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Super Skyscrapers & Mega Bridges Part 2

Updated on February 28, 2010

How do we get that high?

Three major scientific and engineering advances have allowed architects to be able to take that awesome quantum leap from fairly low slung brick and mortar conventional edifices to the stratospheric glories of the mighty Empire State Building in the 19th century: elevators, fireproof materials, and of course, the blooming of the once insuperable American steel industry. The production of high quality high tensile strength steel allowed skyscrapers to be supported by a complete inner skeletal frame made of steel.

To create living spaces at the levels where eagles soar, engineers and scientists must come up with at least three advances. Elevator technology must improve to reduce the space that elevators take up in buildings. Stronger and lighter structural materials must be developed. And wind-resistant structures must be designed so that buildings won't sway enough to cause windows to pop out or occupants to become nauseous.

There are still challenges that must be met by architects in order to soar even further up high into the sky with their amazing skyscrapers. At the beginning of the 21st century, the major problems that remain are:

Elevators: They take up far too much floorspace in today's skyscrapers. The crux of this problem is that if you have a, say, 150 storey building, some shafts must be dedicated to rising directly to the highest levels, otherwise stopping every second floor to let people in and out could stretch out the journey to the length of a tv sitcom. Although some ingenious new solutions are being proposed, such as elevators that only work in certain sections, the amount of space taken up by elevators is still extreme.

Weight: Even with today's much lighter weight and stronger materials, skyscrapers still weigh far too much to go much higher than they already have. Unless architects return to a pyramidal structure and abandon the monolith rectangular shapes which make the best use of limited ground space, a breakthrough in materials science will be needed to keep skyscrapers reaching for the stars.

Sway-control: At the heights much above 100 storeys, the single greatest problem becomes the wind. It is proving next to impossible to keep a huge skyscraper from swaying like a pendulum when the winds at the top can easily exceed 200 miles per hour. This swaying creates problems for the dwellers of the higher levels (as they tend to get seasick... in a building!) and for windows which have a disconcerting tendency to pop right out!


Bridges are the other type of structure where engineers, scientists, and architects combine forces to develop the biggest and the greatest. When the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge which connects Awaji Island to the Japanese city of Kobe opened in 1998, it was the greatest bridge ever conceived. The total length of 12,828 feet (3,910 meters) made it by far the biggest suspension bridge on the planet. The Akashi Kaikyo is so enormous that is spans the equivalent of four bridges the size of the Brooklyn Bridge! To travel across the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge is truly a wonder as it seems that you just seem to drive on and on and on and it takes virtually forever to get to the other side! 

Continued In Super Skyscrapers & Mega Bridges, Part 3

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