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Old August 18th, 2012, 05:58 AM   #1
desertpunk
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How Tall Can We Build?

In this article an engineer from SOM, architects of some of the world's tallest buildings offer some ideas:


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Is There a Limit to How Tall Buildings Can Get?

Nate Berg
Aug 16, 2012



The race is always on. Within the span of just two years, the world's tallest building was built three times in New York City – the 282.5-meter Bank of Manhattan in 1930, the 319-meter Chrysler Building in a few months after, and then 11 months later the 381-meter Empire State Building in 1931. The era of architectural horse-racing and ego-boosting has only intensified in the decades since. In 2003, the 509-meter Taipei 101 unseated the 452-meter Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur after a seven-year reign as the world's tallest. In 2010, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai far surpassed Taipei 101, climbing up to 828 meters. Bold builders in China want to go 10 meters higher later this year with a 220-story pre-fab tower that can be constructed in a baffling 90 days. And then, in 2018, the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (below, right) will go significantly farther, with a proposed height of at least 1,000 meters.*

Will this race ever stop? Not in the foreseeable future, at least. But there has to be some sort of end point, some highest possible height that a building can reach. There will eventually be a world's tallest building that is unbeatably the tallest, because there has to be an upper limit. Right?

Ask a building professional or skyscraper expert and they'll tell you there are many limitations that stop towers from rising ever-higher. Materials, physical human comfort, elevator technology and, most importantly, money all play a role in determining how tall a building can or can't go.

But surely there must be some physical limitations that would prevent a building from going up too high. We couldn't, for example, build a building that reached the moon because, in scientific terms, moon hit building and building go boom. But could there be a building with a penthouse in space, beyond earth's atmosphere? Or a 100-mile tall building? Or even a 1-mile building?

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, a group interested in and focused on the phenomenon of skyscrapers, recently asked a group of leading skyscraper architects and designers about some of the limitations of tall buildings. They wondered, "What do you think is the single biggest limiting factor that would prevent humanity creating a mile-high tower or higher?" The responses are compiled in this video, and tend to focus on the pragmatic technicalities of dealing with funding and the real estate market or the lack of natural light in wide-based buildings. "The predominant problem is in the elevator and transportation system," says Adrian Smith, the architect behind the current tallest building in the world and the one that will soon outrank it, the kilometer-tall Kingdom Tower in Jeddah.

But in terms of structural limitations, the ultimate expert is likely William Baker. He's the top structural engineer at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and he worked with Smith on the Burj Khalifa, designing the system that allowed it to rise so high. That system, known as the buttressed core, is a kind of three-winged spear that allows stability, viably usable space (as in not buried deeply and darkly inside a massively wide building) and limited loss of space for structural elements.


This illustration from SOM shows how the buttressed core of the Burj Khalifa compares to the traditional structure of the Willis Tower. (This image is an adaptation of a graphic that originally appeared in this article on Baker and the buttressed core from the December 2007 issue of Wired.)

Baker says the buttressed core design could be used to build structures even taller than the Burj Khalifa. "We could go twice that or more," he says.

And though he calls skyscraper design "a fairly serious undertaking," he also thinks that it's totally feasible to build much taller than even the Kingdom Tower. "We could easily do a kilometer. We could easily do a mile," he says. "We could do at least a mile and probably quite a bit more." The buttressed core would probably have to be modified to go much higher than a mile. But Baker says that other systems could be designed. In fact, he's working on some of them now.

One idea for a new system would be buildings with hollowed bases. Think of the Eiffel Tower, says Tim Johnson. He's chairman at the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat and a partner at the architecture firm NBBJ, and he says any really, really tall building would have to be like a supersized version of the Parisian icon, otherwise the lower floors required to support the gradually narrowing structure would be way too big to even fill up.

For a Middle East-based client he's not allowed to identify, Johnson worked on a project back in the late 2000s designing a building that would have been a mile-and-a-half tall, with 500 stories. Somewhat of a theoretical practice, the design team identified between 8 and 10 inventions that would have had to take place to build a building that tall. Not innovations, Johnson says, but inventions, as in completely new technologies and materials. "One of the client's requirements was to push human ingenuity," he says. Consider them pushed.

With those inventions and the hollow, Eiffel Tower-like base, Johnson says the design could have worked. The project was canned as a result of the crash of the real estate market in the late 2000s (and probably at least a little good old-fashioned pragmatism). But if things were to change, that building could be built, he says. "We proved that it is physically and even programmatically possible to build a building a mile-and-a-half tall. If somebody would have said 'Do it two miles,' we probably could have done that, too," Johnson says. "A lot of it comes down to money. Who’s going to have that kind of capital?"

As far as the structure is concerned, others think it's possible, too. My colleague John Metcalfe recently pointed out a 1990s-era concept for a two-and-a-half-mile volcano-looking supertower in Tokyo called the X-Seed 4000 that has a similar Eiffel Towerishness to it.



As Metcalfe notes, this 4,000-meter "skypenetrator" was never built for a variety of reasons, but the most obvious is that "[r]eal estate in Tokyo isn't exactly cheap. The base of this abnormally swole tower would eat up blocks and blocks if it was to be stable." In fact the base of this structure, according to conceptual drawings, would have spread for miles and miles, almost like the base of Mount Fuji, itself about 225 meters smaller than the X-Seed 4000.

A building taller than a mountain seems preposterous. But according to Baker, it's entirely possible. "You could conceivably go higher than the highest mountain, as long as you kept spreading a wider and wider base," Baker says.

Theoretically, then, a building could be built at least as tall as 8,849 meters, one meter taller than Mount Everest. The base of that mountain, according to these theoretical calculations, is about 4,100 square kilometers – a huge footprint for a building, even one with a hollow core. But given structural systems like the buttressed core, the base probably wouldn't need to be nearly as large as that of a mountain.

And this theoretical tallest building could probably go even taller than 8,849 meters, Baker says, because buildings are far lighter than solid mountains. The Burj Khalifa, he estimates, is about 15 percent structure and 85 percent air. Based on some quick math, if a building is only 15 percent as heavy as a solid object, it could be 6.6667 times taller and weigh the same as that solid object.
A building could, hypothetically, climb to nearly 59,000 meters without outweighing Mount Everest or crushing the very earth below. Right?

"I'd have to come up with a considered opinion on that," says Baker.


[...]
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Old August 18th, 2012, 06:58 AM   #2
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You can build as tall as you want. In space I'm sure you can build "skyscrapers" that are a few planets long.
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Old August 18th, 2012, 10:57 AM   #3
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Reality means you can build as high as you don't impede a satellite ? Aircraft can divert but those pesky satelites just zoom around an orbit that could break windows and mess up the furniture!
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Old August 18th, 2012, 02:51 PM   #4
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i guess you can build as tall as you want, i for one do not like buildings over 2000 feet because, they just dont look right, and obviously their just for show those buildings aren't actually needed..
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Old August 18th, 2012, 04:24 PM   #5
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That was a great article. Imagine if one day we discover a planet of sentient beings who have inhabitable structures poking off the planet's surface, like the antennae of a spherical satellite.

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Old August 18th, 2012, 05:50 PM   #6
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you can only go so high without a building looking like a needle or taking up an entire city's worth of space.
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Old August 18th, 2012, 07:09 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Uaarkson View Post
That was a great article. Imagine if one day we discover a planet of sentient beings who have inhabitable structures poking off the planet's surface, like the antennae of a spherical satellite.

Very well possible. Imagine what the skyscrapers of a civilization, which has a million year headstart on us, may look like

Btw, awesome article, thanks for posting
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Old August 18th, 2012, 09:39 PM   #8
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You can build as tall as you want. In space I'm sure you can build "skyscrapers" that are a few planets long.
Well probably you can. But it's interesting to think of all the problems you will encounter. For example, after 4 miles or so, even oxygen will become problem. So that means the whole (or top part) of the building should be keep pressurized just like an airplane. Opening (or breaking) a window and you will get sucked out
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Old August 18th, 2012, 10:05 PM   #9
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What developer wouldn't want their hypoxic tennants gasping for breath on the 11,000th floor?
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Old August 18th, 2012, 10:40 PM   #10
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It's more a question of who wants to live in a pressurized house that uses the airco to pump in oxygen on the 11,000th floor.

It's technically possible, but living that high will simply be to impractical and unpleasant for people that the market for such apartments will be almost non existent. And that's a problem since making it possible will cost more then enough money.


btw, the article is wrong about the main reason why X-Seed 4000 was never built. It's proposed location was in the Tokyo, therefor it wouldn't eat up block after block of expensive land. It was never built because although it was presented as real project it was of course just a vision on how a future city could look like. Neither the architect or the developer would have in their right minds thought this would become reality.
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Old August 18th, 2012, 11:55 PM   #11
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Technically I would say that we can build as high as we weant, as long as there is cash to support that kind of thing.
However, from an economical point of view a tower higher than the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah would be totally useless. It would be nice to spend an evening on one of the top flors but it would be quite irritating if you had to take long elevator rides just to get back to your car because you forgot to take on little thing.
There are no social benefits of that either - communities living in big tower blocks have the tendency to not know each other and they become even more separated.
Let's say we have a superstructure made to accomodate thousands of poorer families - they see each other very seldom and grow no sympathy for each other, so some kinds of security measures would have to be taken so that no crimes or thefts occur (people who are anonymous are more likely to do that).
If business buildings get as tall, they also would be impractical - imagine 10 000 people leaving one supertall structure at once and trying to get their cars.
I think that in the future we will aim towards tall buildings being landmarks and housing spreading over bigger area (due to lower floor count). Of course that would require more advanced public transport and a switch to more indirect methods of work that could be done from a personal computer (since I guess production and most physical work will be done by robots).
I hope I didn't stray too far away from the topic
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Old August 19th, 2012, 12:03 AM   #12
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Nicely said, definitely on topic
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Old August 19th, 2012, 01:26 AM   #13
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It is hard to say, how far we can go, but if we could transport ourselves 1,000 years into the future, you can bet that what we saw would be indescribable. It is crazy to think how different NYC might look, just think for a moment, can you imagine it ?

As construction costs get cheaper, we will continue to build higher.

I don't expect a Utopian future though, quite the opposite actually. Eventually, I can see a city with buildings stretching miles high, not beautiful buildings, but structures void of any great architecture, more of a symbol of tyranny, and our oppression.

We all know that America can't last forever, or atleast in this current state. As globalization continues to increase, we move closer to fascism, and possibly a one world government.

So, before I start writing a novel called 2084(1984), tell me, what are your thoughts on what I just brought up ?
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Old August 19th, 2012, 01:33 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by iloveclassicrock7 View Post
It is hard to say, how far we can go, but if we could transport ourselves 1,000 years into the future, you can bet that what we saw would be indescribable. It is crazy to think how different NYC might look, just think for a moment, can you imagine it ?

As construction costs get cheaper, we will continue to build higher.

I don't expect a Utopian future though, quite the opposite actually. Eventually, I can see a city with buildings stretching miles high, not beautiful buildings, but structures void of any great architecture, more of a symbol of tyranny, and our oppression.

We all know that America can't last forever, or atleast in this current state. As globalization continues to increase, we move closer to fascism, and possibly a one world government.

So, before I start writing a novel called 2084(1984), tell me, what are your thoughts on what I just brought up ?
america cant last forever? uhm is it going to disappear? i dont think so lol, yea some countries rise and others fall, but it wont disappear..i mean its kinda hard for other countries to surpass it, but chinas the closest, but with slowed growth and lower exports, i doubt it will surpass it anytime soon, and seriously, one world government? lol, yea that wont happen
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Old August 19th, 2012, 01:54 AM   #15
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I think buildings will not only be higher, but also a lot bigger. Cities within cities. Apartments on the outside where the sunlight is. Shopping malls, clubs, maybe even industrial area's or farms on the inside. This already this case in big cities like shanghai for example. Where you can walk for hours inside underground shopping complexes which connect multiple metrostations and other huge buildings.

Like coruscant

http://images.wikia.com/starwars/ima...ntpanorama.jpg (huge panorama)
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Old August 20th, 2012, 05:13 PM   #16
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The deeper the pockets the taller the building, really.
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Old August 20th, 2012, 06:13 PM   #17
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exactly
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Old August 20th, 2012, 06:22 PM   #18
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There are many limitations.
The first one would be the available Materials with their limited stress resistance and their specific weight used for the structure. There is no harder material in the universe than diamond for example and even modern lightweight materials all have their limiations.

The other would be the various cost factors and the fact that the higher one builds the more support structure and material is necessary and the more expensive the suport structure is for each additional squaremeter of useable
space. At some point it will allways just get ridiculously inefficient to build a building higher and higher, depending on the available land the cost to aquire the necessary land. A vertical building does allways also have natural disadvantages to a more horizontally streched out one.

So starting out with any given theoretical building or structure and enlargeing it, you can theoretically allways add to the structure on all sides to make it bigger.
You can theoretically add floors vertically or just enlarge the building horizontally by making each floor bigger. And at some point the relation between making a building taller to making it just wider will naturally allways become ridiculously absurd and awfully inefficient, depending on various parameters, including the given costparameters for additional work and material in relation to other costs etc.

So there will naturally allways be an individual optimum height to build, depending on where and when a building is being planned and constructed as well as an individual height limit from where on a project just gets plain absurd, even if it may theoretically be possible.

To give some examples: in ancient times where people built with wood heights where naturally very limited. In the antique times where the tallest structures were pyramids there were also natural limitations to how high people were able to build. An exellent example there which demonstrates how an attempted structure reached the limitations of the available used material, is the Bent pyramid of Snofru: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bent_Pyramid
The Pyramids in Egypt beautifully demonstrate how immensely difficult it was at that time with the given technologies and available construction matrials to build higher and higher structures and how the required labor and construction times exploded with every meter higher a structure was attempted to be built.

Today of course we mostly have steel and concrete as building material and highly optimized lightweight steel structures, but they also have their limitations and the difficulties in building higher and higher are very simmilar and basically still of the same nature today, as they were back in the ancient times.
The next natural step has been and will more and more lie in finding an optimum material mixture of available materials, building with lightweight materials on the top and using very stressresistant materials in the lower parts of the building.
But all those structures have their individual limitations, depending on each of their structural designs and the used Materials and the used joining and
assembly technologies, as well as the involved cost factors that come along with those.

As an entertaining example of how ridiculous a larger and larger structure could theoretically become, here a little link:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/s...eath-Star.html

Even if it was theoretically possible, those cost factors and the necessary amount of Material to build it are just plain absurd and could never ever be provided by anyone or any society.


So to pick up the example of the city of New York:
Before buildings in New York would raise twice or three times as high as they are now, it would probably be far more likely and reasonable to expect that the buildings nearby would raise to a simmilar height as those currently in Manhattan.
And so the overall city would also be probably much rather expected to grow more horizontally than vertically, if at all.
It would just probably be far more likely to expect the average buildings in the vicinity of the city center to raise to the simmilar level as in the center instead of the skyscrapers just in Manhattan boosting unreasonably higher and higher.
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Old August 21st, 2012, 04:10 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hudson11 View Post
you can only go so high without a building looking like a needle or taking up an entire city's worth of space.
A tall building with a small footprint will always looks like a needle from a distance.
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Old August 21st, 2012, 04:30 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kopacz View Post
Technically I would say that we can build as high as we weant, as long as there is cash to support that kind of thing.
However, from an economical point of view a tower higher than the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah would be totally useless. It would be nice to spend an evening on one of the top flors but it would be quite irritating if you had to take long elevator rides just to get back to your car because you forgot to take on little thing.
I believe if and when we reach those multiple km buildings, it will not be a residential apartments as we have now where you park the car in the basement, it will be city size structure (or even city on top of city structure), you may be living on Level 545, and work on L535, there might even some version of cars and roads so you park close to your apartment, and actually drive to your office.

There will be schools, cinema, disco, hospital, even farms or even beaches within the buildings, chances are you will stay in the building, within your floor for majority of the week or months.

Going from floor to floor is similar to driving from city to city, going from building to building will be similar to leaving your state or country.

Quote:
If business buildings get as tall, they also would be impractical - imagine 10 000 people leaving one supertall structure at once and trying to get their cars.
Chances are you will work and live in the same building, or even the same floor.
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