How high is too high?

Many of the world’s tallest buildings have become tourist attractions, New Year’s Eve countdown locations and even spots for wedding proposals. However, it is not the events that occur there or the words used to describe them, but the numbers that make these structures with complicated engineering calculations very inspiring. It can also be very shocking to think about everything required to construct these immense buildings but the mathematics behind them have become more complicated as they get taller. This leaves the question; will there eventually come a point where we can no longer build a taller building and if so, what is that point?

Consider the Singer Building, located in Manhattan, New York, which held the brief record of the tallest building in the world at 186.5 metres (612 ft) in 1908. The 35-story building was designed by the architect Ernest Flagg and took 20 months to build after the foundations had been set. The chief engineer of the project, Otto F. Semsch, tackled the problem of wind bracing (the act or process of strengthening a frame against winds) for the tower and the construction of the costly foundations. Although it was significantly taller than previous skyscrapers, the Singer Tower held the title for only a year, when it was surpassed by the Metropolitan Life Tower in New York. Sixty years later, it obtained another record – as the world’s largest skyscraper ever to be peacefully demolished.

Now, just over 100 years on from the construction of the Singer Building, the tallest completed building in the world today at 828 metres (2716.5 ft) belongs to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai which was completed in 2010 and is comprised of residential apartments, a hotel and offices. This building is nearly as tall as the Empire State Building, the Shard and the Statue of Liberty combined!

In the next few years, the Burj Khalifa will have to give up its title as the world’s tallest building to the Jeddah Tower, or Kingdom Tower, which is currently under construction in Saudi Arabia. Designed by the same studio of the Burj Khalifa, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architectures, the Jeddah Tower is said to be ‘a masterpiece of structural engineering’ featuring avant-garde glass to keep the interiors cool in the hot climate and elevators using carbon-fibre, allowing them to reach record-breaking heights. With 200 floors, the Jeddah Tower is set to reach 1008 metres (3307.1ft) making it the first building to exceed one kilometre. There have been some issues with regards to the completion of this breath-taking project, but it is hoped that it will be completed soon.

It will not be surprising if in the next few decades there is another contender for the world’s tallest building, but this would mean theoretically we can go much taller. But how far up can we go?

In theory, there is no maximum height that can be achieved. One of the important technological advancements which are enabling engineers to design ‘supertall’ structures is the use of 3D computer modelling to investigate the structural integrity of a building. These models take information about a building’s profile, and the forces it will exert and have applied onto it, which provides engineers with details about the minimum amounts of materials they should use to guarantee a strong, secure structure. However, for such a towering structure to be stable, we would need to keep expanding the width of the base to support its weight. Logically, this would be impossible because the Earth is a sphere. Taller buildings with larger bases could be artificial mountains! These structures could house thousands of people, provide thousands of jobs through the construction of potential offices or be the shopping centre of your dreams but unfortunately, these could also come with a heavy price tag of anything up to 1.4 trillion USD.

So with skyscrapers, we really could reach for the stars but that comes with a cost. At some point, there may be a limit to how wide the base of a building can be or the amount of money that governments and private investors are willing to pay for it. It may be possible that at some point in the future, the development of materials and the advancements of technology could make the cost of these projects cheaper and allow skyscrapers to reach new heights!

Demi Bako

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