A pictorial history of the skyscraper:


Home Insurance Building, Chicago: Constructed in 1884-1885 the world’s first skyscraper was 10 stories tall with a height of 138 feet.


Equitable Life Assurance Building, Manhattan, New York City: Construction was completed on May 1, 1870, under the leadership of Henry Baldwin Hyde and was the first office building to feature passenger elevators. The architects were Arthur Gilman and Edward H. Kendall, with George B. Post as a consulting engineer; hydraulic elevators made by the Otis Elevator Company.


Western Union Telegraph Building, New York: Built by George B. Post, and was completed in 1875 It was 230 feet high, and had ten floors. This skyscraper style became popular in the late 1880s and was characterized by a tripartite system of composition corresponding to the parts of a classic column with its base, shaft, and capital.

Germania Life Insurance Building, New York: Built in 1910, this building is an example of the French mansardic, a four-sided gambrel style roofing form, which had gained popularity beginning from 1878.

Woolworth Building, New York: Designed by architect Cass Gilbert, it was the tallest building in the world from 1913 to 1930, with a height of 792 feet (241 m). The 60-story structure consists of a 30-story tower situated atop a 30-story base. It is a prime example of the “mounted skyscraper” era.

American Surety Building, New York: The building was constructed from 1894 to 1896, following designs by noted architect Bruce Price. It was one of Manhattan’s first buildings with steel framing and curtain wall construction. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, a more practical form of skyscrapers was required. The ever-increasing height of buildings forced the architects to search for an appropriate compositional solution. At thirty stories or beyond, the tripartite system worked less well and as building height increased, the problem of attractively relating the parts to the whole became more difficult, paving way for the “isolated skyscraper tower” era.

Chrysler Building, Manhattan, New York: An Art Deco–style skyscraper standing at 1,046 feet (318.9 m), the structure was the world’s tallest building for 11 months before it was surpassed by the Empire State Building in 1931. During this period Architects were well aware of the aesthetics problem created by the ever growing skyscraper, and there was much thought and discussion concerning a solution. The revision of the N.Y. building code in 1916 played a part in producing the tower-with-base formula. Brought on by the ill effects these gigantic buildings were having on the city and the public, the code introduced a zoning ordinance that necessitated a set-back system based on the width of the street. This continues to the present day, however its heyday was in the 1920s.


Rockefeller Center, Manhattan, New York: It is a large complex consisting of 19 commercial buildings covering 22 acres (89,000 sq. m). The 14 original Art Deco buildings, commissioned by the Rockefeller family, span the area between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, split by a large sunken square and a private street called Rockefeller Plaza. Its characteristic feature is a limited exploitation of space rights in a park-like setting often involving a multi-block site. The reason for this manner of construction was the unregulated development that failed to provide sufficient open space to create a vista for the ever increasing skyscrapers in the city. The precedent set by Rockefeller Center was followed later by many groups of architects and planners, with not always happy results.


Seagram Building, New York: (1954-58) The building stands 515 feet (157 m) tall with 38 stories, and it is one of the most notable examples of the functionalist aesthetic and a prominent instance of corporate modern architecture. The Second Chicago School of architecture is closely linked to the minimalist International Style, championed by the Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Advances in technology can, in large part, explain the growing height of the skyscraper up to about 1900, when the skeleton frame was widely accepted, but it cannot account for the dramatic changes that took place afterwards. New construction methods, such as bolted, riveted, then welded frames had virtually no effect on skyscraper appearance. Faster, automatic elevators improved service but did not influence form. The shape of the structure retained the same tower appearance. It is interesting to note that even the cladding of the structure remained unchanged even though and many architects and clients appear willing to suffer the resulting expense of leakage of cool air in favour of glass for the sake of appearance and the psychological effect upon employees.


Willis Tower, Chicago: Commonly referred to as the Sears Tower, is a 110-story, 1,450-foot (442.1 m) skyscraper which at its completion in 1973 was the tallest building in the world, a title it had held for 25 years. The building is considered a seminal achievement for architect Fazlur Rahman Khan who introduced the system of tube-frame structures. The Sears Tower was the first building to use this innovative design. It was both structurally efficient and economic. The system would prove highly influential in skyscraper construction and has been used in most supertall buildings since, including the world’s current tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.


Burj Khalifa, Dubai: With a total height of 829.8 m (2,722 ft) the Burj Khalifa has been the tallest structure and building in the world since its completion in 2009. The primary structure is reinforced concrete. The Y-shaped tripartite floor geometry is designed to optimize residential and hotel space. A buttressed central core and wings are used to support the height of the building. The structure also features a cladding system which is designed to withstand Dubai’s hot summer temperatures. It contains a total of 57 elevators and 8 escalators. Burj Khalifa uses the bundled tube design of the Willis Tower, invented by Fazlur Rahman Khan.

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