Modern Skyscrapers And The Architectural Story, Part 2

Read up on Part 1 over here and dive right into the iconic architecture of the skyscrapers and its stunning building type which is spreading across the globe. 


Movements within the 70ies took the skyscraper design one step further and concentrated on eye catching building forms and façades to create an individual appearance to maximise the rate of return for the owner. One typical skyscraper of this era is the 197 meter high American Telephone and Telegraph Building by Philip Johnson and John Burgee in New York.


Although skyscrapers have been discussed theoretically for quite some time within Europe they have only been realized relatively rarely. Furthermore high rise buildings existed in a completely different format on this side of the Atlantic. The preservation of the historic town scape had been the key criteria ever since and therefore moderate high buildings had been built only on a singular basis to create reference points in the growing city. But new opportunities arose after the destructive Second World War and high rise had been considered to alleviate the deficit of residential and office spaces.


Even a dense inner city cluster so typical for the urban centres in the States became viable if situated on the outskirts like La Defence in Paris. The Docklands in London is another good example and skyscrapers grow out of the ground in most metropolitan areas by 1960. Although European architects contributed to the evolution by emigration into the USA like Mies van der Rohe since the early 20th century Europe now officially participates in the development and the construction of high rise buildings.

Commerzbank Skyscraper Architecture Sketch Heidi Mergl Architect

But the European skyscraper still divides the public mind. Some feel a certain amount of pride while others are just horrified by the thought that a high rise building could be build next door. Their potential location, height and presence in the skyline need to be considered carefully as well as their impact on the community. European skyscrapers have to aim for a positive contribution to the neighbourhood and can’t limit their purpose on providing more density. This is usually quite difficult due to the fact that their use is generally restricted to either being an office, hotel or residential development which for example causes infrastructure problems and results in office quarters being empty during nights and weekends. Mixed use schemes creating a city in the city would be able to balance the social and public needs and diminish certain drawbacks. But this requests the general acceptance that apartments, offices, a school, theatre, church and cinema could all be situated under the same roof.

The Commerzbank in Frankfurt am Main, Germany completed in 1997 is a first attempt to achieve this. Shops, a car park and residential units are allocated at ground floor level with the main entrance to the offices above via glazed stairs. A public route through the development provides access to the heart of the scheme - a public centre with restaurants, cafes and space for cultural events. The office floors above are also organised as villages, each with a four storey high garden reinforcing the sense of community. At 259 meters the Commerzbank was Europe’s tallest building until the completion of the Shard in London still not reaching the heights other parts in the world are aiming for.

World Trade Centre, New York, Skyscraper Sketch Heidi Mergl Architect


Therefore the race for the world’s tallest building went on without European input and every improvement within the construction industry was followed by an even taller building.

Better concrete and steel facilitate the 412 meter of the World Trade Centre completed in 1962 by Minoru Yamasaki + Roth & Sons, followed by the 443 meter high Willis Tower designed by SOM 1974. The speculative economic boom of the 1980s helped to realise a number of skyscrapers throughout the world including Asia and the Middle East. The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia therefore took the crown in 1996 (Cesar Pelli

Willis Skyscraper Sketch Heidi Mergl Architect


452 meter) and are still the highest twin towers in the world. The devastating events shocking the world on the 11th September in 2001 in New York brought the industry to a standstill and some projects to an end due to safety concerns. But the investigation into the collapse of the buildings has given constructive knowledge and amended standards together with new technologies intend to ensure maximum security for future projects. Therefore high rise buildings are part of the re-development of the site currently under construction and a memorial and museum will remember the people who lost their lives.

Petronas Skyscraper Sketch Heidi Mergl Architect


Recent developments indicate a focus on the technological aspects of the skyscrapers. The construction industry becomes more concerned with value engineered buildings that also make their contribution towards sustainability. Research and prototypes are underway to evolve the overall tower to become an independent ecological system.


The structure, external envelope and building services are the key players - the orientation of the façade, its layers and materials have a huge impact on the internal climate and the extent of the required building services. A variety of structural systems has been developed and can be altered to suit the particular project to ensure efficiency and excellent harmony with the façade and services.

30 St Mary Axe [London, UK] - also commonly known as the gherkin - owes its popularity to its particular shape which is in fact a result of efficient engineering. The aerodynamic design directs the wind along the façade cooling the internal spaces and minimising wind loads going back into the structure. Ventilation via external windows and shading are controlled centrally reducing the required energy to maintain the building by 40%.


Architects and engineers also experiment with renewable energies. The incorporation of photovoltaic and solar elements has been realised successfully throughout a number of projects. Three wind turbines at the top of a residential tower called Strata in South London generate enough energy to provide lighting for the whole building or electricity for 20 apartments.


... psst... more images of St. Mary Axe can you find in my 'Top Ten Tallest Buildings in London' post



Innovations in other areas of the construction have also been made to suit particular local or client requirements. Taipei 101 for example has only been able to lead the tallest building table for seven years due to extraordinary engineering. Heavy storms and earthquakes are potential threads to the 508 meter high building located in Taiwan. A massive metal sphere installed at level 88 to 92 acts as a tuned damper reducing potential shaking and vibrations caused by high winds and ground movement. High performance reinforced concrete made it possible to complete the current tallest building in the world - the Burj Khalifa measuring 828m in Dubai designed by the high rise specialist SOM (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill).

St. Mary Axe Skyscraper Sketch Heidi Mergl Architect
St. Mary Axe

Burj Khalifa Skyscraper Sketch Heidi Mergl Architect

‘isms UNDERSTANDING ARCHITECTURE’ by J. Melvin, London 2008;
‘How to read a Building, Interpret a building’s character and style’ by T. Brittain-Catlin, London 2007;
‘Der Traum vom Turm, Hochhaeuser: Mythos – Ingenieurkunst – Baukultur’ by NRW Forum, Germany 2005;
‘Skyscrapers Before the New Millennium: A Question of Boom or Bust’ by J. Zukowsky in ‘Skyscarpers, The New Millennium’, Munich, London, New York The Art Institute of Chicago;
‘Geschichte der Architecture, Des 20.
 Jahrhunderts’ by J. Tietz, Koeln 1998
‘HochhausAtlas’ [Hrsg. J. Eisele und E. Kloft], Germany 2002

The building type skyscraper has clearly not reached its limits yet and whether the height, its shape or engineering is exceptional - they keep captivating the world. Even historical cities like London can’t resist their fascination and although their impact on the skyline competing with the traditional high points of churches and cathedrals is discussed controversially they still manage to change the way we live. They are an expression of power and wealth and their visual appearance quite often forms the corporate identity of one person, one company or even a whole city or region. High rise buildings also help to cope with the demands of urban growth and rural depopulation hence Skyscrapers are without doubt an essential part of the modern city - they are the new focal points of urban living.

Taipei 1010 Skyscraper Sketch Heidi Mergl Architect

That's a wrap of course there is always more but I hope this inspired for more. The latest skyscraper I am helping to build is in Toronto and some details can you find here. There is always more when you follow the links above and of course when you follow my blog, I love to welcome you!

See you,



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