Tuesday, 31 July 2007

A Short History of the Tallest Man made Structures of the World

The human desire to be the best has often been the single biggest reason for us to design and construct bigger and better. From the ancient times of the Egyptians to the very modern feats of the twentieth century, humans have gone on to build taller and bigger structures. Our desire supplemented by technological advances have urged and assisted us in making more complex architecture and using more diverse materials.

One of the oldest known structures, the Red Pyramid of Sneferu was built around 2600 BC and stands at a height of 105 m. Close behind this is one of the oldest and last remaining original seven wonders of the world, the Great Pyramid of Giza. At the time of completion in about 2570 BC it was 146m high, though it was eroded to a height of 139m by AD1439. It remained the highest building in the world for a period of more than 3500 years till 1300 AD when the Lincoln cathedral standing at 160m overtook it. These pyramids were typically made of stones or bricks. Such magnificent and potent structures stood and adorned our earth years before the industrial revolution.

Figure 1 - The Red Pyramid and the Great Pyramid of Gaza

After the Egyptian pyramids, it was the turn of the Europeans to exhibit their architectural and engineering skills. The English made the Lincoln Cathedral which stood at about 160m in 1300 AD. The height includes the spire, which was destroyed in a storm in 1549. A number of tall structures all of them religious in nature were built in Europe from the 13th century to the end of 19th century. In 1884 the Washington monument, which is an obelisk was made to honour George Washington. It was 169m tall and remained the highest man made structure in the world for 5 years till the Eiffel tower, the beauty of Paris was made in 1889.

The Eiffel known as La Tour Eiffel in French is made of iron, the first of its kind. Surprisingly, it overtook the Washington Monument by a huge 131m. The high stiffness provided by iron as compared to concrete or bricks enabled the construction of such a high tower. At 300m, located besides river Seine it is still the tallest structure in Paris. With its antenna of 24m, its total height is 324m. Astonishingly, the tower was never meant to last so long, the initial plan was to tear it down after about 20 years. However soon the public started liking it very much and it was decided to let it stay, only to become one of the most romantic structures in the world. At the turn of the millennium, the Eiffel was decorated with shimmering lights to celebrate the New Years Eve. The plan again was to take the lights down sometime after the New Year celebrations, but it never happened. And six years hence, the shimmering lights still beautify this wonderful structure.

Figure 2 - The Shimmering Eiffel

In the 20th century however, the human fascination with ‘high and big’ moved over to North America, USA to be more specific. With a highly active economy, the need for skyscrapers became evident in the new America. The Chrysler in New York made in 1930, is still the tallest brick building in the world, it is 319m high. Soon after in 1932, it was surpassed by the famous Empire State building, which stands at 381m. It has 102 floors and together with the antenna it stands at 448m. This was also the first building to have more than a 100 floors. It’s needless to say that in the background, there was a fight to height in all these New York Structures. It remained the tallest skyscraper for a period of 41 years and the tallest man made structure for 23 (a skyscraper would be a building made from a combination of concrete, bricks and steel or iron, while the tallest man made structure could also be a tower like the Eiffel made completely out of iron).

Figure 3 - The Chrysler and the Empire State Building
Making a half a kilometre high building was beyond the requirements and the think tank of innovators and engineers in the mid of the 20th century. In Russia or USSR as it was known in those days, a tower was made which exceeded the 500m height barrier, by making a television tower (Ostankino tower) in 1967 which was 540 m high and remained the tallest man made structure in the world for 10 years, before the CN tower in Toronto, Canada at 553.33 m exceeded it. The CN tower is still the tallest man made structure in the world.

Figure 4 - The CN and the Ostankino Tower

Coming back the stiff competition of high buildings in USA, the world trade centre or the twin towers had 110 stories each and WTC 1 became the tallest building on earth at 417m when it was completed in 1972. However the twin towers did not maintain their top spot for long. The Sears towers in Chicago the construction of which was completed in 1973 and is still the highest in USA, stands at 442m. With the September 11 attacks in 2001, the empire state building again became the tallest in New York.

Figure 5 - The Sears Tower and the Twin Towers (Before Sept 11, 2001)

The world has grown out of this competition now, at least it seems so. With so many potential booming economies in the world, the past 15 years have seen many skyscrapers being built outside the USA. Currently the Taipei 101 in Taipei, Taiwan is the one holding the coveted position; however there are many buildings in the pipeline which shall soon over take this 509m, 101 storey square shaped marvel.

Figure 6 - Taipei 101

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