The story of early skyscrapers begins in the late 19th and early 20th century America. Between 1884 and 1945 numerous skyscrapers were built American cities of New York City and Chicago. The two cities competed with each other with many subsequent constructions surpassing the earlier one. The growth of the skyscrapers in the 20th century American cities were mainly fueled by dynamic economic growth as the demand for various new office spaces to hold America’s expanding workforce of white-collar employees continued to grow. With better engineering and construction methods it became easier to construct taller buildings.
Flatiron Building in New York City finished its construction in June 1902. The 22 floors building was one of the first tallest skyscrapers and later in the subsequent decades even taller buildings were constructed.
But the developments of modern skyscrapers have many challenges and questions that need to be cleared. Though the growth of skyscrapers has not subsided, they are not the most ideal form of buildings. According to engineer Tim Snelson, of the design consultancy, a typical skyscraper will have at least double the carbon footprint of a 10-story building of the same floor area. This tells us that skyscrapers are not environmentally sustainable. Also, any additional methods to minimize the environmental impact will require overcoming the fight of the handicap of being a tall skyscraper in the first place. As the majority of the building is made with glass and steel frame, high-rise buildings are subject to the consequence of the substantial amount of sunlight and a lot of wind on their mostly glass skins. Glass is inherently inefficient in keeping excessive heat out of the buildings in summer or keep heat trapped in the colder months. This also leads to the reliance on continuous Air Conditioning.
The modern construction of skyscrapers in the cities of today is no longer driven purely by economic growth or the need for commercial office space, but instead, it is more driven by glamorous architecture construction and many times the dirty money gets funneled into the construction of Skyscrapers. High rises also separate people from the street and people lose a connection to nature and the outdoors. The occupants in the tall buildings are often isolated from the street of the city and meaningful contact with ground-level events is often disconnected with taller buildings.
High-rise buildings also lead to gentrification and inequality. It is no surprise that taller buildings often tend to be luxury units as the higher a building rises, it becomes more expensive to construct. This means that high rises also inflate the prices of the adjacent lands and driving out the affordable properties, thus increasing the inequality. The areas near the skyscrapers are often dark and swept under the shadow of these tall buildings.
Contrary to the popular notion, skyscrapers are not the only way to build high-density construction. The mid-rise buildings are often more able to house more amount of people per area compared to the high rises. Mid rises are also more flexible to affordable. The mid-rises can work as a good middle ground between the taller buildings and low-density buildings. Instead of blindly building taller buildings we will have to look at the construction of our future buildings that are more sustainable, affordable, and efficient.