No development in engineering better embodies the modern world than the skyscraper. Born out of a messy conflux of aesthetic, economic, and structural needs, skyscrapers are a dominant fixture of every major city in the world. Piercing the heavens, they are a testament to man’s mastery of the fundamental forces of nature and to our ravenous ambition.
Great works of architecture have always been a status symbol for the cultures that develop them. Just as a banker might sport a Rolex on his wrist, the great cities of the world clothe themselves in colosseums and cathedrals. The first skyscraper was proposed in the late 1800s, and as the technology needed to build such a structure finally developed, these high-rises became the building of the 20th century, serving as imposing, tumescent symbols of power for cities like New York.
Architecture has always been a competitive scene. Cities and governments want buildings more impressive than anyone else’s, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the increasing colossal skyscrapers of the new millennium. While artistic value is always prized (London is quite proud of the relatively short 30 St Mary Axe), height seems to be the most pressing standard for a skyscraper to meet. It’s easier, after all, to measure the height of a building than to qualify its beauty. There’s just something alluring simple about a number — a figure that tells you when something is the best at what it does.
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