History of Tall Buildings

In ancient history high building constructions are well known for example the Egyptian Pyramides. The highest in Giza is 147 m, but they are not regarded as buildings referring to the definition mentioned, but rather monuments.

In modern times the construction technique was not developed for high buildings. During the second half of the 19th century the technique was improved above all through the steel building technique and the invention of the elevator. Several tall buildings were constructed in Chicago and New York. During the 1880’s and 1890’s several buildings of 10-30 floors were constructed in these two cities. The tallest of these exceeded 100 m of height.

Flatiron Building, architect Daniel Burnham, built 1902 and considered to be the oldest remaining skyscraper in New York, 87 meters tall with 22 floors.
In the beginning of the 20th century the tallest buildings had reached a height of more than 200 m and 50 floors. Woolworth building in New York from 1913 was the tallest building in the world for 17 years. World war one and the economic depression forced a pause in the construction of very high buildings, but in the beginning of the 1930’s new record were achieved.

Chrysler building, 319 m, 77 floors, constructed 1930, Architect William Van Alen, both at Manhattan, New York City.
Empire State Building with the roof height of 381 m was the tallest building in the world from 1931 to 1973 when World Trade Center was constructed. When Petronas Tower in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with 452 m of height was constructed 1998 the world record left United States for the first time for more than 100 years. Since 2004 Taipeh 101 in the Republic of China is regarded as the tallest house in the world with its 509 m of pinnacle height, though the roof height is actually less than Petronas Tower.

But the world record will soon leave south east Asia for the Middle East when Burj Tower in Dubai in the United Arab Emitates will be finished 2006 or 2007, expected to be some 800 m of height. Reaching these heights some people talk about superscrapers.
During the 1970’s the economic centre of the world started moving towards Asia. At the same time the boom in skyscraper construction started internationally. Shin-juku Mitsui Building in Tokyo from 1974 with 225 m of height was the tallest building in Asia when it was constructed, but this position was soon replaced by other buildings in Japan, South and North Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, the Phillippines, Hong Kong, people’s Republic o China, Republic of China, Thailand and Indonesia. A number of tall buildings have also been constructed in Australia. During the last 20 years South East Asia/Australia has developed to be the new centre of the world for skyscraper construction.
During the last seven years the Middle East lead by Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia have joined the club of very tall skyscrapers, and will even take over the world record within a few years. It is still too early to say whether this will be the start of a new chapter in the history of skyscraper construction. The oil and gas resources within the North African and Middle East Region will in any case form good economical conditions for such a future.
For many years skyscrapers were only built in the largest cities in North America. During this period the economic centre of the world moved from Europe to North America. Many large European cities were already developed with high density inner cities before World War One when the construction technique for skyscrapers was developed. After World War Two many more skyscrapers were built in many North American cities but few new height records were achieved.
More than 50 percent, 101 of the 200 tallest buildings in the world, are now located in South East Asia and Australia and 84 of them are in North America. Far behind follows Middle East with 9 and Europe with only 6. None of the 200 tallest are located in Africa or South America.

II International Finance Centre, Hong Kong, People’s Republic of China. 415 m, 88 floors, constructed 2003.
The tallest building in Asia is Taipei 101, 509 m, in North America Sears Tower, 442 m, in Chicago, from 1974, in Australia Q1, Queensland, 323 m from 2005 and in Europe Triumph Palace, Moscow, 264 m from 2004. The tallest building in Africa is Carlton Centre Office Tower, Johannesburg, South Africa, 223 m high and 50 floors and constructed 1973. The tallest buildings in South America are the two skyscrapers Parque Central Torre Este and Parque Central Torre Oeste in Caracas, Venezuela, both 221 m high and 56 floors built 1979 and 1984 respectively.
United States still has the country record with 79 of the 200 highest buildings in the world but the People’s Republic of China is following closely with 49 buildings, Hong Kong included. The four most skyscraper dense cities in the world are New York (27 of the 200), Chicago (12), Hong Kong (17) and Shanghai (12). Dubai has already six buildings among the 200 tallest, all of them built since 1999.
There are no buildings in Africa among the 200 tallest in the world. As mentioned, the tallest building in Africa is Carlton Centre Office Tower, Johannesburg, South Africa, 223 m high and 50 floors and constructed 1973. Twelve of the 25 tallest buildings in Africa can be found in South Africa, eleven in Egypt and one each in Kenya and Zimbabwe. They are all higher than 130 m and most of them have 30-50 floors.

Citic Plaza, Guangzhou, People’s Republic of China, 391 m, 80 floors, constructed 1997.

Shun Hing Square, Shenzhen, People’s Republic of China, 384 m, 69 floors, constructed 1996.
Since 1970 there has been a skyscraper boom internationally. Of the 200 tallest buildings only 15 were built before 1970. And the trend is accelerating. Of the 200 tallest 19 were built during the 1970’s, 33 during the 1980’s and 59 during the 1990’s. Not less than 74 of the 200 tallest buildings – one third - have been constructed during the six years after 2000. The trend of constructing more and more very tall buildings is obvious internationally.
Even if the building technique made it possible to construct skyscrapers it is not a reason enough to actually build them. In New York and Chicago, where the trend started the high demand for land in the central parts of the cities made the land price increase to levels that demanded a more intense land use, and the urban planning gave no restrictions for such a land use.
The tall houses are also considered as famous trade marks for the companies that built them, like Woolworth building, Chrysler building and Sears Tower. More and more the tall buildings have become not only symbols for the company that once built them, but also for the city itself. But the more skyscrapers built around the world the harder competition to achieve these symbolic values.