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The Skyscraper Phenomenon in Modern World Research Paper

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Updated: Aug 12th, 2019


Over the years, major cities around the world have embraced the idea of skyscrapers. Skyscrapers in New York and especially in Manhattan offer a new approach in architectural design. Today, the city of Dubai in the Arab Emirates is emerging as a global leader in designing skyscrapers. The exemplary Burj Dubai implies how skyscrapers are introducing new cultures.

The skyscraper phenomenon implies intriguing issues about humanity and the inspiration behind such designs. Rem Koolhaas has researched on modern architecture and Urbanism using the example of Manhattan. Koolhaas is fascinated by how human can utilize a city as a laboratory test to discover the mysteries of modern life.

This research reviews theories of the skyscraper and how this architectural design has been built and used in different places and times. In addition, the research reviews other pertinent issues related to skyscrapers in relation to ideologies of humanity.



Manhattan is considered a model of modern metropolitan (Koolhaas 10). In this regard, designing buildings based on the principle of population growth as defined by the concept of the metropolis is critical.

Therefore, Manhattan is the ideal archetype of a metropolitan urban center with the density per se in population and infrastructures. The fact that a metropolitan condition promotes congestion is real in Manhattan and other similar cities. The need to inspire a new form of congestion culture is made possible through the designing of skyscrapers.


The ecstasy theory is based on an ambitious and popular approach of constructing buildings (Koolhaas 10). The lack of self-hatred in Manhattan provokes architectural designers to shamelessly design skyscrapers with disregard of professionalism required in the discipline.

Traditional microeconomic model

The traditional microeconomic model implies that corporations in urban centers operate in competitive markets. However, this concept is influenced by the proximity of corporations’ locations to the Central Business District (CBD). In this regard, corporations’ approach in reducing transportation and production costs and locating the firms near distribution centers is inevitable.

Perhaps, this explains why distribution firms are located within the CBD to achieve transport-cost driven economic benefits. From this perspective, the congestion phenomenon is harnessed by designing tall buildings in densely populated cities.

On the other hand, extended cities usually design less tall buildings. The traditional model implies that tall buildings are financially feasible when factors such as height, rent and geographical extension are put into consideration.

Business cycle

The business cycle theory is based on an Austrian perspective towards cyclical fluctuations and economic activities. The Austrian perspective uses a skyscraper index to predict the growth of business and the economy. In this context, the designing of skyscrapers with heights over-passing the rest of the buildings signify a booming economy. In addition, tall skyscrapers represent an over-investment and liquidity expansion.

The business cycle theory offers a new approach to understanding the impact of time in determining the construction of skyscrapers based on prevailing economic conditions. For example, the construction of the tallest building in Dubai coincides with the global economic recession. In this regard, skyscrapers are not primarily based on rational economic calculations, but elements that transcend financial aspects.

A game theory approach

The game theory is based on the idea that best results are achieved out of a contingency plan made within a predetermined framework. Moreover, the game theory uses the sequential and simultaneous principles in determining the decision for designing a skyscraper.

For example, a designer constructs a skyscraper as a sequential move after another person has built a tall building. In a simultaneous pattern, other designers maintain the tempo of building the best skyscrapers out of the possible existing designs.

Skyscrapers in other places and times

The first architectural designs became a reality in Egypt with the construction of pyramids. The ancient Gothic cathedrals in France and Italy gave a foundation for taller buildings in 19th and 20th centuries.

The 47-storey skyscraper in Benidorm, Spain, is an example of how architectural designs for tall buildings contradict those in Manhattan. For example, Koolhaas’s theory about the elevator is not evidenced in the Spanish skyscraper.

Although the exclusion of an elevator in a skyscraper is hailed as the new architectural design, it was primarily done after elevators proved dangerous in case of an accident.

Apparently, the skyscraper original design included an elevator for the first 20 storeys, but an accident in 2009 proved that evacuation of people could be difficult during an accident. Therefore, the skyscraper included additional 27 storeys with features of comfort and elegance.

The designing of the Chrysler building in New York offers a new approach to building skyscrapers. The skyscraper is designed using strong cores through the center, and steel truss with diagonal beams. The designing of this formula is aimed at stabilizing the building during earthquakes. The designing of the tallest skyscraper in Dubai known as Burj Dubai utilizes stainless steel and glass.

The shape of the building from the ground in the form of steps results creates the skyscraper’s Y-shaped tower. The completion of Burj Dubai in 2013 paved way to a new meaning in the use of skyscrapers as hotels, shops, swimming pools and apartment became part of the building.

Koolhaas reflections and ideas of utopia

Koolhaas reflection on Manhattan skyscraper is that the architectural design exists in three distinct looks. The integration of the three architectural mutations achieves the state of utopia known as the “glorious whole” (Koolhaas 82).

The first reflection is the reproduction of the world through the elevator. Koolhaas perceives the elevator’s ability in improving communication between earth and nature.

Consequently, the distance left behind by the elevator implies the human desire to disconnect from planet earth, thereby, achieving the utopian state. This reflection was fulfilled in the 1880s, when the elevators became a reality in reproducing the floor space of what is known as a skyscraper.

The second reflection is called the annexation of the tower. From 1876, architectural designs exhibited technological progress for 50 years until 1906 (Koolhaas 92).

During this period, towers such as the Continental Tower in Philadelphia, the Dreamland’s Beacon Tower and the Globe Tower existed as markers of pleasure zones and self-contained universe. Although Manhattan’s buildings were relatively taller than the towers, the latter implied the beginning a new culture. However, the existence of towers have disappointed in addressing the requirements of a skyscraper.

The third reflection is the block alone, which was actualized with designing of buildings in the shape of a rectangular box. The example of Madison square garden and buildings that occupied entire blocks along the streets started in 1890.

The new designs were modifications that did not meet the requirements of a skyscraper. The inclusion of blocks in Manhattan does not address the utopian states as they “discredit and replace all natural reality” (Koolhaas 97).

Freud’s ideas of civilization and repression

It is natural for humans to yearn for fulfillment of their innate desires. The fulfillment of living in a utopian state inspires the innovation of a skyscraper. In this context, the civilization aspect fulfills human desires. In addition, lack of contentedness leads to frustrations and disappointments (Freud 26).

The progress made in actualizing new skyscraper’s design lead to the construction of towers and blocks that do not address the intended issue. The human craving for a utopia state is tamed through architectural designs, which are constantly modified to prevent mild contentment. Perhaps, this explains why Dubai holds the record for the tallest building instead of England or any western country.

Hierarchies and normalizing procedures

Vertical and horizontal hierarchies are reproduced from designing of skyscrapers. The vertical hierarchy is best represented by buildings that assume the tower forms. Buildings with massive vertical landscape parks are known to have additional elements such as a large area for arterial voids, and sky courts positioned at higher levels. Horizontal hierarchies are reproduced in skyscrapers (Yeang 17).

A three-tier hierarchy of circulation is also popular with tall buildings. In this context, vertical landscaping, parks and blocks complete the overall design of a skyscraper in ascendance and horizontal form respectively. Normalizing processes involve designing data and architectural systems that vary over time (Ho, Holman, Synder 23).

For example, normalization or reconfiguring of weight and height variables is essential in streamlining and modifying new architectural designs and buildings respectively. Normalization on costs provides architectures with information regarding the structures.

Works Cited

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and its discontents. London: Penguin Books Limited, 2004. Print.

Ho, Sam, Holman Tom, and Synder Larry. Normalized time and its use in architectural design. Virginia: Defense Technical Information Center, 1989. Print.

Koolhaas, Rem. Delirious New York: A retroactive manifesto for Manhattan. New York: Monacelli Press, 1994. Print.

Yeang, Ken. Eco skyscrapers I. Victoria: Images Publishing, 2007. Print.

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