Skyscrapers: What’s New? What’s Old?


Skyscrapers are the iconic structure of cities and we like them. (We’ve even included several in our logo.) Many people only think about them when a new, record-setting one is built. However, there are many other changes worthy of note: Super skinny high rises that cater to the demand for great views and luxury apartments, many innovative designs that incorporate curves and green spaces into the structure, an elevator system in development that would move its cars vertically and horizontally, and the continuing use of mass timber in high rises.

“Today’s definition is a building of 40 floors or more.”

Mass timber means that the load-bearing structure is made of either solid or engineered wood, typically as a replacement for steel framing. The benefits cited for this type of construction are quicker assembly versus concrete or steel-framed structures, more environmentally friendly since it uses renewable products that take less energy to extract and process, less building weight than concrete and a more natural aesthetic.

Although not widely accepted yet in the U.S., mass timber has been used in high-rise buildings, such as the Terrace House luxury condo development in Vancouver, the T3 office building in Minneapolis, which opened on November 30, 2016, and Brock Commons, an 18-story student residence at the University of British Columbia.

What makes a skyscraper? Today’s definition is a building of 40 floors or more and 492 ft tall. When the first skyscrapers were built in the late 1880s, a building only needed 10 to 20 floors to be considered a skyscraper. They started out as masonry structures, many with setbacks to lighten the overall weight of the building. The development of structural steel frame to replace masonry and the Otis safety elevator1 allowed for greater and greater story heights for these buildings.

To learn more about skyscrapers—including what the word “skyscrapers” originally referred to—read 9 Fun Skyscraper Facts.

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