I once again pitched an idea that was selected for the an Ignite Baltimore Conference. The topic I chose was gigantic, “Megatall” skyscrapers – how they are built, the challenges preventing their construction, and which Megatalls stand as the tallest in the world today.
Pinnacle Engineering began with a description of our current golden age of engineering. As of 2014, eight out of the top ten tallest buildings in the world were each built within the last ten years [Wikipedia link - opens in new window]. There are many companies and plans vying for a chance to join these ranks, but a long list of factors prevent more skyscrapers from breaking ground. Skyscrapers must withstand natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods, and now even non-natural disasters like terrorism. Those engineering challenges, combined with the local laws, zoning regulations, and cost, are part of a long list of reasons why skyscrapers are not more common.
The United States pioneered this era in engineering with the construction of the Empire State Building in New York City. The Empire State Building stood as the world’s tallest building for ~40 years, and was the first building in the world with over 100 floors. Present day, much of the Megatall building construction occurs in the Middle East and Asia.
- As of 2014, the tallest building in the world is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Reaching over a half-mile into the sky with over 160 floors, you can tell from the design that the benefactors were clearly attempting to claim the “world’s tallest” title.
- The Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel in the holy Saudi city of Mecca is the tallest hotel in the world with 120 floors. It overlooks the Kaaba – the black cube building that Muslims all over the world face when praying.
- One World Trade Center was completed in 2013, and stands at a symbolic 1776 ft. It is one of seven skyscrapers in the new World Trade Center complex. Two and Three WTC are planned to be built within the next few years, along with the 9/11 memorial/museum and new transportation hub.
- In Taiwan, the Megatall Taipei 101 held the title of the world’s tallest from 2004-2010, but now it has dropped all the way to the 5th tallest in the world, which gives a sense of how golden this golden age is. The building incorporate traditional Asian design elements, and features a 728 ton steel mass dampener between the 87th and 92nd floors. The dampener acts on a pendulum as a counterweight during earthquakes.
Another engineering technology that is quickly being popular is prefabrication. Similar to building a Jenga or Lego tower, prefabricated buildings have each building component finished offsite, then the pieces are shipped and assembled at the building’s location. Prefabrication has shortened the amount of time it takes to build from months to just days. A prefabrication example I touched on in the talk was a 30-story hotel in China built in just 15 days. You can watch a time-lapse of the hotel’s construction on YouTube here.
Baltimore also has some significant skyscraper development on the horizon. In a controversial plan, Baltimore city approved the development of the Billion-dollar Harbor Point development project between the Harbor East and Fells Point areas of the city. The tallest building will reach a height of 350 ft, and the complex will feature the new headquarters of Exelon Corporation, the same company that recently acquired Constellation Energy and BGE (Baltimore Gas & Electric). I closed the presentation with a mind-blowing comparison of Shanghai’s skyline in 1990 and its skyline in 2010. The change is incredible.
Wikipedia is an absolutely great reference for well-organized, up-to-date skyscraper information. Check out the list of the tallest buildings in the world on Wikipedia here. Click the video below to view the presentation on YouTube.