880 with the construction of masonry towers of the west façade, making it briefly the tallest structure in the world.
Cologne Cathedral, Max Hasak, 1911. Adapted from Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hasak_-_Der_Dom_zu_K%C3%B6ln_-_Bild_02_Westseite.jpg
CHICAGO SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE
"The step that completed the most radical transformation in the structural art since the development of the Gothic system of construction in the twelfth century was the invention of complete iron framing or skeletal construction." Thus wrote Carl Condit, chief scholar of the architecture of the Chicago School.
The grid of metal columns, beams, and girders that evolved into the skeleton of steel I-beams used in most 20th-century skyscrapers was largely the invention of multiple Chicago architects and engineers. The frame of the 1892 Unity Building is illustrated under construction in the book Industrial Chicago.
Unity Building under Construction, Industrial Chicago, 1892. Chicago History Museum, ICHi-23088.
PITTSBURGH PLATE GLASS
In an important step toward the development of glass curtain walls, Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company began producing the first affordable plate glass. With the advent of more open steel-frame storefronts around 1900, panes of glass as large as 80 square feet were produced.
NEW YORK CITY BUILDING CODE
This code revision was the first in New York to allow for metal-skeleton frames, but required minimum thicknesses of masonry–a conservatism based on concerns about fire. Masonry curtain walls were generally allowed to be 4 inches thinner than load-bearing walls of the same height, narrowing as they rose.
Curtain Wall thickness specifications, New York Building Code (1892). After Birkmire, Planning and Construction of High Office-Buildings.
The first and longest steel-wire suspension bridge in the world, the Brooklyn Bridge spanned 1,595 feet and reached 275 feet above the high water mark. With 16 inch diameter cables and caissons 78 feet below water, the bridge was an epochal feat of engineering that rose higher than any building in Manhattan.
Plan of One Tower for the East River Bridge, 1867. National Archives.
HOME INSURANCE BUILDING
Long described in textbooks at "the first skyscraper," the Home Insurance Building was a precursor of the true skyscraper, when it is defined as a tall building with steel-frame construction. Originally only nine stories, with two more added in 1890, the structure designed by William LeBaron Jenney employed the first metal frame of cast- and wrought-iron columns and beams, as well as steel I-beams. Above the sixth floor, Bessemer steel members were used for the first time outside of bridges.
Home Insurance Building, History of Chicago Building, pg 59. Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
CARNEGIE BROS. POCKET COMPANION
With mills producing their own steel shapes, each had to provide designers and builders with a product catalog. This Pocket Companion for Carnegie Brothers illustrates the range of I-beams and includes detailed charts for designers to select beams by strength.
"Pocket Companion of Useful Information and Tables Appertaining to the Use of Wrought Iron," Carnegie Bros. & CO., Limited. 1884
An early New York City private apartment cooperative, at 150 feet, the 12-story red brick building was the tallest residential structure in the city. Converted to a hotel in 1905, it has been famous through the years for its avant-garde residents.
216-28 West 23rd Street, Hotel Chelsea, Wurts Bros. 1947. Museum of the City of New York.
The patented system of reinforced concrete developed by Ernest Ransome used twisted iron rods to better bind with concrete, significantly improving its strength and efficiency. This and other patented reinforced concrete systems of Henry Turner and Julius and Albert Kahn later dominated the industry.
Designed by architect Robert Mills in the 1840s, construction of the stone obelisk began in 1848, halted at half height in 1856, then resumed from 1876-1884. Achieving a height of 555 feet, the Washington Monument surpassed the Cologne Cathedral as the world's tallest structure–but only briefly. In 1889, the Eiffel Tower asserted the new age of metal construction.
Washington monument illustrated: complete guide and history: authentic facts and figures, pg.10. Hathi Trust Digital Library.
ROLLED STEEL BEAMS
Rather than creating beams by assembling plates together, U.S. manufacturers used large rollers to form molten steel into I-shaped beams for construction. At first, each mill designed its own shapes, but by 1896 the Association of American Steel Manufacturers standardized the shapes and their properties.
CHICAGO BOARD OF TRADE
Chicago's first Board of Trade was a 10-story Victorian building with a clock tower that stretched to 322 feet, making it the tallest structure in Chicago. Demolished in 1927, it was replaced by a 44-story art deco skyscraper by the same name, the city's tallest until 1965.
Frank A. Randall History of Chicago Building, 1949, "Old Board of Trade," pg. 87. Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
STATUE OF LIBERTY
The statue's internal structure of wrought iron trusses is an early example of the skeleton frame engineered by A. Gustav Eiffel. The frame, which at 151 feet equals the height of a 15-story building, supports the exterior copper "curtain wall" of Liberty's garments.
Scaffolding for the assemblage of the Statue of Liberty. Albert Fernique, 1883. New York Public Library.
Only eleven stories tall and 22 feet wide on Broadway, but stretching 159 feet to New St., the Tower Building employed the first metal-cage construction in New York, before the building code allowed it. Designed by architect Bradford Gilbert, it was demolished in 1914.
Christopher Gray. Streetscapes: Bradford Lee Gilbert –The Architect Who Turned a Railroad Bridge on Its Head. The New York Times. July 2007. https://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/01/realestate/01scap.html
Theophilus Van Kannel invented the revolving door to increase efficiency of traffic in and out of skyscrapers, where the slight vacuum caused by air-flow up through the building's stairwells, elevator shafts, and chimneys made traditional doors difficult to open.
Conceived by the brilliant French engineer A. Gustave Eiffel, the famed "300-meter tower" constructed for the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris was nearly twice the height of the world's tallest masonry structures. Constructed of wrought iron, it held the title of world's tallest structure until surpassed by the New York's skyscrapers of the late 1920s.
Elevator of the Eiffel Tower, Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, The Eiffel Tower: A Description of the Monument, its Construction and its Machinery, pg .71, 1889.
TACOMA BUILDING, CHICAGO
Holabird & Roche designed the 13-story Tacoma Building, a pioneering example of skeletal construction and terra cotta curtain walls. Built by the innovative contractor George A. Fuller, the Tacoma was earliest large-scale demonstration of use of the single-contract general contractor, a business practice adopted for large-scale construction.
Tacoma Building, Picturesque Chicago and Guide to the World's Fair, pg. 3, 1893.
NEW YORK WORLD BUILDING
Tallest building in the world in 1890, the headquarters for Joseph Pulitzer's World stretched 309 feet to its gold dome. Architect George B. Post used a hybrid "cage" system common in New York which used steel framing to support the interior structure and exterior masonry walls with metal columns embedded to carry floor loads.
World Building Postcard, 1907-1916. Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
In the same years they produced the airy Reliance Building, architects Burnham & Root also designed one of the last and largest masonry office buildings. The 16-story slab-like tower required load-bearing walls up to 12 feet thick at the base to carry the weight of the floors above: this conservative construction was requested by the developer.
Monadonk Building, Picturesque Chicago and Guide to the World's Fair, pg 182. 1893.
Begun by Burnham and Root in the same years as the all-masonry Monadnock, then reworked and completed by Charles Atwood, the Reliance Building expressed an aesthetic that prefigured the glass box of 20th-century modernism. The metal skeleton frame–erected with astonishing speed, in just two weeks–was clearly articulated by the curtain wall that was principally in glass, as well as terra cotta panels.
Reliance Building, Chicago, 1891-1895. Library of Congress.
WAINWRIGHT BUILDING, ST. LOUIS
Though only ten stories, the Wainwright Building was one of the first high-rises to clearly express verticality. Rather than composing the facade as a series of horizontal zones, Louis Sullivan emphasized the unbroken rise of the piers, comparing the design to a classical column with a base, long shaft, and ornamental capital.
CHICAGO FAIR FERRIS WHEEL
One of the most popular amusements of the 1893 Chicago fair, the World's Columbian Exposition, was the 264-foot elevation of the Ferris Wheel designed by the bridge builder George Washington Gate Ferris Jr. The wheel rotated around a hollow –forged 45.5-foot axle weighing 89,320 pounds. The ride thrilled 38,000 passengers a day with elevated views of the midway and city beyond.
Scientific American, Front Cover, 1893-07-01
MILWAUKEE CITY HALL
The Milwaukee City Hall, crowned by a bell tower that achieved 353 ft., was arguably briefly the tallest habitable building in the world when completed, although its top sections were not usable floors.
City Hall, Milwuakee. Library of Congress.
LOUIS SULLIVAN ESSAY
Often called "the father of the skyscraper" Chicago architect Louis Sullivan expressed the poetics of the skyscraper in his buildings and writings. In an 1896 essay "The Tall Building Artistically Considered," he wrote that the skyscraper "must be tall, every inch of it tall....It must be every inch a proud and soaring thing, rising in sheer exultation that from bottom to top it is a unit without a single dissenting line."
RAND MCNALLY VIEW OF CHICAGO
A bird's-eye view of the Loop near the Board of Trade in 1898 shows Chicago's typical "hollow square" high-rise with a light court at the center of a large office block. In 1893, the city imposed a height restriction of 130 feet that dramatically curtailed a boom in construction of skyscrapers of sixteen to twenty stories that outpaced New York.
Vicinity of Board of Trade, with Rookery and Rand-McNally Buildings, both court buildings, in foreground. Rand-McNally map. 1898.
Platted in the 1830s, Chicago was laid out with large, squarish blocks about 360 x 320 feet and streets 66 or 80 feet. Most were bisected by a public alley, so that in the 1890s, large development lots covered a quarter or half a block. The central business district was known as "the Loop," first for the cable cars, then for the elevated trains that ringed downtown.
Map of Loop, Picturesque Chicago and Guide to World Fair, pg. 320, 1893.
Built just as height restrictions were enacted in Chicago, the Masonic Temple rose to 302 feet and briefly held the title as world's tallest tower until surpassed by New York's Manhattan Life Tower. The 23-story tower was a mixed-use structure that featured a nine-level atrium of shops, with office floors above and the Masonic meeting rooms on the top floors.
Masonic Temple Postcard, Chicago. Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
A view of Randolph Street in 1893 shows a mix of five- to seven-story buildings of the 1880s over-topped by the next generation of towers, including in the distance the Masonic Temple, then the world's tallest building.
View of Randolph Street. Picturesque Chicago and Guide to World Fair, pg. 263, 1893.
RAILWAY EXCHANGE BUILDING
Typical of Chicago office buildings after the city imposed height limits, the Railway Exchange, also known as the Santa Fe Building, was a big box with a flat roof and classical cornice that surrounded an open court.
Railway Exchange Postcard, c. 1903. Collection of The Skyscraper Museum
CHICAGO HEIGHT LIMITS
In 1893, Chicago limited building heights to 130 feet, about ten stories. The cap moved up and down several times in response to pressures from the real estate industry. In 1902 it was raised to 260 feet; in 1911, lowered to 200 feet; then in 1920 and 1923, it was raised to 200 and 264 feet.
MANHATTAN LIFE INSURANCE BUILDING
Notable for its ingenuity in engineering, this building was one of the first to use pneumatic caissons for its foundations. Designed by architects Kimball and Thompson and engineer Charles Sooysmith, it reached a height of 348 ft.
Collection of The Skyscraper Museum
MANHATTAN LIFE INSURANCE BUILDING
Built on a site with a 54-foot layer of mud and quicksand, the Manhattan Life Insurance Building required its masonry foundations to be carried down to bedrock. Initial excavation was carried out by men and horses scraping across the entire lot, after which caissons were installed allowing men to continue digging beneath the masonry piers that slowly sank to the bedrock.
Manhattan Life Insurance Building Foundations, History of Real Estate, pg. 480.
AMERICAN SURETY BUILDING
The ornate 23-story American Surety Building at 100 Broadway was the second tallest in New York on completion in 1896. Architect Bruce Price used steel framing and curtain-wall construction, as well as caisson foundation piers that were described in detail in Scientific American.
American Surety Building, Scientific American, 1896
WALDORF – ASTORIA
Built on the site of the millionaire mansions of the Astor family, two separate, but connected structures– the 13-story iron-framed Waldorf and the later steel-framed 16-story Astoria–were joined to become the Waldorf-Astoria, the world's largest hotel. Illustrating the cycle of Manhattan's rising land values, the great hotel was demolished in 1929 and replaced by the Empire State Building.
Postcard of Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
PARK ROW BUILDING
At thirty stories and 391 feet to the top of its twin cupolas, New York's Park Row Building was the tallest office building in the world. A speculative real estate venture, it contained 950 offices and could accommodate up to 4,000 workers.
Park Row Building Postcard. Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
HURD LAND VALUE MAP
The demand for prime locations drives up rents and produces high-rise buildings. This 1903 map by land economist Richard Hurd showed how the land values in lower Manhattan varied dramatically–tenfold and higher –in the distance of only two or three blocks. Such differences underscore the quip that the first three rules of real estate development are "location, location, location."
Map published in Richard M. Hurd, Principles of City Land Values. New York: The Real Estate Record and Builders Guide, pg. 158, 1908.
The slender, 22-story Gillender Building rose 306 feet on a lot only 26 x 73 feet, capitalizing on a tenfold increase in land value on Wall Street. Only 12 years later, the tower and lot were sold for $822 per square foot, the highest price ever recorded, and demolished.
Postcard of Gillender Building. Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
PHILADELPHIA CITY HALL
After thirty years of construction, the tower of the Philadelphia City Hall stretched 548 ft to the top of William Penn's hat, assumin the title of world's tallest habitable building.
Philadelphia City Hall, 1899. Library of Congress.
INGALLS BUILDING, CINCINNATI
The 15-story Ingalls Building was the first concrete "skyscraper." Using the Ransome system of reinforced concrete, the structure consisted of reinforced-concrete columns and beams and exterior bearing walls that were 8 inches thick. While the system had some advantages over steel, including fireproofing and labor costs, these were countered by the slow rate of erection, only three stories per month.
From Historical Building Construction: Design, Materials and Technology pg . 140. No source information offered. An illustration of the Ingalls building can be found in Engineering Record: https://books.google.com/books?id=dagvAAAAYAAJ&dq=engineering%20record%20ingalls%20building&pg=PA540#v=onepage&q=ingalls&f=false
ELECTRIC AIR CONDITIONING UNIT
The first electrical air conditioning unit was invented by Willis Haviland Carrier to control temperature and humidity of a printing plant in Brooklyn, New York. Workplaces were the Carrier Company's primary market.
GEARLESS TRACTION ELEVATOR
Introduction by the Otis Elevator Company in 1903, the gearless traction elevator became the industry standard. With the combined weight of the elevator cab and a counterweight attached to a steel hoisting cable, the system provided the necessary traction as the sheave turned.
Rising 285 feet, the Flatiron Building was shorter than several contemporary skyscrapers, but it remains a New York favorite due to its dramatic triangular "flat-iron" shape that narrows to just 6 feet at Fifth Avenue and Broadway at 23rd St. The official name, the Fuller Building, referred to Fuller Construction Co., the major skyscraper builders who erected, owned, and had headquarters in the speculative office building.
Flat Iron Building (sic), Meadville, PA: Keystone View Company, 1903. Library of Congress.
NEW YORK TIMES TOWER
The New York Times headquarters was completed in 1905 on a triangular site at the intersection of Broadway, Seventh Avenue and 42 St., an area soon dubbed Times Square. The Times claimed that at 476 ft, the building was the "City's Tallest Structure from Base to Top," inflating its standard curb-to-top measurement of 363 ft by including its basements and flagpole.
Postcard of the New York Times Tower. Collection of the Skyscraper Museum.
"HOW FAR CAN NEW YORK CLIMB INTO THE SKY?"
The New York World, with Joseph Pulitzer as publisher from 1883 to 1911, was one of the most widely read newspapers of its day. The Sunday edition featured colorful artwork, including this cover of the magazine section of January 20, 1907, "How Far Can New York Climb into the Sky?" by illustrator Louis Biedermann. In the early 1900s, New York was the world's only true skyscraper city, for Chicago restricted its high-rises to a maximum 260 feet. Just announced at the time of this cartoon, the Metropolitan Life Tower would rise to 700 feet.
"How Far Can New York Climb into the Sky?" The World Magazine, January 20, 1907. Illustrator, Louis Biedermann.
The headquarters of the Singer Manufacturing Co. on lower Broadway were expanded–upward–with a tower by architect Ernest Flagg that became the tallest building in the world at 612 ft. The tower's slenderness required costly caisson foundations and innovative wind bracing designed by engineer Otto F. Semsch.
Singer Building Under Construction, A History of the Singer Building Construction, Otto Francis Semsch, pg. 27, 1908.
RIVETERS AT SINGER BUILDING
The highly competitive contract for the provision and erection of the Singer Building's steel frame was awarded to Milliken Brothers, Inc., which had a large mill facility in Staten Island. Gangs of four highly skilled workers were required to join the I-beams with red-hot rivets.
Singer Building Under Construction, A History of the Singer Building Construction, Otto Francis Semsch, pg. 20, 1908.
CITY INVESTING BUILDING
The City Investing Company Building rose on the same block as the Singer tower and was completed the same year, when together the two represented the tallest and largest office buildings in the world.
City Investing Building, N.Y. Post, McCord, c. December 20 1907. Collection of the Skyscraper Museum.
METROPOLITAN LIFE TOWER
Built as the expanded headquarters for the "world's largest insurer," the Metropolitan Life Building stretches 700 feet into the midtown skyline at Madison Square. Designed by Napoleon LeBrun & Sons, the tower's slender shaft clad in white Tuckahoe marble and ornate high-pitched roof and lantern evoke the Campanile of San Marco. Today the tower stands stripped of its classical detailing after a 1960 modernization remodel.
Metropolitan and New York Life Building, c. 1930. Postcard from the Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
HUDSON TERMINAL BUILDINGS
When completed in 1909, the pair of 22-story structures built for the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad Company was the world's largest office building, covering a ground area of 70,000 square feet. The complex rose above the rail terminal connecting Jersey City and lower Manhattan; the Hudson & Manhattan tunnels later became the PATH system, and the Hudson Terminals Buildings were demolished for the World Trade Center.
Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
In 1909, architect Daniel H. Burnham and Edward Bennett published "The Plan of Chicago" for the business group the Commercial Club. They envisioned a future city of Uniform blocks and radial avenues and a great, classical Civic Center, in contrast to the city's actual heterogeneous skyline.
Proposed View of Chicago, Daniel H. Burnham, Edward H Bennet, Plan of Chicago, the Commercial Club, Chicago, 1909.
"KING'S DREAM OF NEW YORK"
The drawing featured on the cover of the 1908/9 King's Views of New York by delineator Harry Pettit envisioned the future Broadway as a canyon of motley office blocks with bridges springing from one rooftop to the next or tunneling through upper floors. At a time when no zoning laws limited heights or lot coverage, the cartoonist's projection simply enlarged the problems of the contemporary city such as building density and traffic congestion.
King's Views of New York. 1911-1912, Cover Plate. Delineator: Richard Rummell; Published by Moses King, 1911.
GILLENDER BUILDING DEMOLITION
Demolition of the Gillender Building commenced on April 29, 1910 and was completed in six weeks. The careful deconstruction provided evidence of the structural durability of the steel frame, which proved free of oxidation. On the site and adjacent lot, the 40-story Bankers Trust tower began construction.
Post & McCord Steel Builders, N.Y., 1910, Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
BANKERS TRUST BUILDING
In search of a stylistic language for verticality, New York City architects often relied on historical precedents. This Scientific American cover observes the exaggerated scale of the Bankers Trust Building as compared to the Venetian Campanile of San Marco.
Cover of Scientific American, July 1, 1911. Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
BANKERS TRUST BUILDING CONSTRUCTION
Even as competing steel mills rolled larger and larger beams, riveted sections remained the norm in skyscraper construction. The massive riveted steel frame of the Bankers Trust Building represented state-of-the-art construction in 1911.
Bankers Trust Co. Bldg, Post & McCord Steel Builders, N.Y., 1911, Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
WOOLWORTH BUILDING WIND BRACING
At 55 stories and 792 feet, the Woolworth Building was an exceptionally tall and slender structure that required substantial bracing to withstand lateral wind pressures. The majority of the building, up to the 27th floor, featured portal bracing, and the upper floors used corner bracing.
Plan of the Woolworth Building Wind-bracing Diagram. Reproduced from American Architect, 103, March 26, 1913 Collection of The Skyscraper Museum Gift of Andrew Alpern.
CHICAGO SKYLINE VIEW
While in New York the Woolworth building stretched to 57 stories, in Chicago, height restrictions of produced a skyline of boxy office blocks.
Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
Dubbed the "Cathedral of Commerce," the neo-Gothic tower designed by Cass Gilbert for five-and-dime store magnate Frank W. Woolworth soared 792 feet on a full block of Broadway at City Hall Park to become the world's tallest building. At evening ceremonies on April 24, 1913, electric lights that illuminated the ornate terra cotta facade and the offices within were switched on from Washington, DC by President Woodrow Wilson.
Cover of Scientific American, August 5, 1911. Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
WOOLWORTH BUILDING TERRA COTTA
Architectural terra cotta-clay baked into building blocks-is an ancient material that became popular in New York in the mid- 19th century when demand for both fireproof materials and mass-produced ornament expanded. On its façade the Woolworth building used buff-colored glazed tile molded into Gothic-style forms by the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company.
The Master Builders: A Record of the Construction of the World's Highest Commercial Structure, Hugh McAtamney & Co., New York : The Company, 1913. Internet Archive: https://www.archive.org/details/masterbuildersre00hugh
CITY HEIGHT LIMITS
Before drafting the legislation for the 1916 New York zoning law, a committee conducted research into building height limits in European and American cities. A page from their 1913 report is pictured.
Report of the Heights of Buildings Commission to the Committee on the Height, Size and Arrangement of Buildings of the Board of Estimate and Apportionment of the city of New York, New York, M.B. Brown Printing and Binding Co., pg. 23, 1913.
NEW YORK CITY SKYLINE
A view of lower Manhattan from the Hudson River in 1914 shows New York as a city of towers, with the Woolworth building, worlds tallest, at the left and the Singer and Bankers Trust towers poking above a mixture of bulky, 30- to 40- story office blocks.
Postcard from the Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
MANHATTAN MUNICIPAL BUILDING
Built to accommodate the growing need for government offices after the 1898 consolidation of Greater New York, the Manhattan Municipal Building is a 40-story skyscraper that on completion in 1914 was one of the city's tallest and largest buildings. It rose over complicated foundations near the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge and was the first tower to incorporate a subway station in its base.
Built to replace the first Equitable Building which was destroyed by fire in 1912, the new 40-story office block rose 542 feet at 120 Broadway, casting its neighbors into perpetual shadow. The last major skyscraper constructed before building regulations were instituted in 1916, with 1.2 million square feet of rentable space, it was the world's largest office building.
Collection of the Skyscraper Museum.
NYC ZONING LAW
The New York City Zoning Resolution of 1916 restricted the use, height, and bulk of buildings in districts or "zones." Its provisions for segregation of uses–commercial, residential, and unrestricted–compared with several American cities in the first decade of the century. Its important innovation was the concept of the "zoning envelope," a formula that restricted the maximum mass that could be constructed on a given site.
Designed to ensure a measure of light and air on city streets, the law required that after a fixed height above the sidewalk (usually 100 or 150 feet), a commercial building must be stepped back within an "angle of light" drawn from the center of the street. A tower of unlimited height was permitted over 25% of the lot. The resulting "setback" massing, with or without a tower, became the characteristic form for the New York skyscraper from the 1920s through the 1950s.
New York City Building Zone Resolutions, 1929. New York Title and Mortgage Company. Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
NYC ZONING LAW
This map of lower Manhattan indicates the different zones for height (in numbers) and use (letters) districts. The most liberal height restrictions were in the heart of the financial district where buildings were allowed to rise straight up to 2 1/2 times the width of the street before stepping back.
New York City Building Zone Resolutions, 1929. New York Title and Mortgage Company. Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
HALLIDIE BUILDING, SAN FRANCISCO
Credited as the first pure glass curtain wall in America, the Hallidie Building prefigured the late-20th century aesthetic of a glass membrane or "skin." The design by architect Willis Polk engaged the cantilevering capacity of a reinforced concrete frame and relied on thin mullions to hold the glass exterior in place.
Hallidie Building, 130 Stutter Street, Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ca1397/
The tallest building in Chicago until 1924, the chewing-gum company headquarters comprised two towers connected by walkways. The ornate clock tower of white terra cotta reaches 425 ft.
Wrigley Building Postcard. Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
FERRISS FOUR STAGES
Hugh Ferriss's drawings "The Four Stages" illustrated the step-by-step shaping of the maximum mass allowed by the New York zoning law into a profitable commercial structure. They made clear that block-sized lots made possible imposing towers. The rendering of the final stage imagined a structure with a central tower of 1,000 feet, around 70 stories, flanked by 40-story setback wings–far larger than any building of 1922, but prefiguring the scale of the Empire State Building.
Hugh Ferriss, "The New Architecture," The New York Times Magazine, March 19, 1922, p. 9.
STOCK MARKET CRASH
The Wall Street crash of October 1929 signaled the end of the Roaring Twenties, an era of rampant speculation that fueled the construction of many skyscrapers. Despite the disruption of financial markets, construction continued on major projects such as 40 Wall Street, the Chrysler Building, and the Empire State Building, and slowed in general after 1930.
The economic height of a skyscraper refers to the number of stories that will produce the highest rate of return on the money invested. At some point in the construction of every high-rise, the law of diminishing returns sets in, and rents for additional stories do not cover costs. The 1930 study, The Skyscraper: A Study in the Economic Height of Modern Office Buildings, compared eight different building heights on a 200 x 405-foot lot and determined that, for land valued at $200 a square foot, the economic height was 63 stories.
The Skyscraper: A Study in the Economic Height of Modern Office Buildings, William Clifford: New York, Cleveland,1930. Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
In contrast to New York's characteristic setbacks, Chicago's skyline was shaped by the city's 1924 zoning law that effectively limited the heights of towers through a formula based on the area of the building's base.
Postcard of the Chicago Skyline, 1930s. Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
40 WALL STREET
At 927 feet, the 70-story 40 Wall Street was the world's tallest building for only a month before the completion of the Chrysler Building. The tower required a complex strategy of simultaneous wrecking and foundation work that builders Starrett Bros. & Eken–who erected the Empire State Building–called "the most complicated and the most difficult" of all their projects; still, demolition and erection took just 12 months.
Construction photograph of Bank of Manhattan, November 11, 1929. Original, gift of Judith Stonehill, New York Bound Archives.
In a much publicized race into the sky with the 40 Wall Street tower, the Chrysler Building clinched the title of world's tallest building. Designed by architect William Van Alen, the flamboyant art deco icon reaches a total height of 1,050 feet with its 185-foot "vertex," the stainless steel needle spire. The following year, it was overtopped by the 1,250-foot Empire State, which also contained twice the area of floor space.
Collection of the Skyscraper Museum
CHICAGO BOARD OF TRADE BUILDING
Built on the site of the 1884 Board of Trade, the tallest building in the city, the 44-story Art Deco skyscraper designed by Holabird and Root and completed in 1930 held the same title. Rising only 805 feet, Chicago's tallest building was two thirds the height of the Empire State.
Postcard of Chicago Board of Trade Building. Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
HEIGHT COMPARISON, FORTUNE
Featured in the September 1930 issue of the business magazine Fortune as part of a five-article series on skyscrapers, this drawing compares the structural heights of the world's tallest buildings. The same month, the Empire State Building topped out its main structural frame at 1,050 feet on the 86th floor, poised to overtake the 1,046-foot tall Chrysler Building.
Tallest Building's Height Comparison, Fortune Magazine, September 1930. Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
EMPIRE STATE MOORING MAST
The equivalent of 102 stories, the top 200 feet of the Empire State Building was an ornamental spire called the mooring mast, where passenger dirigibles might dock (though they never did). The extra structure above the 85 floors of offices and observation deck ensured the skyscraper would command the title of world's tallest building by topping out at 1250 feet.
Empire State Building's Mast, 1931. From the collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
Empire State Building CONSTRUCTION
Designed for efficiency of construction, the Empire State Building was erected in just 11 months from the setting of the first steel columns on April 7, 1930 to the fully enclosed structure on March 31, 1931. At the peak of construction the tower rose at the rate of a story a day.
Empire State Construction, 1931. From the collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
LOWER MANHATTAN SKYLINE
By the 1930s, the City's Zoning Resolution of 1916 had transformed lower Manhattan into a landscape of pyramidal masses and pinnacle towers.
Battery Place and Lower Manhattan Skyline, c. 1932. Postcard from the collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
Midtown Manhattan developed as a skyscraper business district during the real estate boom of the 1920s. Lining the axis of 42nd St. were more than a half dozen setback towers of forty to seventy stories.
Midtown New York Skyline, c. 1932. Postcard from the collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
70 PINE STREET
Built for the City Services petroleum company, 70 Pine Street was the last spire added to the lower Manhattan skyline before World War II. The 66-story structure featured the first double-decker elevator in order to provide sufficient service to its slender tower.
70 Pine Street, c. 1932. Postcard from the Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
BANKERS TRUST ANNEX
Twenty years after completing its Wall Street tower, the Bankers Trust Company expanded and modernized with the Art Deco Annex building, designed by architects Shreve, Lamb and Harmon. The photograph shows the prefabricated curtain-wall cladding that, as with the Empire State Building, sped the construction process.
Bankers Trust Annex Construction, 1932. From the collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
The most ambitious private construction endeavor of the era, Rockefeller Center replaced three low-rise city blocks between Fifth and Sixth Avenue with more than a dozen high-rise buildings. The complex created a multi-level, mixed-use development for business, entertainment, and shopping that has served as a paradigm for recent projects worldwide.
View of Rockefeller Center, 1932. Postcard from the collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
Designed by a consortium of architects led by Raymond Hood, the RCA Building took the form of a thin slab rather than the typical stepped pyramid, while achieving a total volume of more than 2 million square feet—comparable only to the Empire State Building.
RCA Building, 1932. Postcard from the collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
Leading a group of General Electric researchers, George Inman and Richard Thayer produced an improved fluorescent lamp at an affordable price in the late 1930s. Fluorescent bulbs provided high levels of illumination in buildings without excessive heat, making it possible to rent space much deeper than the sunlight standard of 28-30 feet. This allowed for as much as 80 percent of rentable space on each floor, as compared to 65 percent in older buildings with light courts.
General Electric. "George E. Inman and Richard N. Thayer, 1936 demonstrating a fluorescent lamp." Lighting a Revolution. https://americanhistory.si.edu/lighting/bios/gi_rt.htm
1947 – 52
UNITED NATIONS SECRETARIAT
Designed by a multinational team of architects, but credited principally to Le Corbusier, the UN Secretariat established the primacy of the post-war International Style in the U.S. The simple slab form and expansive glass façades marked a striking contrast to the brick and stone-clad towers of the twenties.
Collection of The Skyscraper Museum
WELDING & HIGH-STRENGTH BOLTING
High-Strength bolting replaced riveting, allowing faster construction using less material and labor. Welding, first permitted by NYC Building Code in 1951, increased material efficiency and created less rigid connections, an advancement that enabled tube structures.
Collection of the Skyscraper Museum
The seminal "glass box," Lever House initiated a series of high-rises built on Park Avenue in the 1960s and 1970s that would remake Park Avenue as a corridor of corporate modernism. Designed by Gordon Bunshaft of SOM, the headquarters for the soap company Lever Brothers rose only 24 stories, but its all-glass curtain wall and ceiling planes of fluorescent lighting made the tower a model of transparency.
Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
COMPOSITE STEEL DOCKS
Composite steel decks were introduced as a new type of permanent framework, used to support wet concrete floors as they dry. Various types of metal deck systems had existed since the 1890's, but it was only in the 1950's that strong decks became integrated into the floor system by engaging concrete.
Collection of the Skyscraper Museum
1 CHASE MANHATTAN PLAZA
Completed in 1961, One Chase Manhattan Plaza was the first major postwar development in lower Manhattan and a major reinvestment in the declining fortunes of the historic financial district. A "tower in the plaza" in advance of the 1961 zoning law, 1 CMP occupied just 30% of its lot and created a new public square.
Chase Manhattan Bank Archive
Completed in 1958, the Seagram Building, in its rich materials and refined minimalism, influenced the aesthetics of skyscraper design through the 1960s and 1970s. Architect Mies van der Rohe established the prototype of the glass-and-steel skyscraper that expressed the structural skeleton on the tower's façade and treated the windows as a glass skin.
NEW YORK CITY ZONING LAW
The 1961 zoning resolution, a sweeping revision of New York's 1916 law, established the principle of FAR, or Floor Area Ratio, which keyed the maximum floor space permitted in a building to a multiple of the area of the lot. It also created "incentive zoning," which traded bonus stories in the sky for public amenities such as plazas, arcades, and subway entrances. By increasing the allowable area for a sheer tower from twenty-five to forty percent of the lot, the 1961 code encouraged the modernist paradigm of the tower in the plaza. The urbanistic effect was dramatically demonstrated in midtown's Sixth Avenue towers.
Collection of the Skyscraper Museum
This diagram of structural systems created by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, based on the original studies by Fazlur Khan, describes the most efficient structural system for buildings at different heights and scales.
IBM BUILDING, PITTSBURGH
A prototype for later diagrid skyscrapers, the innovative 13-story IBM Building designed by Leslie E. Robertson employed a diagonal-grid load-bearing steel wall and a concrete core. It was the first building to use steel of three different strength levels in its structure: 100,000 psi, 50,000 psi, & 36,000 psi quenched and tempered steels.
The 43-story reinforced concrete Dewitt-Chestnut Apartments was the first high-rise to employ a framed-tube system of closely spaced perimeter columns and stiff spandrel beams at each floor. One of many structural innovations by Fazlur Khan of SOM, the tube system made supertall construction more economical.
MARINA CITY, CHICAGO
Designed by the innovative modernist Bertrand Goldberg, the twin towers of Marina City were both the tallest residential buildings and the tallest reinforced concrete buildings in the world when completed in 1964. Rising 65 stories, 587 feet, above defunct train tracks and at the edge of the Chicago River, the circular "corncob" towers stacked apartments on the top 40 floors above a parking garage and mixed-use complex that contained a marina, theater, gym, stores, and restaurants.
Collection of The Skyscraper Musuem.
Devised for quicker and more-efficient elevator transport in the WTC, the sky lobby system functioned like subway lines, with express elevators carrying passengers to transfer floors where they could switch to local elevators. The system was appealing for supertalls since local elevator shafts could be stacked atop one another, minimizing unrentable space.
The council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, an organization that studies and reports on high-rise design and construction, has since the 1980's referred the definition and rankings of the heights of buildings worldwide according to several criteria: integral architectural top; highest occupied floor; and the top of added antennae.
JOHN HANCOCK CENTER, CHICAGO
Architect Bruce Graham and structural engineer Fazlur Khan of SOM further developed the perimeter tube system with diagonal bracing, boldly expressed on the façade of the John Hancock Center. The 100-story tower, a mixed-use program of office floors below and apartments above, rises on Chicago's Miracle Mile.
JOHN HANCOCK BUILDING, BOSTON
The modernist all-glass façade reached its early acme in the John Hancock Tower in Boston, designed in 1968 and completed in 1976. The 62-story office tower was clad in floor-to-ceiling [panes of blue-tinted mirror glass without spandrel panels, making a gridded and reflective surface that architect Henry Cobb explained, created "weightless verticality" and stripped the building of "all elements that might suggest a third dimension."
Photo courtesy of Gorchev & Gorchev
WTC WIND TUNNEL TESTING
The Twin Towers were the first supertalls to be tested in a boundary layer wind tunnel, which replicates natural wind and site conditions. Air flow around tall buildings creates turbulence and eddies that can cause vibration or sway. These effects can be accurately predicted by laboratory testing, providing data to design the optimal strength and performance of the structure.
Collection of the Skyscraper Museum
WORLD TRADE CENTER
Upon completion in 1971 and 1973, the World Trade Center Twin Towers were the tallest and largest skyscrapers in the world. Innovative engineering employed hollow-tube construction carried the structures to 110 stories – 1368 and 1362 feet – creating floors nearly an acre in area and 4.6 million sq ft per building. No supertalls have exceeded that size.
Collection of the Skyscraper Museum
WTC FlOOR PLAN
The expansive column-free office space that was an ideal of the 1970s was made possible by the towers' hollow-tube construction in which the perimeter walls of closely spaced steel columns and a central steel core carry the structure.
Also known as jumping cranes, kangaroo cranes originated in Australia and were used for the first time in the U.S. on the WTC. Sitting atop a long leg that runs down the elevator shaft, they have high lifting capacities and hoist themselves straight up the rising structure, speeding construction time.
At 1,454 feet to its rooftop (1,730 feet to the tip of the antennae) , the 110-story Sears Tower was the world's tallest building until 1996 when the title moved to Malaysia's Petronas Towers, leaving Sears (now Willis Tower) as America's tallest skyscraper.
World's Tallest. Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
Engineer Fazlur Khan developed the "bundled tube" structural system for Sears Tower in which a block of nine tubes, each 75 feet on a side, worked together to stiffen the structure and afford large areas of column-free space. In elevation, above the 50th floor the extruded squares push up in pairs or separately to create the tower's stepped form.
World's Tower. Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
Standing on five points above train tracks, the complex engineering of the Citigroup Center includes the world's first large-scale tuned mass dampers, which are large concrete or steel weights that move on pendulums or fluids to counteract sway in high winds.
Citigroup Center, David Capes(Flickr), 2010: [https://www.flickr.com/photos/david_capes/4977558263/in/photostream/]
The first significant skyscraper in Hong Kong, Jardine House, at 179 meters/ 586 feet, was the tallest building in the colony and launched the high-rise development of Central, the city's dense business and commercial district.
P&T Group via CTBUH
CN TOWER, TORONTO
The 1,815-foot CN Tower functions as an antenna, broadcasting TV and radio signals above surrounding skyscrapers. The tower includes a restaurant, gift shop, and two observation decks. It was the tallest free-standing structure in the world from 1976-2010.
"CN Tower Toronto Cities Cityscapes 1920x1080." Top1Walls. https://top1walls.com/wallpaper/1771973-Tower-Toronto-cities-cityscapes
Some of the tallest manmade structures in the world are TV and radio broadcasting towers that double as tourist attractions and observation platforms, in the tradition of the Eiffel Tower. Of the five current tallest, Ostankino Tower in Moscow at 540 m/ 1772 ft is the oldest, constructed from 1963-1967. The most recent is Tokyo Sky Tree which topped out at 634 m/ 2080 ft in March 2011.
List of Tallest Towers in the World. Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_tallest_towers_in_the_world
ORIENTAL PEARL TV TOWER
Tallest building in Shanghai and Asia, until surpassed by the Shanghai World Finance Center, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower was the first major structure in Lujiazui, the master-planned economic development district across the river from Puxi, the city's historic core. Completed in 1994, at 468 m/ 1,535 ft, it is now the fifth tallest TV tower in the world.
Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
HONG KONG MID-LEVELS
Beginning in the 1970s, Hong Kong's high land values and liberal zoning laws spawned dense districts of extraordinarily slender towers. On the mountainside above Central, the Mid-levels are a luxury residential area, perhaps the world's most densely developed square kilometer, where even tiny sites could be built on at a ratio of up to 18 times the area of the lot
The Summit, 2003, courtesy of Colin Hamilton.
THE SKYSCRAPER MUSEUM
The Skyscraper Museum mounts its first exhibition, "Downtown New York," in a vacant space at 44 Wall Street.
PETRONAS TOWERS, KUALA LUMPUR
When the twin Petronas Towers were completed in 1998, the title of world's tallest building passed for the first time outside the U.S. Named for the national petroleum company of Malaysia, the principal client, the project was designed by American architect Cesar Pelli.
Pelli Clarke Pelli
PETRONAS TOWERS, KUALA LUMPUR
The 88-story Petronas Towers were designed in a style that made reference to Islamic architecture in its play with geometric forms and to Chinese traditions in its symbolic use of "lucky eights." The complex site necessitated the world's deepest foundations – friction piles that vary in length up to 394 feet to reach the bedrock that slopes sharply underground.
Pelli Clarke Pelli
1990's – 2010
Introduced in the mid-1960's, concrete pumps eliminate old-style chutes and hoppers and today are ubiquitous on construction sites. Their booms reach over, around, and below to place concrete in the desired locations. Pumps are also used to deliver concrete to great heights using a crane and hopper. Above, pumps create the foundation of the Shanghai Tower.
Leah Ray. "Shanghai Tower Construction Update." Gensler On Cities. July 2010. https://www.gensleron.com/cities/2010/7/15/shanghai-tower-construction-update.html
JIN MAO TOWER
The tallest building in China and a symbol of Shanghai's ascendancy as the "head of the dragon" when it was completed in 1999, Jin Mao was a harbinger of the Asian supertall tower. While its pagoda-like form referred to Chinese tradition, its structural engineering and mixed-use program were new. Offices fill the lower 52 stories, while from 53 to 87, hotel rooms occupy the perimeter of the tower and a large open atrium creates a vertiginous central space.
JIN MAO TOWER
Built around an octagonal concrete core surrounded by eight main super-frame columns and eight exterior columns, Jin Mao's pagoda-like form rises in mathematical increments of eight. Its 88 stories reflect the symbolic "lucky eights" that signify prosperity.
1999 JIN MAO TOWER
In the building's upper zone, occupied by the Shanghai Grand Hyatt Hotel, a spectacular circular atrium space extends more than thirty stories to the 87th floor. Shanghai high-rises use substantial beam-supported floor slabs that compensate for possible errors made by a less skilled workforce.
The World Trade Center Twin Towers were destroyed in a terrorist attack that claimed nearly 3000 lives. They are the tallest buildings ever to have been demolished.
HIGHCLIFF, HONG KONG
With an extraordinary slenderness ratio of 1:20, the luxury apartment tower Highcliff rises 828 feet, seventy stories, and is the world's thinnest residential building. Hong Kong's high land values and liberal zoning laws encourage the development of pencil-thin towers and great vertical density.
Highcliff, 2003, courtesy of Colin Hamilton.
Tallest building in the word on its completion in 2004, Taipei 101 stretches 509 meters to the tips of its antenna spire. Designed to resist typhoon winds, the tower was a hybrid structure of steel and concrete that used outrigger trusses to tie its steel-braced core to eight perimeter mega-columns.
TUNED MASS DAMPER
To counteract sway, Taipei 101's engineers Thornton Tomasetti designed a 660-ton tuned mass damper that moves in opposition to the building. The pendulum, a sphere 18 feet in diameter and composed of 41 circular steel plates, is suspended from the 92nd to the 88th floor and doubles as a tourist attraction.
ORIGINAL SUPERTALL SURVEY
In 2007, The Skyscraper Museum made its first Supertall Survey of buildings taller than 380 meters and found 35 that were completed, under construction, or had gained planning approval. The projects were arrayed on two globes, which showed a smaller number for the North and South American continents. The largest number of new supertall projects were projected in the Middle East, Asia, and Russia.
Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.
Shanghai's mud cannot support large loads, so engineers design long concrete and steel shafts called friction piles to transfer loads through friction along the surface of the shaft. Shanghai World Financial Center is supported on more than two thousand 275 – foot piles. A thick reinforced-concrete mat transfers the column loads to the piles.
Mori Building Company, LTD. "Shanghai Financial Center: A New 'Vertical Complex City' is Born in Shanghai." https://www.mori.co.jp/en/projects/swfc/technologies.html
2008 SHANGHAI WORLD FINANCIAL CENTER
The first design for the tower dates to 1993, when the Japanese Mori Building Co. and architects KPF won the government competition for the site in Lujiazui. Foundations were laid in 1997, but construction was halted due to the Asian financial crisis. When plans resumed in 2001, changes included an increased height of 32 meters and a new opening shape at the top. Completed in 2008, the mixed-use tower soars 101 stories and is the third tallest building in the world at 492 m/ 1614 feet.
BURJ KHALIFA CONSTRUCTION
The Burj Khalifa is constructed of concrete, as are most 21st-century supertalls. William F. Baker, the building's structural engineer, wrote of the contrast between 20th- and 21- century towers: "If skyscraper construction had stopped in 1975, one would say that the tallest skyscrapers are made of steel; in the United States; and are office buildings. Today, one would say they are composite, or all concrete; in Asia or the Middle East; and likely to be residential."
EMAAR or SOM, Burj Khalifa show.
CANTON TOWER, GUANGZHOU
At 600 meters/ 1,958 feet, the Canton Tower is currently the tallest building in China. The innovative engineering by ARUP employs an open lattice based on three simple elements: columns, rings, and braces. The TV tower and tourist destination contains within open structure a vertical amusement park with rides, shops, cinemas, restaurants, outdoor gardens, and conference rooms.
Arup Kenny IP
At 838 meters/ 2,717 feet, the 160-story Burj Khalifa is nearly 1,000 feet taller than Taipei 101. Inaugurated in January 2010, the 160-story tower is the centerpiece of the 500-acre Downtown Burj Dubai commercial and residential complex. Principally residential, the tower includes a boutique hotel on its lower floors and apartments above, a restaurant and tourist observation deck, and corporate suites on the top 37 stories
MANDATORY REFUGE FLOORS
Hong Kong revised its building code in 1996 after a deadly fire in the 16-story Garley Building. The new code required all tall buildings to include refuge floors to protect building inhabitants. These measures have been adopted across Asia.
TOKYO SKY TREE
The Toyko Sky Tree topped out at 634 meters /2,080 feet on March 18, 2011, making it the tallest TV tower, and current second tallest structure in the world.
Courtesy of Nikken Sekkei.
Many thanks to The Skyscraper Museum's hardworking staff and interns for conducting the invaluable research that made this project possible.