Humans seem to have been intrigued by creating enormous buildings and architectural wonders for centuries. The Great Pyramid of Giza, originally 146.5 metres high, was the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years.
The Lighthouse of Alexandria, destroyed in 1323, was over 120m tall. Churches and cathedrals, with their tall steeples striving to reach heaven, were once taller than all other buildings. In the 1200s, Old St Paul’s Cathedral in London was the tallest at 149m.
In 1889, the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair, held in Paris, was an iron lattice tower, 324m tall, now known as the Eiffel Tower, and held the title of the tallest man-made structure in the world.
However, none of the above is classified as a skyscraper, which is defined as a tall building which protrudes above the existing built environment and changes the overall skyline. Although in our crosswords we might give ‘structure’ as a clue for ‘building’ and vice versa, they are not the same according to the international body council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, which maintains that a building must be ‘regularly inhabited or occupied’, ie an office or residence. Ancient structures, being uninhabited, do not comply with the modern definition of a skyscraper.
The Flaxmill in Shrewsbury built in 1796 is the oldest iron framed building in the world and is known as the ‘grandfather of skyscrapers’, despite being only as tall as a modern five-storey building.
The development of the elevator by Elisha Otis in 1852 was crucial to the development and evolution of skyscrapers, and the Home Insurance Building in Chicago was built in 1884 with ten storeys.
In 1930, the Chrysler Building in New York overtook the Eiffel Tower as the world’s tallest structure. New York and Chicago competed with each other to produce the tallest skyscraper but today the winner is Burj Khalifa in Dubai, at 829.8m high.