Why Don’t Skyscrapers Fall Over

Posted by on May 12, 2017 in Architecture | Comments Off on Why Don’t Skyscrapers Fall Over

When it comes to man’s greatest achievements, skyscrapers cannot be left out. Known for their strength and durability, they are indeed different in both structure and design. Skyscrapers hold an appeal across all cultures and nations. Taking a look at the Great Pyramid of Giza found in Egypt, built about 4500 years ago, you get to understand that the fascination in building higher and higher to the sky is nothing new.

In the present era, the construction of the “Tallest Skyscraper in the World” has indeed become an ide fixe. This mine is bigger than yours match has been going on between countries for sometime now. Ego-filled individuals, enterprises and nations have been obsessively constructing taller and taller skyscrapers, which at times hold little to no economic viability. The US held the trophy for over four decades with the Empire State Building. It is 380 meters tall and holds 102 floors, however, it is now insignificant when compared to the latest super tall buildings, a majority of which find their home in Asia.

Skyscrapers allow congested urban areas to support the assembling of numerous businesses, forming densely occupied spaces where large populations can move about easily. When you look at these buildings, the whole thing looks outrageous as they don’t fall over. What’s their secret? The structures must endure massive forces just to remain upright, not to mention regular lightning strikes, force of gravity and strong winds.  While not everywhere, earthquakes are another major concern. While they get their inspiration from the ancient pyramids, why don’t skyscrapers topple over?

Keeping strong winds aloof

Architects who design skyscrapers are witness to the fact that strong winds are a major concern. The speed of wind increases as you go higher, so a mild breeze on the road might be a strong gust at the top of a building. When there’s too much wind, the sideways pressure can mount on the skyscraper to mind-boggling levels. How do these tall structures actually stay upright in very strong winds?

Normally, the human mind thinks that the wind is happening high above; however, the effects are strongly felt beneath our feet. If the wind is extremely strong, it can easily cause the foundation of a building to shift.

Skyscraper engineers usually make a strong middle of thick concrete walls, which creates a stiff backbone for the building. This way, it is possible to control how the building moves. Earlier skyscrapers such as the Empire State building were built with the main elevator shafts reinforced by a set-up of steel bars to hold the center of the building firmly. Modern skyscrapers are built with several concrete centers built into the center of the building to provide a firm core for the construction.

While effective, this method needs some reinforcement. Engineers also use rigid beams and columns on the exterior of the building where a strong tube is designed across the whole building. If both methods are used, a building can rise even higher into the sky, which also allows skyscrapers to have eccentric designs, an example being the Gherkin in London.

Burj Khalifa, the tallest skyscraper in the world is conventionally built with the ability to move a few meters, just like a swaying tree, to help reduce pressures on the building. So, if you are standing at the top of a skyscraper and feel as if the floor is moving, well, it probably is.

To prevent those at the top from getting seasick due to the speed of wind, these majestic buildings are usually designed with asymmetrical shapes which disrupt the wind and stop it from becoming a problem. It may look like an architectural flourish, but the unique serrated outlines of the Shard and the Burj are more for safety than anything else.

Building strong foundations

As they grow taller and heavier, skyscrapers need huge steel and solid structure for support. With modern equipment and technology, there is now much rivalry, and skyscrapers can be seen all over the world.

While foundations are crucial when it comes to buildings anchorage, many skyscrapers around the world are not built on solid ground. Take London for example, many its largest buildings are erected on the city’s soft clay. Think of the Shard for instance, it has 95 floors and is the tallest in Western Europe; its foundation runs deep into the ground to help it stay up.

The Shard is held up by a huge concrete slab which is supported by numerous concrete piles. The concrete piles are necessary to take the weight and go 53m downwards into the clay until they get to a deposit of stiff sand. This is actually deeper than most skyscrapers go in New York, as the foundation of the Empire State Building is quite shallow with a mere 16 meters downwards.

The Burj, found in Dubai, was faced with one big challenge at the time of construction – salty water running underground in the rocks, soil and sand. This water is very corrosive as it has proven time and again to be eight times saltier than normal seawater. So, engineers had to use a superior concrete that did not let a lot of salty water to pass through. They also used cathodic protection – a process whereby another metal is added to the solid concrete base to shield the steel in the base. If by any chance, any salt water gets through the concrete, then the other metal will corrode and leave the weight-bearing steel strong and standing.

Managing lightning strikes

While overlooked at times, lightning can be very disastrous. Fortunately, there’s a way to work around it. During construction, the engineers wire together the building’s steel coating; from the window frames, to every single steel bar and down to the foundations. It looks like the wire mesh found on microwaves which is a protective enclosure of its contents.


All in all, when the building is anchored firmly into the ground, the center of gravity is also buried with it deep into the ground. That way, it will never fall. That’s why; skyscrapers manage to remain high in the sky without toppling over.

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