How tall will the skyscrapers of the future be? (1931)

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How high will the skyscrapers of the future be?

How high will the skyscraper of the future be? Higher even than the Empire State Building, which towers 1250 feet above the base mark in the center of the curb at Fifth Avenue?

Probably not much higher, says Harvey Wiley Corbett, eminent New York architect.

Pointing out that today’s tallest building seems to be almost the economic limit to which a structure may be carried, he explains:

“Two serious factors affect the height of our skyscrapers. Rigidity is one. Elevators the other. If the structural engineer can secure rigidity in the steel frame itself, and not depend, as he now does, on weight of floors and walls to prevent vibration, then builders can take advantage of new materials and new methods of construction.”

1931 - Manhattan skyline

The first skyscraper: 1883

The very first skyscraper, if that term is limited to a building with a steel frame veneered with stone, brick or other material, was the 10-story Home Insurance building constructed in Chicago in 1883. Its height is given as about 100 feet.

Between 1885 and 1890 a pronounced skyscraper boom began, the floors going up to 16 in number and rising to about 225 feet. In 1900 the buildings rose some 30 feet more; and from that time on to the present giants.

Modern businesses want more space

The modern skyscrapers were born of the persistent demand of business for more floor space.

They could not have been built without the really amazing development of structural steel and they could not have been used without the invention of the elevator, the first of which was devised in New York in the middle of the last century. The newest, highest elevators travel about 900 feet per minute, or about 10 miles an hour.

Empire State Building - NYC 1931
A drawing of the Empire State Building from c1931

The factors now being determined by the Bureau of Standards will, of course, affect the lives of the several millions of people who spend their working hours in tall buildings.

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