The Current and Future Limits to Building Height

Session: E: The Limits of Tall

Jason BarrProject image

Jason Barr
Professor, Rutgers University

Since 1900, the tallest completed building each year around the world has grown, on average, by about 3 meters per year, and about 8 meters per year since 1980. This means that buildings are not only are getting taller, on average, but they are doing so at a faster rate. This presentation has a threefold agenda.

First, we review the history of building technologies that have allowed builders to overcome various bottlenecks that have enabled skyscrapers to be taller at a lower cost, while sustaining a high quality of life for their occupants. To this end, we survey the suite of innovations in structural engineering, vertical transportation, wind engineering, MEP, foundations, and materials that have been implemented.

Second, we review, as case studies, the economics and technology of the recent crop of record-breaking skyscrapers since 1998 to see what they suggest about the evolution of supertall building height. We analyze the key engineering and design features that allowed them to rise above the previous record holders.

Within this framework, we then analyze the feasibility of a few current “mile-high” visionary buildings to understand better what technological and cost factors would be required to make these buildings not only realizable, but economically and socially successful. Lastly, we highlight some of the critical problems that developers, architects, and engineers would have to overcome if they were to consider going beyond one mile high.