Where did the structural capability for skyscrapers come from? The 1860s saw the refinement of the Bessamer process, or a steel-making process, now largely superseded, in which carbon, silicon, and other impurities are removed from molten pig iron by oxidation in a blast of air in a special tilting retort, pushing skyscraper construction into unstoppable motion. As steel is stronger and lighter in weight than iron, the use of a steel frame made possible the construction of truly tall buildings. (The passenger elevator, so essential to the skyscraper, was originally designed by Elisha Otis and first installed in a building in 1857.)
In history, the question of a single definitive “first skyscraper” was debated throughout the 20th century. Yet indisputably, the Chicago Home Insurance Building, built in 1884-5, is considered to be one of the first modern skyscrapers. Designed by William Le Baron Jenney and standing ten stories tall, the Home Insurance Building was one of the first structures of its time to be supported by a fireproof structural steel and metal frame on both the inside and outside of the building.
Following the construction of the Home Insurance Building, skyscrapers have continuously cropped up all across the globe, from Russia to France, New York to Dubai, and more. While skyscraper construction has only been possible for approximately the past one hundred and fifty years, the advancements achieved in the field have been astronomical. In 1885, the tallest building in the world (the aforementioned Home Insurance Building) stood at 180 feet. In 2020, the tallest building in the world, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, stands at 2,722 feet, including the height of its spire.
The infographic below details an introductory history to the architectural construction of skyscrapers. Each building is hyperlinked with more information on the history behind the movements, history, and more behind these feats of architecture.
Featured Image courtesy of Sean Pollock via Unsplash.