Cities in the Sky
People first built tall for religious reasons. Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Cheops at al-Jeeza has a height of 146m, and for about 3,500 years it remained the highest structure in the world. Then, around 1,000 years ago, European cathedrals started reaching similar heights – still for religious reasons.
A century ago, people had a new reason for building higher: business. By the 1920s,Manhattan Island, New York, had become the world’s business capital. Companies were getting bigger, but space was limited and very expensive. The only way to grow was higher.
The 312-metre, A-shaped Eiffel Tower, with its steel frame, had pointed to the future at the Paris Exhibition of 1889. Taller and taller new buildings, with strong steel frames, started to appear in New York. Skyscrapers had come to stay.
Our competitive nature soon became another reason to build high. The beautiful top of the Chrysler Building (319m) appeared above Manhattan in 1930, but then in 1931 the square sided Empire State Building raced past to 449m. Later, the competition to be the tallest spread worldwide. In 1996, the Petronas Twin Towers (452m) opened in Malaysia. Then in 2004 came Taipei 101 (508m) in Taiwan. Now, Burj Dubai (over 705m), brings the record back to the Arab World. This thin, silver-blue building is definitely about prestige as much as business. Its developers believe it represents the new Middle East: dynamic, rich and successful.
Today, there is another reason to build tall: living space. The world’s population will reach eight billion by 2020, and over half now live in cities. Some city populations will soon approach 30 million, and these huge communities take a lot of space – space that we need for other things, including food production for all these people.
Shanghai, one of the world’s biggest cities, has brought in a Spanish team of architects to discuss a possible answer to the problem – a truly amazing tower. If the project is agreed, it will take 15 years to build and will be 1.14km tall. To help protect it from earthquakes, its foundations will travel 215 metres into the ground like enormous tree roots.
Its kilometre-wide, wheel-shaped base will contain huge car parks and shopping centres. Higher up, the building will have hotels ,offices, cinemas, schools and hospitals – and apartments for100,000 people. Lifts – 368 altogether – will carry them home from a shopping trip to the top of the tower in two minutes.
It will be a complete city in the sky.
If this social and architectural revolution succeeds, there may one day be thousands of similar towers around the world.