Skyscrapers: A History of the World's Most Extraordinary Buildings -- Revised and Updated

Skyscrapers: A History of the World's Most Extraordinary Buildings -- Revised and Updated


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A landmark bestseller that "captivates the eye, mind, and imagination," (The New York Times), Skyscrapers is a unique and colossal celebration of the world's most significant and striking super-structures.

Uniquely designed to showcase the full color images of the world's tallest buildings, Skyscrapers explores the architecture, engineering, and cultural impact of more than 60 skyline defining buildings including:
  • One World Trade Center
  • Burj Khalifa
  • The Empire State Building
  • The Shanghai World Financial Center
  • The Petronas Towers
  • Tribune Tower
  • The Shard
  • Shanghai Tower
Arranged chronologically by date of building construction, each informative profile includes stunning photos of the building's defining features along with building plans, diagrams, historical background, and technological information.

Beginning with a fascinating interview with Adrian Smith, the master architect responsible for Dubai's Burj Khalifa, the reigning tallest building in the world at 2,717 feet (828 meters), Skyscrapers also includes in-depth looks at compelling topics in skyscraper design, including next steps in creating visionary cities of the future, and information on cutting-edge sustainable materials that help make these structures environmentally friendly.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781579129422
Publisher: Running Press Book Publishers
Publication date: 11/05/2013
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 223,465
Product dimensions: 9.30(w) x 18.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

New York Times-bestselling author Judith Dupré has written many books about architecture, including Bridges, Churches, and Monuments. She consults on large-scale infrastructure projects and lectures at Yale and other universities. She lives in New York. Visit

Adrian Smith is considered the foremost architect of supertall skyscrapers in the world. Formerly with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, his buildings include Burj Dubai, the Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai, and the Trump International Tower in Chicago, where he lives and works.

Read an Excerpt





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ISBN: 978-1-57912-942-2




Photographs of ancient pyramids, rising in desert isolation, capture our imaginations. The legendary tombs of the pharaohs—considered the divine descendants of the sun god Ra—were part of vast funerary districts. The famous triad at Giza, from left: Mycerinus (c. 2500 B.C.), Chefren (c. 2530 B.C.), and the largest at 481 feet (147 m), Cheops (c. 2570 B.C.), marked the high point of pharaonic power in the Fourth Dynasty. They were constructed of two-and-a-half-ton limestone blocks that were quarried east of the Nile, then floated to the western side, as the dead had to be buried where the sun sets. The dressed outer surface of the pyramids is visible today only on Chefren's peak. As the embodiment of royal divinity, pyramids mark the moment when monumental scale was first manipulated for its expressive power.


The Classical Period witnessed the birth of the most perfect building in ancient Greece, the Parthenon (447–432 B.C.). Built of marble on the Acropolis as a temple to the goddess Athena, the Parthenon was conceived as a sculptural form, yet it was based upon strict geometry and proportion. It embodied the Greeks' desire for orderly and symmetrical architecture and their abiding belief that these ideals reflected the dignity of the individual. They developed the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns with articulated base, shaft, and capital (the Romans would later add a base to the Doric)—the orders that would inform the organization of classical structures from that time onward. So pervasive is the architectural legacy of the Classical Period that people today are probably as familiar with its design elements as were the ancients themselves.


The most spectacular native architecture in the United States was built by the Anasazi (a Navajo word meaning "ancient ones") throughout the arid Southwest. The largest of their cliff dwellings is Cliff Palace (A.D. 1200), nestled high above the ground in a 200-foot-high crevice. Strategically placed for protection and energy efficiency, the site takes advantage of the sun's seasonal positions, for optimal cooling and heating. Made of sandstone mortared with mud, Cliff Palace comprises 217 multilevel rooms and 23 round ceremonial spaces called kivas. Discovered in 1888 by Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason, two cowboys "just out looking for strays," the Cliff Palace dwellings were protected by a 1906 congressional act. To preserve the fragile structure of this masonry masterpiece, visitors are no longer permitted to climb on the ruins.


The first skyscrapers in the Americas were built by the Maya during their Classic Period (A.D. 250–900). To worship a complex pantheon of gods (and satisfy their ambitious kings), the Maya built magnificent ceremonial centers. The greatest of them is Tikal. This photograph of the Great Plaza only hints at Tikal's enormous richness: archeologists estimate that over 3,000 structures were once on this site. Most impressive are its six temple-pyramids, New World skyscrapers with heights up to 229 feet (970 m). Constructed with a massive rubble core surfaced with limestone and stucco, these sun-bleached ruins were once painted with brilliant colors. The Maya mysteriously abandoned their elaborate cities in the tenth century. Their architecture exerts a continuing influence, expressed most notably in some of Frank Lloyd Wright's facade ornamentation.


Some modern skyscrapers echo the tiered pagoda form, common to many parts of Asia, whose height is a visual representation of the spiritual belief that a cosmic axis exists between heaven and Earth. Pagodas, which often served as a village's center of gravity and were later used for secular purposes, are, in that sense, a legitimate skyscraper model. In China, by the time of the Ming Dynasty, according to architectural historian Dr. Ho Puay-peng, pagodas were often built to "block an evil force" or to create "a hill where geomancers determined one was needed." One contemporary iteration of the pagoda is the Chin Swee Caves Temple, a nine-story pagoda completed in 1994, built on the summit of Mount Ulu Kali in the Genting Highlands of Malaysia. The Taoist temple, today the centerpiece of a resort and casino complex, reflects the increasingly frequent blurring of sacred and secular architectural vocabularies evident in the design of such skyscrapers as Taipei 101, Jin Mao Tower, and Petronas Towers.




Built to rival the height of the Tower of Babel, as its builder claimed, the Home Insurance Building is considered the first skyscraper.

The [steel] frame has been the catalyst of an architecture, but one might notice that it has also "become" architecture, that contemporary architecture is almost inconceivable in its absence ... It would be fair to say that the frame has come to possess a value equivalent to that of column for classical antiquity and the Renaissance. —Colin Rowe, The Architectural Review, 1956

BY THE MID-NINETEENTH CENTURY, a number of coinciding factors—primarily the accessibility made possible by the railroad and the subsequent burgeoning of factories—had molded the frontier town of Chicago into, in the words of historian Lewis Mumford, "a brutal network of industrial necessities." Chicago's population doubled between 1880 and 1890, and during that same decade real-estate prices in the city's center skyrocketed from $130,000 per quarter acre to $900,000. The density of the city was further compounded by geography: Chicago was locked into a small nine-block area bounded by the Chicago River to the north and west, and Lake Michigan and the rail yards to the east and south. By the time William Le Baron Jenney built the Home Insurance Building in 1885, architecture had no were to go but up.

The Home Insurance Building was the first tall building to be supported, both the inside floors and the outside wall, by a fireproof metal frame. Though this is debated, scholars generally acknowledge it as the first skyscraper. In addition to metal framing, Jenney had a host of new technologies and materials available to him that made the skyscraper possible, notably elevators, which allowed for a greater number of stories in a building; fireproofing, which made them safe; and electric lights, which accommodated the needs of the office workers they housed.

Unlike traditional buildings in which the exteriors were self-supporting shells of solid masonry, skyscrapers were supported by a skeleton system of iron or steel columns that permitted the weight of the floors to be evenly distributed to the columns, not the walls. The exterior masonry was now a nonstructural element. This new method of construction reduced the thickness of the walls, increased valuable floor space, and, because it weighed much less than masonry, allowed immense increases in height. Freed from the constraints of traditional construction, the facade could now be opened with windows to maximize the amount of daylight reaching the interior of the building.

Although the Home Insurance Building was built with a skeleton frame, its facade, with its heavy corner piers and broad cornice, still mimicked earlier load-bearing masonry structures. Jenney's design was influenced, as were several other Chicago buildings in the late 1880s, by Henry Hobson Richardson's now-demolished masterpiece, the heroic Marshall Field Store (1885–1887). As noted by William Jordy, Richardson's heavy Romanesque block of a building is transformed in the Home Insurance Building by an all-over lattice created by the intersection of the strong vertical piers with continuous horizontal bands of masonry.

At the end of the nineteenth century, there was little to hold back the cultural ambitions and structural innovations of Chicago's architects. Fueled by the optimistic energy of a youthful city and funded by farsighted and entrepreneurial clients, their buildings pulled their inspiration not from Europe, as New York did, but from the city's expansive awareness of itself as, literally and figuratively, being on the edge of the American frontier. Although ultimately New York built more tall buildings, it was in pioneering Chicago that the present-day skyscraper was born.




Eiffel redefined the tower's function as its maximum load-bearing capacity: his eponymous tower was constructed to battle wind rather than gravity.

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast. —Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast, 1964

IN 1889, PARIS WAS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE. That year, it seemed the entire world was at the Exposition Universelle, a fair commemorating the centennial of the French Revolution. The Eiffel Tower—a dizzying web of intersecting iron girders that soared nearly twice as high as the world's then-tallest structure, the Washington Monument—was its centerpiece. For the first time, abstract engineering forms were the goal of a tower builder.

Gustave Eiffel tackled this engineering challenge with a combination of mathematics, precision, and patience. Everything had been thought out, foreseen, and calculated. Because of the tower's odd angles and curves, each of its 12,000 wrought iron pieces was designed independently to reflect variable inclinations and to bear different loads. Each piece was riveted together, and the rivet holes—all seven million of them—had to match exactly when placed on top of one another. To save time, Eiffel had the sections prefabricated off-site, a process he had successfully used earlier in bridges. Visitors reached the top of the tower via elevators that ran on inclined tracks that were initially used in its construction as tracks for the climbing cranes, another example of the economy of Eiffel's working method.

Despite the initial protests of artists, who feared the mass production that made the tower possible would obliterate individuality, the Eiffel Tower soon was immortalized in the works of Seurat, Chagall, Picasso, and Robert Delaunay, to name a few. Jean Cocteau called it "the Notre Dame of the Left Bank ... the queen of Paris," while Apollinaire extolled it as "the shepherdess of the clouds."

Seventy-nine years later, when the John Hancock Center in Chicago was completed, its owners affixed a time capsule—a "Skystone"—to its roof. It contained, among other things, a copy of the Declaration of Independence, an astronaut's suit, and a chunk of iron from the Eiffel Tower—a piece of the true Cross, as it were. Utterly useless, infinitely potent, the Eiffel Tower reflects humanity's purest aspirations—a stairway to the sky with no other purpose than allowing a person to climb up and have a look around.

Gustave Eiffel (1832–1923)

The genius behind the Eiffel Tower was Gustave Eiffel, a structural engineer whose expressive mastery of iron made him the most celebrated builder of his time. A family quarrel nixed a job at his uncle's vinegar plant in Dijon—his original career plan—so the young Eiffel got a job at a railway equipment firm and never looked back. He effected a virtual revolution in the construction of bridges, notably the great viaduct of 1884 at Garabit, whose construction formed the basis of his ideas for the Eiffel Tower. Eiffel also designed the iron skeleton of Bartholdi's Statue of Liberty.




Ulm's vertiginously tall spire, the equivalent of a fifty-story skyscraper, was built to express both power and piety.

I think cars today are almost the exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals. I mean the supreme creation of an era conceived with passion by the unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object.—Roland Barthes, The New Citroën, 1957

ON THE BANKS OF THE DANUBE rises the filigreed tower of the Minster of Our Gracious Lady, the great cathedral of Ulm. It is the only church in this book, included not only because of its spire, which is the tallest in the world, but also to illustrate the fact that historically the most innovative and daring structures were built by the dominant forces of any given time. In other words, the big power has always been the big builder.

In early medieval times, that power indisputably belonged to the Church, whose authority was increasingly eroded by the growing bourgeoisie. In 813, Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne established the first church at Ulm, one dependent on the Monastery of Reichenau. By the fourteenth century, Ulm had become one of the wealthiest towns in medieval Germany. When the city was seized, its prosperous middle class was denied access to their church, which stood unprotected outside the walls surrounding the city. In an unprecedented gesture of medieval defiance, the burghers dismantled the church and reassembled it inside the city walls, shrugging off control by the monastery as well. When the plans to build a vast new church began in 1377, the cornerstone was laid not by a representative of the church but by the mayor of Ulm.

In an instantaneous age, it is hard to imagine anything taking half a millennium to build. Consider, however, that once the choir at Ulm had been built, a period of fifty years was allowed to let the stones settle before continuing on the other parts of the church. Generations of masons masterminded the cathedral's design, beginning with a Master Heinrich. The aspirant tower was the inspiration of Ulrich von Ensinger (about 1350–1419), encouraged by the vanity of the citizens who wanted to outdo all rivals, notably those in Strasbourg.

In 1474, Matthäus Böblinger became the master mason, proposing a tower even higher than von Ensinger's. Unfortunately, his vision was not matched by his structural expertise, and he was dismissed when he failed to make the supporting piers sufficiently strong. Finally, in the mid-nineteenth century, the great spire was completed according to Böblinger's original design.

The Gothic imagination was preoccupied with the idea of lightness, literally with illumination—made possible by the structural innovation of the flying buttress, which freed the walls from their load-carrying roles and allowed them to be pierced, permitting light into the interiors—and with the idea of immateriality as a metaphor for the spiritual quest for God. Rising from its bulky base, the spire at Ulm is a magnificent web of precisely cut stone. It fulfills the Gothic ideal of transparency and weightlessness, a spatial effect achieved by cutting the masonry into a series of delicate layers that float upward to the heavens, undeterred by time and conflict.




Once the skyscraper's enabling technologies were in place, the issue became an aesthetic one: What form should these tall buildings take?

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.—Louis Sullivan, "The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered," 1896

Louis Sullivan (1856–1924), the great theorist of early skyscraper design, understood that skyscrapers were fundamentally different from anything that had been built before. During Chicago's skyscraper boom between 1880 and 1895, he formulated, with John Wellborn Root, the basic principles underlying the efforts of that city's architects to break through to a new architecture, one in which the building's structure would express its function. "Chicago construction," as it was referred to internationally, prefigured important elements of twentieth-century modernism.

Some of the boldest experiments of this new style came out of the offices of Adler and Sullivan. In many ways, it was a perfect partnership. Dankmar Adler was an entrepreneurial engineer whose masterful grasp of the technology required by the new buildings found form in the passionate vision of artist/philosopher Sullivan, who sought to merge beauty and utility. Their collaboration produced more than two hundred projects, many of which—notably the Wainwright, the Auditorium Building in Chicago, and the Guaranty Building in Buffalo—are considered benchmarks of American architecture.


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Table of Contents


Foreword, 6,
Interview with Adrian Smith, 8,
Ancient Roots, 12,
Home Insurance Building, 14,
Eiffel Tower, 16,
Ulm Cathedral, 18,
Wainwright Building, 20,
Reliance Building, 22,
Flatiron (Fuller) Building, 24,
Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower, 26,
Woolworth Building, 28,
Tribune Tower, 30,
Growth of New York City, 32,
Barclay-Vesey Building, 34,
Chrysler Building, 36,
Empire State Building, 38,
Rockefeller Center, 40,
Lever House, 42,
Alcoa Building, 44,
Price Tower, 46,
Seagram Building, 48,
Pirelli Tower, 50,
Materials and Technology, 52,
MetLife (Pan Am) Building, 54,
Marina City, 56,
Lake Point Tower, 58,
John Hancock Center, 60,
Transamerica Pyramid, 62,
World Trade Center, 64,
Willis (Sears) Tower, 66,
John Hancock Tower, 68,
Peachtree Plaza Hotel, 70,
Towers, 72,
Citicorp Center, 74,
333 Wacker Drive, 76,
National Commercial Bank, 78,
Sony Tower (AT&T Building), 80,
Philip Johnson Interview, 82,
Bank of America Center, 84,
Fountain Place, 86,
Lipstick Building, 88,
OUB Centre, 90,
Hongkong & Shanghai Bank Headquarters, 92,
Menara Maybank, 94,
Visionary Cities, 96,
U.S. Bank Tower, 98,
MesseTurm, 100,
Bank of China, 102,
Tokyo City Hall, 104,
Westendstrasse I, 106,
Landmark Tower, 108,
Crédit Lyonnais Tower, 110,
Petronas Towers, 112,
Jin Mao Tower, 114,
Endless Dubai, 116,
Burj Al Arab, 118,
Aurora Place, 120,
30 St Mary Axe, 122,
Taipei 101, 124,
HSB Turning Torso, 126,
Shanghai World Financial Center, 128,
Trump International Hotel & Tower, 130,
Aqua, 132,
International Commerce Centre, 134,
Bank of America Tower, 136,
Supertall Supergreen, 138,
Burj Khalifa, 140,
CCTV Headquarters, 142,
The Shard, 144,
Makkah Clock Royal Tower, 146,
One World Trade Center, 148,
Shanghai Tower, 150,
432 Park Avenue, 152,
Wilshire Grand Tower, 154,
53W53rd, 156,
Phare Tower, 158,
China Rising, 160,
Kingdom Tower, 162,
Into the Blue, 164,
100 Tallest Buildings, 168,
Additional Resources, 170,
Index, 171,
Image Sources, 175,
Acknowledgments, 176,

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