The Burj al-Khalifa building in Dubai, United Arab Emirates is currently the world's tallest building. PHOTO FROM WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Going vertical with skyscrapers

THESE buildings are pretty much fixtures in any metropolitan city. From a distance, their outlines create an amazing backdrop and such an image evokes a sign of “civilization” and urbanization. These are skyscrapers.

What is a skyscraper?

What makes a skyscraper different from any other building considering they are habitable and have multiple floors? The truth of the matter is there is no definite or universally accepted definition. Nevertheless, modern sources would classify skyscrapers as any building that is at least 330 feet or 100 meters in height.

Although there were vertical structures built during the ancient times, the word “skyscraper” first came about in the late 19th century when it was used for describing buildings with steel frames and are over 10 stories high. Such a sight then elicited amazement among the public as these buildings were sprouting in major US cities such as Chicago (where the first skyscraper — the Home Insurance Building — was built).

Through time, the definition of what is a skyscraper has been refined by architectural historians. One key factor in making the distinction is the employment of a steel skeleton as opposed to load-bearing masonry.

When the 16-story Monadnock Building in Chicago was built in 1891, load-bearing masonry exceeded its practical limit so architects and allied professionals had to find another way to reinforce as buildings got taller and taller. The result is a steel frame.

“What is the chief characteristic of the tall office building? It is lofty. It must be tall. The force and power of altitude must be in it, the glory and pride of exaltation must be in it. It must be every inch a proud and soaring thing, rising in sheer exaltation that from bottom to top it is a unit without a single dissenting line,” American architect Louis Sullivan said.

At present, modern skyscrapers are built with steel or reinforced concrete frameworks and curtain walls of glass or polished stone. They employ mechanical equipment to operate utilities and fixtures such as water pumps and elevators.

As buildings got taller, other considerations were taken in such as winds and earthquakes, which could topple skyscrapers if they are not properly reinforced. It is here structural engineers devise various methods to allow these buildings ranging from load-bearing materials to rollers to withstand such dangers to ensure it will remain standing and keep its occupants safe.

In terms of architectural style, there are various styles used in designing skyscrapers. Such styles range from Postmodernism to sustainable, with the latter greatly emphasized nowadays on the need to protect the environment and ensure the well-being of building occupants.

“For cities that are cramped, white space or neutral areas provide breathing room for individuals to move, live, work and play. Skyscrapers help energize locals and visitors despite the close proximity of everyday components through clever space layout and usage,” said Arch. Reginald Chiong of RED Architects + Associates.

“Skyscrapers provide unbeatable views. This is also an advantage sa mga people na may budget. Imagine having a great view habang nag rerelax ka sa penthouse ng isang skyscraper,” Chiong added.

The only way to go is up

Throughout history, there appears to be some kind of “race” to see who can build the tallest building in the world. In the early 20th century, New York boasted of having the tallest buildings in the world with the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building and the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.

But now, other countries have built skyscrapers that surpassed these erstwhile monumental buildings. Currently, the tallest skyscraper in the world is the Burj al-Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Prior to that, there was the Taipei 101 in Taiwan and Petronas Towers in Malaysia, to name a few, that are higher than the Empire State Building.

Although the Philippines does not have anything taller than the aforementioned buildings, skyscrapers adorn central business districts. The tallest one in the country to date is the Grand Hyatt Manila in Bonifacio Global City. It was completed in 2017, surpassing the PBCom Tower in Makati City.

Skyscrapers in US cities used to be the tallest in the world. They were more than just mere places of work, they were a symbol for North American corporate power. But as other countries built their own skyscrapers, which are much taller, these buildings now serve to communicate a city or nation’s place in the world.

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