In many urban areas, the lack of available land creates a big challenge for developers. Building high structures is often the only option in megalopolises like Shanghai and New York City, where land is at a premium. Thanks to advances in modern engineering, buildings have grown even taller in recent decades, with the Burj Khalifa currently the tallest at 828 meters. However, despite this, there are many unique challenges in developing tall buildings, which we will touch on below.

Construction Challenges

Constructing a tall building is challenging. The taller the structure, the more costly it is to move men and materials upwards. Scaffolding is typically used for regular building projects, but this isn’t a practical solution at 500 meters.

In tall building construction, the use of mast climbers can save money by reducing installation and dismantling times. The Brogan Group has a range of mast climbers, including the world’s largest one with a freestanding height of 30m.

Safety is important during the construction process. Working at height creates a lot of unique challenges and falls from a height are the leading cause of death in the construction industry. Contractors must ensure appropriate safety measures are put in place and safety corners should not be cut to maximise profits.

Fire Safety

The main challenge when building a high-rise structure is fire safety. The taller a building, the longer it takes occupants to escape a fire. There must be adequate fire safety measures in place, such as 24-hour fire monitoring, sprinkler systems, and fire escape routes. It’s also important that construction materials are fire-resistant, as unsafe materials can massively increase the likelihood of fatalities, as happened in the Grenfell Tower fire.

Building Movement

Tall buildings are much more impacted by wind. The higher the altitude, the stronger the windspeeds. Not all buildings are 800+ meters, but even modestly tall buildings need to be designed with wind measures in place. Architects use many techniques to ensure a tall building is wind-resistant. Modern construction materials are designed to flex in the wind, which helps absorb the load. Other solutions involve softening the corners of a building, adding cut-out sections, and tapering the structure.

Earthquake Safety

In some parts of the world, earthquakes are a real danger and skyscrapers must be built to withstand the earth’s movement. Tall buildings – indeed, any buildings – should be designed in such a way that they absorb movement and even a minor tremor causes no damage. They must also be resistant to the seismic forces of a major earthquake, although, in this instance, some damage is acceptable as long as it isn’t a danger to human life.

This is done using processes such as top-to-toe resilience, shock absorbers, and the use of protective mesh. Earthquake building design is continually evolving, which is just as well as earthquakes in some regions appear to be getting stronger.

Thanks to modern engineering practices, today’s skyscrapers look nothing like the buildings of a century ago. In addition, they are also much safer and more resilient.

Claire Preece