A History of High-Rise Building Construction

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High-rise buildings, also known as skyscrapers, are buildings that are continually habitable and usually have at least ten floors. They’re usually designed for commercial, office, and residential uses. A common feature of high-rise buildings is their steel framework that supports what are known as curtain walls — walls that either bear on the below framework or are suspended from the above framework.

Have you ever been curious about how these towering masterpieces came to be?

The history of highrises

It all started in the 19th century when two developments paved the way for skyscrapers, the first of which was the modern elevator. Elevators were previously used to move materials in factories and warehouses, but were not considered safe for people because if the cable broke, the elevator car would fall to the bottom of the elevator shaft. It wasn't until 1853 that an American inventor by the name of Elisha Graves Otis created a safety device that was meant to keep elevators from falling even if their cables broke.

The second development took place in Chicago after a major fire in 1871 when the city experienced what can only be described as explosive growth. By the 1880s, there wasn’t enough land available to keep up with the demand for new buildings. The only place for buildings to go was up, but this meant that construction methods had to change. New practices included using grids of steel columns and beams that had sufficient strength to hold the weight of the building’s contents and floors, wind, and ,depending on the region, earthquakes.

This new construction method led to the birth of the skyscraper, and with it the race to construct the tallest building.

Reaching for the sky

As highrises became lighter and taller, they began having issues with wind and would start to sway — sometimes as much as two feet in any direction. Engineers worked to come up with a solution to the problem and began installing steel trusses that were diagonally braced to give the buildings a stronger core. To accommodate, columns and beams were moved to the outside edge of the walls.

Since the beginning of high-rise construction, engineers and builders have worked to come up with ways to improve building materials and methods. Today, one of the most commonly used materials in the construction of skyscrapers is concrete, which can be reinforced to make buildings stronger. To learn more about the history of high-rise buildings, have a look at these resources:

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