blog post photo

Burj Khalifa by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Photo © Iwan Baan

At a whopping 2,717 feet, the SOM-designed Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the tallest building in the world, more than twice the height of the Empire State Building. “We’ve created a new animal,” says William F. Baker, an SOM structural engineer who designed the building. In a decade, a group of architects has introduced a new building type, the “cloud busting” skyscraper, exceeding FAA height regulations for U.S. buildings and raising unprecedented structural and design challenges.

Three of the leading experts in supertall design discussed the growing demand for these structures, particularly in the Middle East and Asia, at Architectural Record’s annual Innovation Conference yesterday. The panel, moderated by Carol Willis, the director of the Skyscraper Museum in New York City, explored how tall towers can address the issues of rapid urbanization and skyrocketing real estate prices, while also serving as a cultural beacon and source of pride for burgeoning economies.

William Pedersen, of Kohn Pedersen Fox, says that while tall towers are largely the product of private enterprise, they also have a public responsibility. “They become part of the identifiable characteristics of a place,” says Pedersen, whose firm has designed seven of the 48 structures worldwide, either existing or in the advanced design stages, given an official “supertall” designation by the Skyscraper Museum. “These buildings have to resonate with the particular culture they have been created for.”

Gordon Gill, of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, has proposed two of the most ambitious supertall projects to date, with his 3,280-foot-tall Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and 1300- and 1500-foot twin skyscrapers called the “Dancing Dragons” in Seoul. “They want to impress on people that they are part of the world stage,” says Gill.