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The skyscraper race: celebrating the original innovators

Chicago, USA: the original leader/innovator of "skyscraping"

The latest skyscraper just beat the one that until now held the record for the world's tallest. Countries in Asia and the Middle East are constantly in a race for the tallest. And we're not always sure about the motive.

Now cut to the original leaders/innovators of "skyscraping." Back in the 19th century, to build the first "skyscraper" required THREE things. The FIRST was the invention of a safe elevator in 1853 by American inventor Elisha Graves Otis. The SECOND was the invention of a new structural frame by American architect William Le Baron Jenney. The THIRD was the presence of a need to achieve new heights ... In the 1880s, Chicago experienced explosive growth, the available land could not keep up with the demand, and the only alternative was to build up.

I do know of the complexities and challenges of designing today's skyscrapers. And I do admire the ingenuity of the architects who design them ... American Adrian Smith, for example, who architected today's tallest Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

But there's something special about the original pioneers and innovators. Their creativity. Their thought-leadership. Their research and investment. Their courage to remove the first obstacles. Their willingness to take the risk. Their ability to think ahead ... It must have been a LOT TOUGHER to design and plan New York City's 102-story Empire State Building in the 1920s -- nearly a century ago!


  1. Skyscrapers occupy less space. To that extent, i welcome that. But more open space should be earmarked for children to play, walking tracks, car parking etc. In Sharjah and Dubai, these aspects are totalling missing. With the result, the children are kept indoors all the time resulting in various emotional problems.The purpose of this article is to appreciate the breakthrough achieved by Americans in the construction field. But my only observation is that skysrapers are not necessary in such a big country like US with limited population.Britain never ventured to follow US in this aspect. Though,Chicago's skyscrapers in Michican Avenue present a panoramic view, living there is not comfortable.

  2. Thank U Pradeep for sharing the post. Apart from need , the enabling innovations which you have highlighted also were critical in deciding the time of realisation of an innovation. As the technology is available, there are Dubai rulers who built skyscrapers even when there was no need. Also, when the technology is available in Malaysia and Dubai, what is holding such a construction in India? Absence of need, lack of competition , fear of unknown?

  3. Need certainly exists in the big Indian cities, but the cities themselves may not be ready in terms of roads and other infrastructure (even crowd discipline)required to, say, drive traffic to/from such buildings.


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