The Most Impressive Steel Skyscrapers

A few weeks ago, we shared a list of the most impressive steel bridges, and while they certainly are extremely impressive, let’s be honest, the first thing you think of when you think of impressive steel buildings are skyscrapers!  Construction Week, through Arabian Business, published a list a few years ago of what they felt were the ten most impressive “modern” steel skyscrapers, meaning steel skyscrapers that use Fazlur Khan’s tubular structural engineering designs.  It’s especially interesting since it looks at it from a non-American perspective.  Not-surprisingly, Chicago and New York dominate the list, and all ten buildings are in the USA or China.  Remember, since it’s from 2010, new buildings like One World Trade Center aren’t on the list.  Let’s take a look!


Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower)

America’s building boom tailed off during the 1970s, but not before the monolithic Sears Tower was erected in Chicago. Using Khan’s Bundled Tube structural engineering principles, the building takes its strength from the combination of nine main structures arranged in a three by three grid that make up the impressive complex.

It’s a clever arrangement. All towers rise to 50-storeys, where the northeast and southwest buildings stop. The remaining seven towers continue to the 66th floor where the northeast and southwest structures end, and at 90-storeys, the north, south and east floors top out. The two remaining towers, the west and central towers, then stretch to 110 floors, the building’s top. A similar system of bundled towers was used by SOM to construct the Burj Khalifa.

Work started on construction of the Sears Tower in 1970 and the building was finished three years later. It has received numerous design and structural awards since its 1973 inauguration, and remains a defining development for mega structures which have followed since.

The Sears naming rights ran out in 2003 and in 2009, London-based insurance broker Willis Group Holdings agreed to lease a portion of the building and take over the naming rights.

The building’s owners last year commissioned SOM to install 10ft square and four foot deep glass viewing balconies on the Skydeck at the 103rd floor that offer staggering five-sided views from the tower – at a height of 1353ft. The boxes are mounted within a steel frame and can be retracted back in to the building for cleaning.


Location: Chicago, USA 
Height: 442m 
Year completed: 1973 
Number of storeys: 110 
Made of: steel 
Use: office


Empire State Building

It goes without saying that The Empire State Building is the most iconic skyscraper ever built. Whether its legend was sealed with scenes of a giant ape battling bi-planes with one hand while cradling Fay Wray in the other, or by its enduring status as the tallest building in New York (post World Trade Centre), the Empire State Building is the one sight most visitors to the city have at the top their lists.

The art deco building set new benchmarks for construction when it was completed in 1931, and it held the title of world’s tallest building for over 40 years before being eclipsed by the World Trade Centre in 1972.

The building’s history is as interesting as the project itself. Financed by John J Raskob, a former DuPont (hired by Pierre Du Pont himself) and GM vice president (he engineered DuPont’s 43% ownership of GM), the building was designed by architects Shreve, Lamb and Harmon Associates. One version of the story is that Raskob stood a pencil on its end and asked William F Lamb, “Bill, how high can you make it so that it won’t fall down?”

As it turned out, that ended up being 381m. The steel-framed structure was built in record time (13 months), mainly fueled by the need to get the building up during the depression so that the developer could start renting out floorspace – and partly because the Empire State Building was in race with the Chrysler building to gain worldwide recognition as the tallest building. Contractors Starrett Brothers and Eken fast tracked the project through meticulous planning and it was opened by US president Herbert Hoover on May 1 1931.


Location: New York, USA 
Height: 381m 
Year completed: 1931 
Made of: steel 
Use: office 


Aon Center

Originally commissioned by Standard Oil of Indiana, the building uses a tubular steel frame structure to support itself and provide the building with its weather and earthquake resistant properties.

Designed by the late Edward Durell Stone, the 88-storey skyscraper is the third tallest building in Chicago (behind the Sears and Trump towers) and third tallest all-steel building in the world. Built between 1970 and 1972 by Turner Construction (now a subsidiary of Hochtief), the building also held the record for the tallest marble clad tower.

Turner Construction is well known throughout the Middle East: the company acted as project managers on the Burj Khalifa and has also been involved in the Al Hamra Tower project in Kuwait City, Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi and Al Faisaliyah Centre in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Like the Willis Group which has naming rights on the tallest tower in Chicago, Aon is an insurance brokerage firm. The company specialises in risk management services, insurance and reinsurance brokerage. The Aon Center is the company’s global headquarters.


Location: Chicago, USA 
Height: 346m 
Year completed: 1973 
Made of: steel 
Use: office


The Center

Though it only stands as the fifth tallest tower development in Hong Kong, The Center is one of the very few buildings in the city that is constructed entirely out of steel.

Dennis Lau & Ng Chun Man Architects & Engineers (HK) Ltd designed the building, with structural engineering services provided by Maunsell AECOM Group. The structure was started in 1995 and finished three years later by main contractors Paul Y ITC Construction.

The building has 73 floors and is currently listed as the 22nd tallest building in the world, 14th tallest in Asia and 10th tallest in China. Site preparation required the demolition of several historical structures and the relocation of many shops in Cloth Alley.


Location: Hong Kong 
Height: 346m 
Year completed: 1998 
Made of: steel 
Use: office


John Hancock Center

Chicago’s love for steel construction is apparent in the shape of its skyline. Most buildings that dominate the city’s ceiling use steel as their primary construction material, and of the five tallest steel buildings in the world, three of them are situated in the city.

Another Skidmore Ownings and Merrill designed project, the John Hancock Center is an example of Khan’s trussed tube design. The trusses are clearly visible on the exterior of the building and are an obviously hint at the way Khan turned traditional skyscraper construction on its head.

The building was constructed over a five year period from 1965 by Tishman Construction, which went on to complete the World Trade Center’s twin towers in 1972 and 1973.


Location: Chicago, USA 
Height: 344m 
Year completed: 1969 
Made of: steel 
Use: residential/office

See the rest of the list, and the original article, HERE!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: