The Skyscraper - A Look at Tall Buildings

tall buildings against an evening sky
Dubai Skyline. Photo by Zohaib Anjum/Getty Images (cropped)
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2,717 Feet, Burj Khalifa

The tallest building in the world looks like a needle rising from harbors in Dubai
The Burj Khalifa, the Tallest Building in the World, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Photo of Burg Kalifa by Davis McCardle/The Image Bank Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

What is a skyscraper?  Most tall buildings have a common architecture, but can you see it from the outside? The skyscrapers in this photo gallery are the tallest of the tall. Here are pictures, facts, and statistics for some of the highest skyscrapers in the world.

The Tallest

Since it opened on January 4, 2010, the Burj Khalifa has been the tallest building in the world. The United Arab Emirates broke world records in the 21st century for building a needle-like, 162 story skyscraper in Dubai. Also known as the Burj Dubai or Dubai Tower, the soaring skyscraper is now named after Khalifa Bin Zayed, the president of the United Arab Emirates.

At a height of 2,717 feet (828 meters) including the spire, the Burj Khalifa was a project of architect of Adrian Smith working with Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill (SOM). The developer was Emaar Properties.

Dubai has been a showplace for innovative, modern building, and the Burj Khalifa shatters world records. The skyscraper is much taller than Taiwan's Taipei 101, which rises 1,667 feet (508 meters). During a time of economic slowdown, the Dubai Tower has become an icon for wealth and progress in this city on the Persian Gulf. No expense was spared for the building's opening ceremonies and a fireworks display every New Years.

Skyscraper Safety

The extreme height of the Burj Khalifa raises safety concerns. Could occupants ever be evacuated quickly in the event of an extreme fire or explosion? How well would a skyscraper this tall withstand a fierce storm or earthquake? Engineers for the Burj Kahalifa claim that the building design incorporates multiple safety features, including a hexagonal core with Y-shaped buttresses for structural support; concrete reinforcement around stairways; 38 fire- and smoke-resistant evacuation lifts; and the world's fastest elevators.

Architects learn from the design failures of other skyscrapers. Collapses in Japan prompted engineers to construct the Burj with the capacity to withstand a 7.0 magnitude earthquake, and the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers in New York City forever changed the design of tall buildings.

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1,972 Feet, Makkah Royal Clock Tower

Royal Clock Tower Hotel in Mecca, supertall structure within an arid, mountainous terrain
Makkah Royal Clock Tower Under Construction. Photo by Al Jazeera English c/o: Fadi El Benni via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Makkah Royal Clock Tower has been one of the tallest buildings in the world since it was finished in 2012. The desert city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia is host to millions of people every year. The Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca begins miles away for every Muslim headed toward the birthplace of Muhammad. As a call to the pilgrims, and a call to prayer, a tall clock tower was built by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs as part of the King Abdul Aziz Endowment Project. Overlooking the Grand Mosque, the tower is set within a complex of buildings called Abraj Al-Bait. The hotel at the Clock Tower has more than 1500 guest rooms. The tower is 120 stories and 1,972 feet ( 601 meters) in height.

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1,819 Feet, Lotte World Tower

Skyscraper tapering at the top
Lotte World Tower in Seoul, South Korea. Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

The Lotte World Tower in Seoul, South Korea opened in 2017. At 1,819 feet high (555 meters), the mixed-use building is one of the tallest skyscrapers on earth. Asymmetrically designed, the 123 floors of the Lotte Tower are designed with a common open seam, not shown in this photo.

Architects' Statement

"Our design melds a modern aesthetic with forms inspired by the historic Korean arts of ceramics, porcelain, and calligraphy. The tower's uninterrupted curvature and gentle tapered form is reflective of Korean artistry. The seam that runs from top to bottom of the structure gestures toward the old center of city."—Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates PC.

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1,671 Feet, Taipei 101 Tower

Cityscape view of Taipei 101 Tower in Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China
Pictures of the World's Tallest Buildings: Taipei 101 Tower Taipei 101 Tower in Taipei, Taiwan. C.Y. Lee & Partner, Architects. Photo by www.tonnaja.com/Moment Collection/Getty Images

With a massive 60-foot spire inspired by Taiwan's native bamboo plant, Taipei 101 Tower in Taipei City, Taiwan. Republic of China (ROC) is one of the tallest buildings in the world. With an architectural height of 1,670.60 feet (508 meters) and 101 floor above ground, this Taiwan skyscraper won the award for Best new Skyscraper for Design and Functionality (Emporis, 2004) and the Best of What’s New Grand Award in Engineering (Popular Science, 2004).

Completed in 2004, the Taipei Financial Center has a design that borrows heavily from Chinese culture. Both the building's interior and exterior incorporate the Chinese pagoda form and the shape of bamboo flowers. The lucky number eight, which means blooming or success, is represented by the eight clearly delineated exterior sections of the building. The green glass curtain wall brings the color of nature into the sky.

Earthquake Safety

Designing a building this large presented unique challenges, especially since Taiwan is subject to typhoon winds and ground-shattering earthquakes. To counter unwanted movement within the skyscraper, a tuned mass damper (TMD) is incorporated into the structure. The 660 ton spherical steel mass is suspended between the 87th and 92nd floors, visible from the restaurant and observation decks. The system transfers the energy from the building to the swinging sphere, providing a stabilizing force.

Observation Decks

Located on floors 89 and 91, the observation decks include the highest restaurant in Taiwan. Two high-speed elevators reach a maximum speed of 1,010 meters/minute (55 feet/second) when traveling to the 89th floor. The elevators are actually air-tight capsules, pressure-controlled for passenger comfort.

Architects' Statement

THE EARTH AND SKY ...Taipei 101 marches upward by stacking peak on peak. It is similar to the form of the bamboo joint expressing upward progress and prosperous business. Furthermore, the Oriental expression of height and width is achieved with the extension of stacking units and not like in the West, which expands a mass or form. For example, the Chinese pagoda is developed vertically step by step....The application of symbols and totems in China intends to convey the message of fulfillment. Therefore, the talisman symbol and dragon/phoenix motifs are employed at appropriate places on the building.—C.Y. Lee & Partners

A Building is a Message: All things are mutually interactive. They all generate their own messages and such message-like media can be mutually sensed. A message is the medium of interaction. The messages a building space and its body generates are the most important media in our life.Therefore, a building is both the message and the medium.—C.Y. Lee & Partners

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1,614 Feet, Shanghai World Financial Centre

long angle view looking up at the lighted Shanghai World Financial Center in Pudong, Shanghai
Shanghai World Financial Center in Pudong, Shanghai. Photo by James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images (cropped)

The Shanghai World Financial Centre, or Center, is a soaring glass skyscraper with a distinctive opening at the top in Pudong District, Shanghai, China. Completed in 2008, the steel-framed building with steel reinforced concrete is 1,614 feet (492 meters) high. The original plans called for a 151 foot (46 meter) circular opening that would reduce wind pressure and also suggest Chinese symbolism for the moon. Many people protested that the design resembled the rising sun on the Japanese flag. Eventually the opening was changed from circular to a trapezoid shape designed to reduce wind pressure on the 101 story skyscraper.

The ground floor of Shanghai World Financial Centre is a shopping mall and an elevator lobby with gyrating kaleidoscopes on the ceiling. On the upper floors are offices, conference rooms, hotel rooms, and observation decks.

A project of Japanese developer Minoru Mori, the supertall building in China was designed by the United States architecture firm of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates PC.

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1,588 Feet, International Commerce Centre (ICC)

Hong Kong skyline, group of skyscrapers, one tower stands above the rest, looking like a single World Trade Center tower
International Commerce Centre, 2010, in Hong Kong. Photo by Premium/UIG/Getty Images

The ICC building, completed in 2010 in West Kowloon, is the tallest building in Hong Kong and one of the world's tallest skyscrapers at 1,588 feet (484 meters).

Formerly known as Union Square Phase 7, the International Commerce Centre is part of the expansive Union Square project on the Kowloon peninsula across from Hong Kong Island. The 118 story ICC building stands at one end of Victoria Harbour, opposite from Two International Finance Centre located across the harbor on Hong Kong Island.

Original plans were for an even taller building, but zoning laws prohibited the construction of buildings higher than the surrounding mountains. The design of the skyscraper was revised and plans for a pyramidal-shaped top were abandoned. The architecture firm of Kohn Pedersen Fox Association

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1,483 Feet, The Petronas Towers

Two lighted missile-like towers joined midway by a horizontal walkway
Kuala Lumpur Petronas tower at Sunset. Photo by Rustam Azmi/Getty Images (cropped)

Argentine-American architect Cesar Pelli is internationally-known for the twin-tower design of the 1998 Petronis Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Traditional Islamic design inspired the floor plans for the two towers. Each floor of each 88-story tower is shaped like an 8-pointed star. The two towers, each 1,483 feet (452 meters) high, have been called cosmic pillars that spiral heavenward. At the 42nd floor, a flexible bridge connects the two Petronas Towers. Tall spires atop each tower make them among the world's tallest buildings, 10 meters higher than the Willis Tower in Chicago, Illinois.

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1,450 Feet, Willis (Sears) Tower

The iconic 1970s-era tower in Chicago, looking robotic with an antenna hat
The Willis Tower, Formerly Sears Tower, in Chicago, Illinois. Photo by Bruce Leighty/Stockbyte/Getty Images

The Sears Tower in Chicago, Illinois was the world's tallest building when it was built in 1974. Today it is still one of the tallest buildings in North America.

To provide stability against high winds, architect Bruce Graham (1925-2010) of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) used a new form of tubular construction for Sears Tower. Two hundred sets of bundled tubes were laid into the bedrock. Then, 76,000 tons of prefabricated steel in 15-foot by 25-foot sections were put into place. Four derrick cranes moved higher with each floor to lift these steel "Christmas Trees" into position to a height of 1,450 feet (442 meters). The highest occupied floor is 1,431 feet above the ground.

As part of a rental deal, Willis Group Holdings, Ltd. renamed the 110-story Sears Tower in 2009.

The tower covers two city blocks and has 101 acres (4.4 million square feet) of space. The roof rises 1/4 of a mile or 1,454 feet (442 meters). The foundation and the floor slabs have some 2,000,000 cubic feet of concrete—enough to build an eight-lane highway 5 miles long. The skyscraper has more than 16,000 bronze-tinted windows and 28 acres of black duranodic aluminum skin. The 222,500-ton building is supported by 114 rock caissons socketed into the bedrock. A 106-cab elevator system (including 16 double-decker elevators) divides the tower into three separate zones with skylobbies in between. Two domed entrances, one with skylights, were added in 1984 and 1985, and the interior of the building was extensively updated from 2016 until 2019. A glass observation deck called the Skydeck Ledge juts out from the 103rd floor.

In the Words of Architect Bruce Graham

"The stepback geometry of the 110-story tower was developed in response to the interior space requirements of Sears, Roebuck and Company. The configuration incorporates the unusually large office floors necessary to Sears' operation along with a variety of smaller floors. The building plan consists of nine 75 x 75 foot column-free squares at the base. Floor sizes are then reduced by eliminating 75 x 75 foot increments at varying levels as the tower rises. A system of double-deck express elevators provides effective vertical transportation, carrying passengers to either of two skylobbies where transfer to single local elevators serving individual floors occurs."
-from Bruce Graham, SOM, by Stanley Tigerman

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1,381 Feet, The Jin Mao Building

Low angle view looking up at two icons of Shanghai, the colorful Jin Mao Tower (left) and the World Financial Center (right)
Jin Mao Tower (left) in Shanghai near the iconic shape of the Shanghai World Financial Centre (right). Photo by vip2014/Moment Open/Getty Images

The towering 88 story Jin Mao Building in Shanghai, China reflects traditional Chinese architecture. The architects at Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM) designed the Jin Mao Building around the number eight. Shaped like a Chinese pagoda, the skyscraper is divided into segments. The lowest segment has 16 stories, and each succeeding segment is 1/8 smaller than the one below.

At 1,381 feet (421 meters), the Jin Mao is more than 200 feet shorter than it's newer neighbor, the 2008 Shanghai World Financial Center. The Jin Mao Building, completed in 1999, combines shopping and commercial space with office space and, on the upper 38 stories, the towering Grand Hyatt Hotel.

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1,352 Feet, Two International Finance Centre

Two International Finance Centre (IFC) in Hong Kong. Cesar Pelli, Architect.
Pictures of the World's Tallest Buildings: Two IFC, Hong Kong Two International Finance Centre (IFC) in Hong Kong. Cesar Pelli, Architect. Photo by Anuchit Kamsongmueang/Moment Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

Like the 1998 Petronis Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Two International Finance Centre (IFC) in Hong Kong is the design of Argentine-American architect Cesar Pelli.

Shaped like a shimmering obelisk, the 2003 skyscraper towers 88 stories over Victoria Harbour on the north shore of Hong Kong Island. Two IFC is the taller of two International Finance Centre buildings and part of a $2.8 billion (US) complex that includes a luxury shopping mall, the Four Seasons Hotel, and Hong Kong Station. The complex is located near an even taller skyscraper, the International Commerce Centre (ICC), completed in 2010.

Two IFC is not the tallest building in the world—it's not even in the top 20—but it remains a beautiful and respectable 1,352 feet (412 meters).

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1,396 Feet, 432 Park Avenue

skyline of upper NYC seen from NJ
432 Park Avenue in New York City as Seen From New Jersey. Photo by Gary Hershorn/Getty Images (cropped)

Just what New York City needs—more condominiums for the wealthy. But do you really need a penthouse that towers over the Empire State Building? Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly (b. 1944) has designed a monolithic tomb with huge windows at 432 Park Avenue. At a height of 1,396 feet (426 meters) with only 85 floors, the 2015 tower of concrete overlooks Central Park and all of Manhattan. Writer Aaron Betsky admires its simple design, the symmetry of each 93-foot side, calling it "a gridded tube abstracting and punctuating the more leaden masses of the lesser boxes around it." Betsky is a box lover.

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1,140 Feet, Tuntex (T & C) Sky Tower

The dark green-colored granite curtain wall of a tower seemingly held aloft by two smaller side towers
Tuntex Sky Tower. Photo by Ting Ming Yueh/Getty Images (cropped)

Also known as the Tuntex & Chien-Tai Tower, the T & C Tower, and 85 Skytower, the 85-floor Tuntex Sky Tower has been the tallest building in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan since it opened in 1997.

Tuntex Sky Tower has an unusual fork shape that resembles the Chinese character Kao or Gao, which means tall. Kao or Gao is also the first character in the name Kaohsiung City. The two prongs rise 35 stories and then merge into the central tower that rises 1,140 feet (348 meters). An antenna at the top adds 30 meters to the total height of Tuntex Sky Tower. Like the Taipei 101 Tower in Taiwan, the design architects were from C.Y. Lee & Partners.

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1,165 Feet, Emirates Office Tower

The Emirates Towers consists of an office building and the Jumeirah Emirates Tower Hotel, one of the world's luxurious hotels
Jumeirah Emirates Towers. Photo by ANDREW HOLBROOKE/Corbis via Getty Images (cropped)

Emirates Office Tower or Tower 1 and its smaller sister, Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel, are soaring symbols of Dubai City in the United Arab Emirates. A two-story shopping arcade called The Boulevard connects the sister skyscrapers in the Emirates Towers complex. The Emirates Office Tower at 1,165 feet (355 meters) is much taller than the Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel height of 1,014 feet (309 meters). Nevertheless, the hotel has 56 stories and Tower 1 has only 54, because the office tower has higher ceilings.

The Emirates Towers complex is surrounded by gardens with lakes and waterfalls. The tower of offices opened in 1999 and the hotel tower in 2000.

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Empire State Building (1,250 Feet) and 1WTC (1776 Feet)

NYC skyline showing art deco Empire State Building foreground and WTC1 in background
Historic AND Tall: New York's Art Deco Skyscraper Empire State Building, New York City, Shreve, Lamb and Harmon, 381 meters / 1,250 feet tall. Photo by focusstock/E+ Collection/Getty Images

The Empire State Building in New York City was designed in the Art Deco period of the 20th century. The building does not have zigzag Art Deco decoration, but its stepped shape is typical of the Art Deco style. The Empire State Building is tiered, or stepped, like an ancient Egyptian or Aztec pyramid. The spire, surprisingly designed as a mooring mast for dirigibles, adds to the Empire State Building's height.

When it opened on May 1, 1931, the Empire State Building was the tallest building in the World at 1,250 feet (381 meters). It remained the world's tallest until 1972, when the original Twin Towers at New York's World Trade Center were completed. After terrorist attacks destroyed that World Trade Center in 2001, the Empire State Building once again became New York's tallest building. It remained so from 2001 until 2014, until 1 World Trade Center opened for business at 1,776 feet. In this photo, 1WTC in Lower Manhattan is the shiny skyscraper to the right of the 102-story Empire State Building.

Located at 350 Fifth Avenue, the Empire State Building designed by Shreve, Lamb and Harmon has an observation deck and is one of New York City's most popular tourist attractions. Unlike most skyscrapers, all four facades are visible from the street—a visual landmark when you exit the trains at Penn Station.

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