The Amazing Tricks Used to Build Skyscrapers

Published on 05/11/2015

To most of us, skyscrapers are crazy tall buildings that are cool to look at and have great views. But unless you’re and engineer, understanding how they build them is beyond the realm of comprehension. The term is used for buildings higher than 492 ft (150 m). Buildings above 300 m (984 ft) are Supertall and those above 600 m (1,969 ft) are termed Megatall. In the late 1900’s the first skyscraper was built – it was 10 stories high. Obviously we’ve come a long way since. There are some secrets that have made it all possible. From super fast elevators to hurricane proof designs, mankind has developed construction techniques that have literally made the sky the limit for building heights.

The Top 3 Tallest Buildings in the World

There have been arguments in the past about which building was taller, and it’s all a case of interpretation. The Sears tower (12th) and the Petronas Towers (9th) battled it out because of disagreements over measuring antenna and spires. Here is a list of the top 3 tallest buildings in the world:

Makkah Clock Royal Tower Hotel – 1,971 ft (601 m) Meca, Saudi Arabia

Built in 2012, this massive hotel is 120 stories high and boasts the world’s tallest clock.

Makkah Clock Royal Tower Hotel

Makkah Clock Royal Tower Hotel

Shanghai Tower – 2,073 ft (632 m) Shanghai, China

The Chinese megatall newcomer was completed in 2015. It has 121 floors that are used for mixed purposes.

Shanghai Tower

Shanghai Tower

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Burj Khalifa – 2,717 ft (828 m) Dubai, UAE

No surprises here. The Burj, completed in 2010, is number one by a long way. The 163 floor high mega structure is a spectacle that draws millions of tourists that gasp in awe of it’s presence.

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

Designer’s Tricks To Gain That Extra Foot

It’s no secret that building designers will pull out all the stops to ensure that their building will be recognized as one of the tallest in the world. They’re also very secretive about just how high it will be to throw off other designers in the process. By adding spires and other height enhancing ornamental features, buildings can gain those extra critical feet to make their way up the tallest list.

Vanity Space

This is a phenomenon that explains the empty or dead space created at the top of skyscrapers. This is space where there is no offices or actual rooms that are serving any purpose (except to add height). The world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, has an 800 foot spire that makes up about 30 percent of it’s height. Some buildings, like the Ukrania Hotel in Moscow, have 42 percent vanity space.

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How do cranes get on top of buildings?

This has always been something that left me baffled. There are actually three main methods that can be used to make it happen. The internal climbing method, the skycrane method – where helicopters airlift it the crane into place, and the External Climbing Method. In this method, the base of the crane is connected to the ground in a big concrete slab. Once the building has reached 15 stories high, they start to attach the crane to the building with steel collars. As the building grows they attach new sections to the crane to make it higher. To do this, cranes have a climbing section that temporarily supports the top (the arm) while a new section is fixed into place. Job done.

Earthquake Proofing Skyscrapers

Engineers have advanced so far in their building techniques that they believe it’s possible to construct earthquake-proof buildings. The problem is that it would break the bank to build them that way, so earthquake-resistant buildings are the compromise. The aim of this design is to prevent total collapse. Modern skyscrapers use bearings, giant springs and cylinders at the base of the building to absorb the shock from a big quake, just like your car’s shock absorbers. This allows buildings to ride the wave of the quake and when a big one hits, they can sway several feet in either direction. Another technique is to use dampers to reduce the sway. These are used for quakes and high wind protection.

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Wind Proofing

Tuned mass dampers are huge devices positioned at the top of skyscrapers to help cancel out the sway of the building. The biggest and best example of this is found at Taipei 101 (formerly the world’s tallest building, now 5th). Taiwan sits right on top of some major fault lines and also gets frequent high winds and cyclones.

Wind Proofing

Wind Proofing

The device weighs 728 ton and it is suspended between the 87th and 92 floors. The pendulum counteracts strong wind gusts and it can reduce swaying by 40 percent by moving 5 ft in any direction. It was so heavy that they had to piece it together in the building. Designers were so proud of their work that they created viewing platforms for visitors to see their handy work.

Super Fast Elevators

It might seem boring to be reading about elevators, but once you realize just how fast these things are running you might change your mind. Elevators were an essential invention that allowed skyscrapers to become a reality, and with the new extreme heights buildings are reaching there is a need for elevator speed. In elevator terms, the fastest on earth is found in Taipei. Here are the top 3 fastest elevators on earth:

Burj Khalifa — Dubai, UAE 22mph

This megatall building is 2,717 feet high and it’s double-decker elevators can carry 12-14 people at speeds of 22 mph, or 1,9685 feet/minute. At that speed it takes 1 min 22 seconds to reach the top.

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Yokohama Landmark Tower — Yokohama, Japan 28 mph

This Japanese skyscraper has a staggering 79 elevators. At a fairly modest 971 feet by Dubai standards, the elevator can reach the top in 24 seconds flat.

Taipei 101 — Taipei, Taiwan 37.7 mph

Formerly the world’s tallest building, the Taiwanese didn’t mess around when they installed the elevators in this building. There are two high-speed lifts that cost more than $2 million each to build and they can reach the top (1,670 feet) in 30 seconds.

Fast Elevators