Here at Kiwi.com, we’re interested in all aspects of travel. We realise some people don’t just travel for a holiday, but for a more specific purpose. In this article, we’re looking at…
Building-wise, the country most widely-associated with the skyscraper is the USA, and with good reason. In cities like New York where land area is at a premium, the only logical thing to do was to go up rather than out. Soon, this became a status symbol as building technology improved.
The tricky part came with how to define a skyscraper. In the 1880s, when the term first emerged to describe a building, structures that were a mere seven stories high were given that name. Nowadays that’s not that impressive. I’m sitting on the seventh floor of a building right now, and it’s certainly not a skyscraper.
Here’s a bit of etymology. On a sailing ship, the highest sail on the mast – if the sail was square – was known, rather poetically, as a moonraker. If the sail was triangular, it was known as a skyscraper. There’s a little bit of linguistic archaeology for you.
The defining moment for the skyscraper came with the advent of buildings constructed around a steel skeleton rather than relying purely on bricks and mortar. And that’s where we’re going to begin our journey…
The Oldest – Monadnock Building, Chicago, USA
When it was completed in 1893, this was the largest office building in the world and remains to this day the tallest brick-only building. Upon construction, it was seen as ugly, blocky in the extreme, and generally lacking in style.
This was the period when a lot of US cities were still trying to match the subtly ornate, elegant style of great European cities such as Paris and Vienna and before the dawning of Art Deco architecture which many US cities – notably Miami, New York and Chicago itself – made their own.
The Environmental Champion – Bosco Verticale, Milan, Italy
This extraordinary pair of towers are the beginnings of what the architects – the Boeri Studio – see as a worldwide project; building residential buildings that are covered with greenery in an effort to soak up at least a small amount of the carbon dioxide produced in densely-populated areas.
The two towers combined are home to approximately 900 trees which, as well as sinking carbon, aid the heating and cooling of the building and act as noise reducers. The buildings have won many awards and there are now plans for more Vertical Forests in China, India, Singapore and (not a name that would have leapt out necessarily) Switzerland.
The Brutal Symbol – Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang, North Korea
Started in 1987 and still unfinished, this was originally seen as a vessel for western investment in the rogue communist state. Government representatives stated a relaxed view would be taken over the running of “casinos, nightclubs or lounge bars” by enterprising – and monied – speculators.
After the initial flurry of excitement, the project was exposed as the massive white elephant it was, with insufficient and incorrect building materials used, and reports of crooked lift shafts and crumbling facades. Eventually, the whole thing was put on hiatus.
The rusting limbs of cranes stood around forlornly for years before construction resumed in 2008. This consisted of cladding the outside in glass while the interior remained unfinished, with few fittings or even permanent floors before ceasing again. Whether it will ever be finished is still a mystery.
The Futuristic Statue – Turning Torso, Malmö, Sweden
Standing tall on the bank of the Öresund strait, Sweden’s tallest building (and Scandinavia’s) is based on a statue by Spanish artist Santiago Calatrava who also, conveniently, happens to be an architect.
It’s the centrepiece of the Western Harbour area of the city – a very exclusive and pricey district – and an area that also claims to be Europe’s first carbon-neutral suburb. The tower itself contains offices but, due to the fact it’s mostly flats, non-residents can only gain access to the top two floors. And only for three weeks of the year. And only by reserving a visit.
The Modern Centrepiece – The Shard, London, UK
I included this building for a couple of reasons. Reason number one is simply that I think it’s great. Skyscrapers in London have always seemed a little incongruous; it’s a city whose winding streets and cobbled courtyards have, in many places, resisted violent modernisation (in the best possible way) and skyscrapers sat a little uncomfortably, scattered here and there.
But there again, your city should look like a rich, modern place and tall buildings are seen as symbols of this. A few popped up, but none made a statement like The Shard. Graceful and relatively understated for such a huge structure, it’s a superb centrepiece for the skyline. Ironically, criticism of the design gave it its name. English Heritage claimed it would be “like a shard of glass through the heart of historic London” and the name stuck.
Oh, and the second reason I included it on this list? To shamelessly include this picture of British humour at its finest.
The Frontier – Gateway Arch, St. Louis, USA
Not a tower, as you can see, but this piece of inspired elegance conforms to William Morris’ view that you should “have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”. Useful it is not, but beautiful it certainly is. And it’s the tallest arch in the world, the tallest stainless steel structure in the world, and the tallest memorial structure in the USA.
Although it’s seen as the symbol of St. Louis, it’s actually meant to represent the pioneering spirit of settlers heading westwards across the continent, and the visitor’s centre explains this well, as well as giving an exhaustive photographic guide to its construction.
Visitors head to the top of the arch and the observation area by squeezing into quasi-futuristic pods (not recommended for the claustrophobic or generally nervous) that with many clunks and much grinding of gears will transport you in a lavishly tippy fashion all the way up the inside of the arch.
The Deconstructed Cube – China Central TV Headquarters, Beijing, China
Not only was this remarkable building a design challenge, it was also a complicated structural one seeing as it’s built on a seismic zone. Architect Rem Koolhaas said it: “Could never have been conceived by the Chinese and could never have been built by Europeans.” And as well as looking unlike almost anything else; it’s had its fair share of mild ridicule.
Its local name is Big Pants, and one critic stated that it looked like “a pornographic image of a woman on her hands and knees”, which I think says more about that particular critic than the building.
The Big, Big Ben – Abraj Al-Bait, Mecca, Saudi Arabia
A lot of superlatives need to be thrown around for this one. The world’s tallest hotel, world’s tallest clock tower and the world’s largest clock face are three of the records this building holds, while it can also rejoice in being the most expensive building ever built. At night, a million LED lights turn the clock into a green and white beacon in this holiest of Muslim cities, and the words “God is great” can be read on the north and south sides of the tower.
It’s actually a complex of seven separate buildings; the central tower is clearly the tallest, but there are six more towers surrounding it containing more hotels as well as shopping malls and car parks. Unfortunately, its construction relied on the demolition of a 18th-century Ottoman fortress, to much outcry from the architectural community.
The “Inspired by Thunderbirds” – Marina City, Chicago, USA
If you have no idea what that title means, go and watch some of Gerry Anderson’s 1960s masterpiece. The design aesthetic in that show was very much how the people of the time thought the year 2000 would look; basically, a lot like the 60s, but with turbine-powered cars and the occasional robot. Even the name – Marina City – is beautiful in its wide-eyed optimism.
Design-wise, the first 19 floors of each of these towers are a spiral ramp and car-park, while beneath there is a mooring area for small boats. Floor 20 is a panoramic laundry room. The rest of each building is residential, with 450 flats in each tower.
The kitchen of each flat is positioned towards the centre of the building, around the communal areas and lifts, and the living areas of each flat are located facing outwards. This means that every single flat has both a living room and a bedroom balcony. Otherwise, the towers were designed to be cities within a city, offering a gym, an ice-skating rink, a theatre, cinema, and bowling alley.
The Institution – M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia
MSU is currently spread throughout roughly 1,000 buildings across the grey sprawl of Moscow, but this is the structure that people think of. The tallest educational institution in the world, it’s also the tallest of the seven “sisters” commissioned by Stalin.
High up above the river on Vorobyovy Gory (Sparrow Hills) around 5km from the city centre, the building contains 33km of corridors, and the star atop the spire weighs 12 tons. It’s large enough to have a meeting room and viewing platform inside. Other facilities include a concert hall, swimming pool, post office, hairdresser and a police station. Oh, and a bomb shelter, of course. You can never be too careful…