Skyscrapers are undoubtedly some of the world’s most fascinating and impressive structures. From their sheer height to their unique designs, these towering buildings have captured our imagination and have become symbols of modernity and technological advancement. The first skyscraper, the Home Insurance Building, was completed in 1885 in Chicago and stood ten stories tall. In contrast, the latest skyscrapers are some of the world’s tallest and most technologically advanced structures. So, what are the differences between the first skyscraper and the latest?

The differnece between skyscrapers: First vs the latest - Sheet1
Abu Dhabi National Oil Company Headquarters_©Mitul Grovert

The Home Insurance Building

The Home Insurance Building, completed in 1885, is considered the world’s first skyscraper. It was located in Chicago, Illinois, and architect William Le Baron Jenney designed it. The building was ten stories tall and used a steel frame construction method that allowed it to be much taller than previous buildings made of masonry.

The Home Insurance Building had a rectangular shape and a relatively simple design, with a red brick facade and large windows. The building’s steel frame allowed for more open and flexible interior spaces, a significant advantage for office buildings. The building’s elevators were powered by steam, which made it easier for occupants to move between floors quickly.

The Home Insurance Building’s design was a significant departure from previous building styles, which were limited in height by the strength of their masonry walls. The use of steel frame construction allowed for much taller buildings, and the Home Insurance Building paved the way for the construction of even taller skyscrapers in the following decades.

Over the years, skyscrapers have evolved significantly in their design, construction, and sustainability. In the early 20th century, architects like Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright developed the concept of the “skyscraper as a machine,” emphasising the importance of functionality and efficiency in high-rise buildings. This approach led to more streamlined and modernist skyscraper designs in the 1920s and 1930s, such as the Chrysler and Empire State building.

Construction Materials

One of the most significant differences between the Home Insurance Building and modern skyscrapers is the materials used in their construction. The Home Insurance Building was constructed using a steel frame with masonry walls, while modern skyscrapers use a wide range of materials, including steel, concrete, glass, and even wood. These materials offer benefits, including increased strength, durability, and energy efficiency.

The differnece between skyscrapers: First vs the latest - Sheet2
John Hancock Center, Chicago_©Jonathan J. Castellon

For example, the John Hancock Center in Chicago, completed in 1969, was constructed with a steel frame and a curtain wall made of reflective glass. This design maximises natural light while minimising heat gain, reducing the building’s energy consumption. Similarly, the Shanghai Tower, completed in 2015, uses a hybrid structure consisting of a steel frame and a reinforced concrete core to support its massive height of 632 meters (2,073 feet). The building’s facade comprises a double-layered glass curtain wall that provides insulation and natural ventilation, reducing the need for mechanical systems.

Technological Advancements 

Modern skyscrapers have incorporated advanced technologies to make them more energy-efficient, sustainable, and comfortable for their occupants. For example, many skyscrapers today use smart building systems that automatically control lighting, heating, and cooling based on occupancy and external weather conditions. They may also use innovative insulation and ventilation systems that reduce energy consumption and improve indoor air quality.

The differnece between skyscrapers: First vs the latest - Sheet3
Burj Khalifa_©ZQ Lee

One of the most prominent examples is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, completed in 2010. This 828-meter (2,717-foot) building is the tallest in the world, and it features numerous technological advancements to make it more efficient and comfortable. The facility uses a system of sensors and computers to manage air and water flow, reducing the building’s energy consumption by up to 40%. The Burj Khalifa also has a cooling system that uses water from a nearby lake to lower the temperature in the building, reducing the need for mechanical cooling.

Design and Aesthetics 

Modern skyscrapers are vastly different from the first skyscraper. Early skyscrapers often had a utilitarian design, with simple rectangular shapes and minimal ornamentation. Modern skyscrapers are often designed as iconic landmarks with unique shapes and striking facades. Architects and engineers today are more creative and daring in their designs, using advanced computer modelling and simulation tools to create beautiful and functional buildings.

The differnece between skyscrapers: First vs the latest - Sheet
The Shard at sunset_©Fred Moon

The Shard in London, completed in 2012, is an excellent example. This 310-meter (1,017-foot) building has a distinctive pyramid-like shape that tapers towards the top, giving it a striking appearance. The building’s facade is made of glass, which reflects the surrounding sky and changes color depending on the weather and time of day. The design of the Shard has transformed the London skyline and has become an iconic symbol of the city.


Their height is the most apparent difference between the first and the latest skyscrapers. The Home Insurance Building stood at a modest 138 feet (42 meters) tall, while the latest skyscrapers are over ten times more soaring. The Burj Khalifa in Dubai is currently the tallest building in the world, standing at an incredible 828 meters (2,717 feet) tall. The height of modern skyscrapers is made possible by advancements in construction techniques, materials, and engineering. Using high-strength steel and advanced concrete mixtures, along with computer modelling and simulation tools, has enabled architects and engineers to design and construct buildings that can withstand the stresses of extreme heights and wind loads.

The differnece between skyscrapers: First vs the latest - Sheet5
D1 Tower, Dubai, UAE_©Phil Shaw

Safety and Sustainability 

The safety and sustainability of modern skyscrapers are also significant differences from the early skyscrapers. Modern buildings are designed with a focus on safety, with advanced fire suppression systems, emergency evacuation plans, and structural redundancies. Sustainability is also a significant consideration in modern skyscraper design, with many buildings incorporating green roofs, rainwater harvesting systems, and renewable energy sources like solar panels and wind turbines.

The differnece between skyscrapers: First vs the latest - Sheet6
Taipei City_©Timo Volz

For example, the Taipei 101 in Taiwan, completed in 2004, is a 508-meter (1,667-foot) building incorporating a range of sustainable features, including a double-layered glass curtain wall that reduces heat gain, energy-efficient lighting and water-efficient fixtures. The building also uses wind turbines and a tuned mass damper, a massive pendulum that helps to stabilise the structure during high winds and earthquakes.


The differences between the first skyscraper and the latest are vast and reflect the advancements in technology, materials, design, and sustainability over the past century. Modern skyscrapers are taller and more aesthetically pleasing but safer, more sustainable, and more comfortable for their occupants. 

Hong Kong_©Joseph Chan

As architects and engineers continue to push the boundaries of what is possible, it is exciting to think about what the future holds for skyscrapers and their role in shaping our cities and our world.

  • (no date) The Skyscraper Museum. Available at: (Accessed: March 8, 2023). 
  • CTBUH (no date) Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. Available at: (Accessed: March 8, 2023). 
  • Home Insurance Building (no date) Architectuul. Available at: (Accessed: March 9, 2023). 
  • Skyscrapers (2021) National Geographic. Available at: (Accessed: March 9, 2023). 
  • Taylor, A. (2014) 9/11: The flight 93 national memorial, The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company. Available at: (Accessed: March 10, 2023). 
  • Aliperti, C. (2011) The tall buildings of New York – skyscrapers in 1898, Available at: (Accessed: March 12, 2023). 

Isha Ralhan is a 5th-year undergrad student pursuing a bachelor's degree in architecture. She likes learning about new things and traveling to new places. She enjoys photography as a hobby, reading books in her free time, and adores cats.