Perhaps the icon of 20th century American architecture, the rise of skyscraper architecture is one of the last hundred years’ greatest success stories. Until the end of the 19th century, buildings of over a few storeys were quite rare, but with the development of steel, reinforced concrete, technology of elevators and advanced plumbing, taller and taller buildings were possible.
But what is a skyscraper? The specific definition of a skyscraper varies from place to place, but it’s commonly accepted that the building is a continuously habitable high-rise building that has over 40 floors and is a height of at least 130 metres.
The first skyscraper construction projects in history appeared in the bustling cities that exemplified the spirit of the roaring 20s in the design. Employing mixes of largely neo-gothic and neoclassical style, the resulting design marvels are buildings that have shaped not only the spatial design of cities for the coming century but have changed our lives entirely. From how we live, work, sleep, play, eat and create, these marvels of engineering and design are perhaps the most important design idea to come from the early 20th century, at least for city dwellers.
From the 1930s onwards, skyscrapers began appearing across the globe, with Latin America and Asia leading the charge. At home, Australian skyscrapers rose in popularity from the 1950s – though several earlier attempts at high-rise buildings in the late 19th century were interestingly attempted. These early buildings though, were not reinforced in steel, and were open to the whims of the elements, including fires – very few of these proto-skyscraper building constructions survive today.
Interestingly, despite their impressive size, modern skyscrapers' walls are not in fact load bearing. As for how are skyscrapers built, for stability, modern skyscraper design often relies on a tubular inner structure, to act like as a hollow cylinder to resist wind, seismic, and other changes in their surrounding environment.
While thought of a western icon – it is in fact Asia that sees the cities with most skyscrapers. Hong Kong is the city with the most skyscrapers in the world – with a staggering 303 separate skyscrapers and additional 7687 separate high-rise buildings. New York City comes in at number two with an impressive 237 skyscrapers populating its iconic skyline. New York’s Manhattan boasts the 104 storey, 416 metre high One World Trade centre, which is the tallest building in the United States, built to commemorate the 2001 September 11 attacks.
Dubai, home to one of the best known skyscrapers in the world – the Burj Khalifa, is the third most populous city for skyscrapers, with 148 jaw-dropping skyscrapers and 917 high-rise buildings, and still in Asia, Shanghai is at number four, with 126 skyscrapers and 957 high-rise constructions. The architectural
landmark city of Chicago rounds out the top five cities with skyscrapers, with an impressive 117 colouring the motor city’s skyline.
The Top 10 Tallest Skyscrapers In The World
10 – Taipei 101
The tallest building in the world at the time of its construction in 2004, Taipei 101 is a landmark supertall skyscraper in Xinyi District, Taipei, Taiwan. Designed in the postmodern style by C.Y. Lee & Partners, the 509 metre high building dominates the Tapiei skyline. The postmodernist architectural style of the building was designed to evoke traditional Asian aesthetics in a modern look. Unsurprisingly for its height and location, the building incorporates a number of features to withstand the Pacific Rim's earthquakes and the region's tropical storms. The tower houses offices and restaurants, as well as indoor and outdoor observatories. The tower is connected to a multi-level shopping mall that houses the world's largest ruyi symbol as an exterior feature.
9 – China Zun
China Zun, or formally known as the CITIC Tower, is a 528 metre tall skyscraper in Beijing. Even in an industrialised city known for its high-rise structures, the China Zun sticks out. Finished in 2018 and designed by TFP Farrells, KPF, and BIAD, the building is nicknamed after the zun – an ancient Chinese wine vessel that inspired the building design. Compared to typically straight or tapering supertall buildings, the concave design of the Zun offers more valuable prime-floor spaces as well as ample space for window washing and other support systems at the top of the tower
8 – Tianjin CTF Finance Centre
Still in China, the Tianjin CTF Finance Centre designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP in collaboration with Ronald Lu & Partners and completed in 2018, is a staggering 530 metres tall. Designed by stacking reducing floor plates, the tower’s profile tapers dramatically in an eye-catching way. This is more than an aesthetic choice though – as it minimizes the surface area of the building, reducing exposure to wind, sun, and moisture. The curves of the façade subtly denote the integration of the three distinct offerings of the space – traditional residential homes; luxury services residences; and a hotel.
7 - Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre
Also 530 metres all, and also in China, the Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre is a mixed used skyscraper in Guangzhou, Guangdong that was completed in 2016. With 111 above ground floors and five below ground, architects Kohn Pedersen Fox ensured ample space for the shopping mall, offices, apartments, and hotel the building houses. Home to one of the fastest elevators in the world that can reach speeds of up to 20 metres a second, the CTF Finance Centre is the third tallest building in China.
6 – One World Trade Centre
New York is often thought of as a home of skyscrapers, so it’s fitting the mammoth 541 metre One World Trade Centre is the sixth tallest building in the world. One WTC, or Freedom Tower, was designed by David Childs, and was officially completed in 2013. Still the tallest building in the United States, the Manhattan skyscraper was built in tribute to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Boasting 78 floors of office spaces with jaw-dropping views, the building also has an employee amenities floor with a café, game room with video game consoles and shuffleboard and billiards tables. Home mainly to tech and finance companies, Freedom Tower was the result of a $4bn construction project and sees some 8000 people working there every day.
5 – Lotte World Tower
The tallest building in South Korea, Seoul’s Lotte World Tower opened to the public in 2017 after an extensive construction and design process, led by Kohn Pedersen Fox. Home to retail outlets, offices, residences, a luxury hotel, private office, and public access floors with an observation deck, Lotte World Tower more than makes justification for its 123 floors and 555 metre height. Designed with Korean traditional pottery and brush shapes in mind, the gradually narrowing slopes and curves of the building are produced by meeting cross sections.
4 – Ping An Finance Centre
The second tallest building in China, the Ping An Finance Centre is a 115-storey megatall skyscraper in Shenzhen, Guangdong designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates for Ping An Insurance. The 599 metre high building houses an office, hotel and retail spaces, as well as a conference centre and high-end shopping mall. Floor 116 features the Free Sky observation deck Sky. As the name suggests, the building is also the headquarters of Ping An Insurance. The design of the building is a unique and elegant style, representing the history and achievements of Ping An
3 – Abraj Al Bait
The Abraj Al Bait, or Towers of the House of God, is a government-owned megatall complex of seven skyscraper hotels in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the tallest of which reached 601 metres into the sky. Designed by SL Rasch GmbH and Dar Al-Handasah Architects these towers serve a unique purpose in the city, being a central part of the King Abdulaziz Endowment Project that attempt to modernise the city in catering to its Muslim pilgrims – who make the trek to Mecca as a religious ritual. Completed in 2011, the central hotel tower, the Makkah Royal Clock Tower is itself a huge a Fairmont Hotel and boasts the world's largest clock face.
2 – Shanghai Tower
Opened 2016, Shanghai tower is the tallest building in China, topping out at a massive 632 metres. Featuring an iconic spiral design from architects Gensler, Shanghai Tower takes the form of nine cylindrical buildings stacked on top of one another, totalling 128 floors enclosed by an inner layer of glass serving as the facade. Between this façade and the twisting outside layer, nine indoor zones provide public space for visitors – featuring atriums, gardens, cafés, restaurants and retail spaces, while offering panoramic views of the city. Other than these public spaces, offices, shopping centres, swimming pools, gyms, business centres and hotel spaces call the skyline defining skyscraper home.
1 – Burj Khalifa
Opened in 2010, The 828 metre high Burj Khalifa is the tallest free standing building in the world, and undoubtedly one of the most famous skyscrapers ever built. The Dubai building is renowned for its fascinating design, staggering height, and undeniably eye-catching presence. Designed by Adrian Smith of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the building’s design is derived from the surrounding Islamic architecture of the region, such as in the Great Mosque of Samarra. The Y-shaped floor geometry was designed to optimize both residential and hotel space, while a buttressed central core and wings are used to support the massive height of the tower. The 163 floors of the Burj Khalifa house a mix of hotel spaces, permanent residences, corporate suites, lobbies, restaurants, observatories, and communication suites.
What will skyscrapers look like in the future?
Future skyscrapers are going to change the way we think about design, height and practicality of large-scale architecture. One noteworthy project is the proposed Jeddah Tower of Saudi Arabia. The neo-futurist design of the project is an eye-catching prospect, but what’s truly staggering is the proposed height of a truly awe-inspiring kilometre. Proposed for completion in 2021, the tower is one of many supertall skyscrapers we can expect to see colouring our urban environment in the 21st century.