The word skyscraper often carries a connotation of pride and achievement. The skyscraper, in name and social function, is a modern expression of the age-old symbol of the world center or axis mundi: a pillar that connects earth to heaven and the four compass directions to one another.
Modern skyscrapers are built with materials such as steel, glass, reinforced concrete and granite, and routinely utilize mechanical equipment such as water pumps and elevators. Until the 19th century, buildings of over six stories were rare, as having great numbers of stairs to climb was impractical for inhabitants, and water pressure was usually insufficient to supply running water above 50 m (164 ft).
The tallest building in ancient times was the Great Pyramid of Giza in ancient Egypt, which was 146 metres (480 ft) tall and was built in the 26th century BC. Its height was not surpassed for thousands of years, possibly until the 14th century AD with the construction of the Lincoln Cathedral (though its height is disputed), which in turn was not surpassed in height until the Washington Monument in 1884. However, being uninhabited, none of these buildings actually complies with the definition of a skyscraper.
High-rise apartment buildings already flourished in antiquity: ancient Roman insulae in Rome and other imperial cities reached up to 10 and more stories, some with more than 200 stairs.
The skylines of many important medieval cities had large numbers of high-rise urban towers. Wealthy families built these towers for defensive purposes and as status symbols. The residential Towers of Bologna in the 12th century, for example, numbered between 80 to 100 at a time, the largest of which (known as the "Two Towers") rise to 97.2 metres (319 ft). In Florence, a law of 1251 decreed that all urban buildings should be reduced to a height of less than 26 m, the regulation immediately put into effect.
The medieval Egyptian city of Fustat housed many high-rise residential buildings. An early example of a city consisting entirely of high-rise housing is the 16th-century city of Shibam in Yemen. Shibam was made up of over 500 tower houses, each one rising 5 to 11 storeys high, with each floor being an apartment occupied by a single family. The city was built in this way in order to protect it from Bedouin attacks.
An early modern example of high-rise housing was in 17th-century Edinburgh, Scotland, where a defensive city wall defined the boundaries of the city. Due to the restricted land area available for development, the houses increased in height instead. Buildings of 11 stories were common, and there are records of buildings as high as 14 stories. Many of the stone-built structures can still be seen today in the old town of Edinburgh. The oldest iron framed building in the world is the Flaxmill (also locally known as the "Maltings"), in Shrewsbury, England. Built in 1797, it is seen as the "grandfather of skyscrapers” due to its fireproof combination of cast iron columns and cast iron beams developed into the modern steel frame that made modern skyscrapers possible.
The first skyscraper was the ten-storey Home Insurance Building in Chicago, built in 1884–1885. In this building the architect Major William Le Baron Jenney created the first load-bearing structural frame – a steel frame which supported the entire weight of the walls, instead of load-bearing walls carrying the weight of the building, which was the usual method. This development led to the "Chicago skeleton" form of construction.
Sullivan's Wainwright Building in St. Louis, 1891, was the first steel-framed building with soaring vertical bands to emphasize the height of the building, and is, therefore, considered by some to be the first true skyscraper.
The United Kingdom also had its share of early skyscrapers. The first building to fit the engineering definition, meanwhile, was the largest hotel in the world, the Grand Midland Hotel, now known as St. Pancras Chambers in London, which opened in 1873 with a clock tower 82 metres (269 ft) in height. The 12-floor Shell Mex House in London, at 58 metres (190 ft), was completed a year after the Home Insurance Building and managed to beat it in both height and floor count. 1877 saw the opening of the Gothic revival style Manchester Town Hall by Alfred Waterhouse. Its 87-metre-high clock and bell tower dominated that city's skyline for almost a century.
Most early skyscrapers emerged in the land-strapped areas of Chicago, London, and New York toward the end of the 19th century. A land boom in Melbourne, Australia between 1888-1891 spurred the creation of a significant number of early skyscrapers, though none of these were steel reinforced and few remain today. Height limits and fire restrictions were later introduced. London builders soon found building heights limited due to a complaint from Queen Victoria, rules that continued to exist with few exceptions until the 1950s. Concerns about aesthetics and fire safety had likewise hampered the development of skyscrapers across continental Europe for the first half of the twentieth century (with the notable exceptions of the 26-storey Boerentoren in Antwerp, Belgium, built in 1932, and the 31-storey Torre Piacentini in Genoa, Italy, built in 1940). After an early competition between New York City and Chicago for the world's tallest building, New York took a firm lead by 1895 with the completion of the American Surety Building. Developers in Chicago also found themselves hampered by laws limiting height to about 40 stories, leaving New York with the title of tallest building for many years. New York City developers then competed among themselves, with successively taller buildings claiming the title of "world's tallest" in the 1920s and early 1930s, culminating with the completion of the Chrysler Building in 1930 and the Empire State Building in 1931, the world's tallest building for forty years.
From the 1930s onwards, skyscrapers also began to appear in Latin America and in Asia. Immediately after World War II, the Soviet Union planned eight massive skyscrapers dubbed "Stalin Towers" for Moscow; seven of these were eventually built. The rest of Europe also slowly began to permit skyscrapers, starting with Madrid, in Spain, during the 1950s. Finally, skyscrapers also began to appear in Africa, the Middle East and Oceania (mainly Australia) from the late 1950s and early 1960s.
To this day, no city in the world has more completed individual free-standing buildings over 492 ft (150 m) than New York City.
The number of skyscrapers in Hong Kong will continue to increase, due to a prolonged highrise building boom and high demand for office and housing space in the area.
Chicago is currently undergoing an epic construction boom that will greatly add to the city's skyline. Since 2000, at least 40 buildings at a minimum of 50 stories high have been built. The Chicago Spire, Trump International Hotel and Tower, Waterview Tower, Mandarin Oriental Tower, 29-39 South LaSalle, Park Michigan, and Aqua are some of the more notable projects.
Chicago, Hong Kong, and New York City, otherwise known as the "the big three," are recognized in most architectural circles as having the most compelling skylines in the world. Other large cities that are currently experiencing major building booms involving skyscrapers include Shanghai in China, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and Miami, which now is third in the United States.
Today, skyscrapers are an increasingly common sight where land is scarce, as in the centres of big cities, because they provide such a high ratio of rentable floor space per unit area of land. But they are built not just for economy of space. Like temples and palaces of the past, skyscrapers are considered symbols of a city's economic power. Not only do they define the skyline, they help to define the city's identity.
2. Match the building with the year of its creation:
The Chrysler Building
Home Insurance Building
Manchester Town Hall
The Empire State Building
The Shell Mex House
The Torre Piacentini
The American Surety Building
3. Make questions for these answers:
a) Steel, glass, reinforced concrete and granite.
b) The Great Pyramid of Giza in ancient Egypt.
c) Due to the restricted land area available for development.
d) The architect Major William Le Baron Jenney.
e) The American Surety Building.
f) The Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building.
g) In Latin America and in Asia.
h) From the late 1950s and early 1960s.
i) Chicago, Hong Kong, and New York City.
j) Shanghai, Dubai, and Miami.
6. Look through some additional information about skyscrapers.
Give the main points using the following phrases:
The skyscraper as a concept is a product of the industrialized age, made possible by cheap energy and raw materials. The amount of steel, concrete and glass needed to construct a skyscraper is vast, and these materials represent a great deal of embodied energy.
Tall skyscrapers are very heavy, which means that they must be built on a sturdier foundation than would be required for shorter, lighter buildings. Building materials must also be lifted to the top of a skyscraper during construction, requiring more energy than would be necessary at lower heights.
Furthermore, a skyscraper consumes a lot of electricity because potable and non-potable water must be pumped to the highest occupied floors, skyscrapers are usually designed to be mechanically ventilated, elevators are generally used instead of stairs, and natural lighting cannot be utilized in rooms far from the windows and the windowless spaces such as elevators, bathrooms and stairwells.
Despite these costs, the size of skyscrapers allows for high-density work and living spaces, reducing the amount of land given over to human development. Mass transit and commercial transport are economically and environmentally more efficient when serving high-density development than suburban or rural development.
Also, the total energy expended towards waste disposal and climate control is relatively lower for a given number of people occupying a skyscraper than that same number of people occupying modern housing.
Reading task B
1. Translate the following word-combinations from the text.
To rise majestically, to enjoy breathtaking views, to express concern,
to whisk up, to come up with something, to lead the way in skyscraper building, downtown Chicago, a proud and soaring thing, to rise in sheer exultation, without a single dissenting line, a financial backer, to set back, a step-like look of buildings, to put an end to, a fresh start of skyscraper building, to take on bold new shapes, to stand out.
2. Read the text and put these phrases in the correct place:
a) working and living areas for many people
b) how strong a steel frame could be
c) to be only two feet long
d) before the dream of a skyscraper could become real
e) control over the height and floor plans of new buildings
f) the most talented and most famous
g) stand out as ugly objects in the city landscape
h) and business was doing well
i) wealth and success
j) about the changes they are creating
Buildings that Scrape the Sky
One of the wonders of the modern American city is that architectural marvel called the skyscraper. From New York to Miami from Chicago to Dallas, from Seattle to Los Angeles, these towers of stone and steel and glass rise majestically into the urban sky. From their upper floors, visitors can enjoy breathtaking views.
As skyscrapers transform the cities of America, some people are expressing concern (1) ___. Despite the problems, however, the tall buildings seem to be here to stay. Soon elevators will be able to reach 180 floors and more. Then people will build their modern pyramids higher and higher into the sky.
Every day visitors from all over the world line up on the ground floor of the World Trade Center in New York City. They are waiting to get on elevators that will whisk them up to the enclosed observation deck on the 107th floor of one of the Center's twin silver towers.
On calm days, visitors can take elevators from the 107th floor up to the open walkway above the 110th floor. It is 1,377 feet (413 m) above the ground. From it, the Brooklyn Bridge seems (2) ___. Cars in the streets look like tiny toys. Visitors feel the excitement that people must have felt whenever they stood on high places and looked at the world around them. But only in the last 100 years or so have we had the ability to make buildings of 25, 50, or 100 and more stories — buildings called skyscrapers.
One invention that helped make tall buildings possible was the passenger elevator. Elisha Otis first demonstrated a steam-powered elevator in New York in 1853. Before then, few buildings were more than five or six stories tall. People could not comfortably climb stairs that went higher.
New ways of building also had to be perfected (3) ___. For centuries, most tall buildings were made of stone. The higher the building, the thicker the walls of the lower floors had to be to support the weight of the upper ones. Then, in the nineteenth century, builders began using an iron frame to support the floors of new buildings. Even with this frame, the lower walls still had to support the weight of the upper ones. Finally, engineers came up with a steel frame strong enough to support both floors and walls.
According to one story, it was Major William Le Baron Jenney, a Chicago engineer and architect, who first saw (4) ___. He found out when he got angry at the squawkings of the family parrot. He banged a heavy book down on the parrot's steel wire cage and was surprised when the wires neither bent nor cracked. Jenney was the first architect to use a steel frame in a tall building. He designed the 12-story Home Insurance Company Building in Chicago in 1884. Chicago really led the way in skyscraper building. Most of central Chicago was destroyed by the Great Fire in 1871. Business leaders wanted to rebuild the city in the most modern, attractive, and profitable way possible. In the 1880s and 1890s, one skyscraper after another went up in downtown Chicago.
Probably (5) ___ of the young architects during this time was Louis Sullivan. He thought a building should "be tall ... a proud and soaring thing, rising in sheer exultation from top to bottom without a single dissenting line.”
Other architects disagreed with Sullivan. They believed that skyscrapers should borrow ideas from the Greeks, the Romans, and the Gothic cathedrals of Western Europe. Financial backers of the new skyscrapers seemed to agree with them. The more Greek columns or Gothic arches a skyscraper had, the more they thought it would impress people. The skyscraper had quickly become a sign of (6) ___ for the firms that built and owned them.
The 20-story Flatiron Building, built in 1902, was the first skyscraper in New York City. More soon followed! In 1913, the Woolworth Building reached the new height of 60 stories. With its strong vertical lines leading to a Gothic tower at the top, the Woolworth Building combined many of Louis Sullivan's ideas with past architectural styles.
Not everyone admired skyscrapers, though. City planners had already begun to criticize the tall buildings for creating sunless streets and traffic jams. In 1916, New York City passed the first Building Code Resolution. This resolution gave the city (7) ___. Other cities followed with laws of their own.
To provide enough light and air for buildings and streets, many of the new laws required that the outside walls of tall buildings be set back above certain heights. This led to the steplike look of many office buildings and apartment houses built during the 1920s and 1930s.
By 1929, American cities had 377 skyscrapers of more than 20 stories, and 188 were in New York City. The Great Depression that hit the United States in that year put an end to many new skyscrapers. But plans were too far along to stop construction for what would be for many years the tallest building in the world — the Empire State Building in New York City. Its 102 stories were completed in 1931.
There was a fresh start of skyscraper building in the late 1940s. The Depression and World War II were both over (8) ___. More office space was needed, and steel and other building materials were again easy to get.
Skyscrapers took on bold new shapes. Outer walls of tinted glass often replaced the concrete surfaces of earlier buildings. Sometimes the steel structure was exposed as part of the design. Rarely was a postwar building decorated with Gothic details like the skyscrapers of the past.
The Empire State Building remained the world's tallest until the twin towers of the World Trade Center opened in New York in 1972. But the Trade Center's triumph was short. Only two years later, the 110-story Sears Tower was completed in Chicago. It reached a height of 1,454 feet (436.2 m) — more than 100 feet (30 m) higher than the World Trade Center.
What of the future? Will skyscrapers go even higher? It's possible. Engineers are ready to build taller buildings made strong with walls that will not allow swaying in high winds. Elevator makers believe their cars can carry passengers up to at least 180 floors.
Meanwhile, some critics are against building more skyscrapers and point out serious problems with today's tall buildings. Skyscrapers provide (9) ___. These people mean more crowded streets, public transportation, and parking lots. Skyscrapers are big users of electric power. Also, skyscrapers may get in the way of television reception, block bird flyways, obstruct air traffic, and sometimes (10) ___.
Yet, throughout history, people have built tall structures — from the ancient pyramids, to the mighty bridges and towering skyscrapers of the last 100 years. In the future, despite the problems, skyscrapers will probably continue to go up higher and higher into the sky.
3. Answer the following questions:
1. What important invention helped make tall buildings possible?
2. Why did Chicago lead the way in skyscraper building?
3. Which disagreements existed between Louis Sullivan and otherarchitects of his time?
4. How many skyscrapers had been built in American cities by 1929?
5. Why are tall buildings sometimes criticized?
4. Put these events in the chronological order:
1. The Woolworth Building reached the new height of 60 stories.
2. The 110-story Sears Tower was completed in Chicago.
3. Most of central Chicago was destroyed by the Great Fire.
4. Major William Le Baron Jenney designed the 12-story Home Insurance Company Building in Chicago.
5. The 20-story Flatiron Building was built in New York City.
6. The twin towers of the World Trade Center appeared in New York.
7. The Great Depression hit the United States and put an end to many new skyscrapers.
8. Elisha Otis first demonstrated a steam-powered elevator.
9. 102 stories of the Empire State Building were completed in New York.
5. Give your personal reactions to the text using these phrases.
I didn’t think/I already knew that…
What surprised me was…
It’s hard to believe that…
I wonder what can be done to…
6. Louis Sullivan favored simple, straightforward buildings. Other architects preferred fancier buildings with details like Greek columns and Gothic arches. Which style do you prefer?
7. Give the main points of the article “Buildings that scrape the sky” in 6-10 sentences. Use the following clichés:
The text deals with … . The author points out that ... . Attention is drawn to the fact that … . It should be noted that … . The importance of … is stressed. There is no doubt that … . The author comes to the conclusion that … . I find the text rather / very … .
8. Look at these four newspaper headlines. What do you think the story is behind each one? Discuss your ideas with your partner, and then tell the group.
Reading Task D
1. Read the dialogue and fill in the blanks using the words from the box below.
antenna gargoyles marshy elevator excavated architecture skyscrapers decorated observatory tallest population
John: Hey, it's really nice of you to show me round New York like this, Uncle Harry.
Uncle Harry: It's my pleasure, John. I thought our next stop could be the Empire State Building.
J: But what's so special about it? It isn't even the highest in New York any more.
U.H.: Maybe not, but I think you'll be surprised to find out quite how interesting it is... Here we are!
J: O.K., then, let's go to the top!
U.H.: Right, here's the _____(1). We have to change at the 86th floor, and then we can go straight on up to the 102nd floor _____(2). The Empire State Building was finished in 1931. It was the highest building in the world then.
J.: Until 1972! That's when they built the World Trade Center.
U.H.: Hey, I didn't know you were an expert!
J.: Well actually, I've just done it in Civic Studies at school!
U.H.: Right then, let's see if we can find a few more facts to impress your teacher. Foundations, for example? They're only 20 meters deep, but nearly 400,000 tons of dirt and rock had to be _____(3). That's more than the weight of the whole building!
J.: Wow, we're here already. I didn't expect it to be so quick.
U.H.: Don't forget, there are 73 elevators in the building, and their speed can reach 360 meters a minute!
J.: Just look at the view! How high is the tower?
U.H.: Where we're standing, it's 381 meters, but right to the top of the TV _____(4) it's 443 meters from the ground.
J.: And look, there's the World Trade Center over there!
U.H.: Yes, you're looking to the south, and that tiny little dot in the distance is the Statue of Liberty. All the ages of American _____(5) are under your feet. Just down there is the Woolworth Building. It was the _____(6) in the world from when it was built in 1913 until the Chrysler Building was finished in 1930.
J.: Oh yeah, I can see it there to the east. Is it true that the top is _____(7) with the different symbols of Chrysler cars?
U.H.: Almost! In fact the _____(8) you can see up there reproduce the 1929 Chrysler radiator caps. And to its right you can see the United Nations Building.
J.: Oh yeah, Le Corbusier's building that they call “The Matchbox”.
U.H.: Hey, you've been reading the guide books too!
J.: I can't get over how many _____(9) there are, and how close they are together.
U.H.: That's why the _____(10) of Manhattan is so dense: there are thousands of people to the square meter! But don't forget that New York isn't all skyscrapers. The buildings are much lower in the areas which were _____(11), like in Greenwich Village.
J.: And have a look over there, north to Central Park. Then you'll see a bit of green!
Reading task E
1. Go over the vocabulary list. Consult a dictionary if you need.
Developer(s) joint venture step down
Walk-up(s) affiliate u-shaped pattern
Predecessor partner townhouses
Crowd-pleaser neighborhood of impact ring
Large-scale events plaza tenement
Range outdoor sculpture pedestrian
Demolish skirt(v) spandrels
Block drive set back(v)
Access drop off point shaft
2. Note the pronunciation of the construction companies, personal and geographic names in the article and try to present them in your native language:
Manhattan Kumagai Gumi
Madison Square Garden David Childs
Skidmor, Owings & Merrill (SOM) World Wide Plaza
Arthur G. Cohen Rockefeller Centre
Communication Centre Associates Childs
Frank Williams Dominic Fonti
HRH Construction Corporation Richard F. Row
Robert P. Sanna Robert Halvorson
Garry R. Steficek Mosher Steel Co.
Peter Chorman Werner Dahnz
3. Note the abbreviations and symbols in the article:
Co. - company lin. ft - linear foot
Co. Ltd - company limited sq ft - square foot
Corp. - corporation lb per ft (libra) - pounds per foot
ft. - foot (feet) - 30.5 cm in. - inch - 2.5 cm
200x800 - two hundred by eight hundred
4. Read the title/subtitle of the article and answer:
a. What the difference between a horizon and a skyline is?
b. Whether you can live in a commercial-residential complex?
c. Whether this complex is a multiuse building?
d. Where do you think you would see such a complex
( suburb / city centre / downtown / the country side )?
e. Where you should walk-up?
5. Turn to the title and try to explain the contents of the text. Find an adequate translation of the title.
6. Skim the article and answer how many parts it is divided into.
7. Read parts I and II and answer the questions after them. Make sure you can explain the following terms and word combinations from part I and II:
Adding a notch
To be a crowed-pleaser
To give a chance for a comeback
A partner in the office
Master plan for the site
To create a neighbourhood of impact
To step down on the site
Massing of the project
Townhouses ring (the edge of the site)
Classically derived design
To set back the spandrels
In the glazed brick exterior
To define the verticality of the shaft
The tower is accessed
To promote pedestrian traffic
To share a private courtyard