Skyscrapers have gotten taller, with more twists, and turns in its structure becoming far more outrageous than the last, ever since the erection of the first skyscraper, The Home Insurance Building constructed in 1885, in Chicago. If as a kid, there were any ooh and aah’s directed towards your local shopping mall building, well you haven’t seen the half of it.

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Exterior of The Home Insurance building by Ar. William Le Baron Jenney, Chicago ©
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The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia are the tallest twin structures in the world. ©Flickr/Hadi Zaher

There’s an old saying that goes as such, “An architect’s dream is a civil engineer’s nightmare.” The architects reading this might be snickering to themselves. People ordinarily dish out their opinions about buildings based on its façade, and more often than not, forget the structure that keeps it standing. Here are ten guidelines to look for or to keep in mind while designing skyscrapers.

1. The deeper you dig, the higher you can go

Skyscrapers make us tilt our heads back until we are left with a crick in our necks. However, what we are not able to observe are the foundations or the substructure beneath our feet. We can paint a likeness between a skyscraper and the pyramids created by cheerleaders. The more stable the foundation, the higher the pyramid can go.

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Pyramid by cheerleaders ©
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Foundation for the Petronas Towers, Malaysia. Maximum depth- 114m for a height of 452m ©

The point to note here is that one has to keep the depth of the foundation necessary for the structure in mind, without which a skyscraper would not be possible.

2. Commonly used materials

The Second Industrial Revolution or more commonly known as the Technological Revolution saw the mass production of iron and steel. These materials were first used in the Crystal Palace by Ar. Joseph Paxton has now become one of the most widely utilized materials, particularly in high rise structures or skyscrapers, to form the skeleton. To bear the variety of loads imposed on the skyscrapers, engineers opt for a strong iron or steel skeleton.

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The Crystal Palace by Joseph Paxton, Hyde Park, London. Materials used- glass sheets and iron rods ©
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Burj Khalifa, the tallest skyscraper in the world, in Dubai. Materials used- concrete and steel rebars. ©

3. Give back to nature!

“The polar ice caps are melting! How can you do your part to help?”

The concept of sustainable or green buildings has become a popular trend in the architecture world. Architects now have to become self-aware about the growing climatic crisis the world is facing, which will only continue to worsen. We architects have the ability, and opportunity, to create a difference, as well as raise awareness through our designs and buildings. Utilizing passive heating and cooling methods or making use of the daylighting may be a small step to a better future.

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Empire State Building, New York. Previously non-sustainable, after some retrofitting in 2010, making it 90% more energy efficient than other office buildings. ©


Moreover, add the words, organic or eco-friendly in front of anything, and people are sure to buy into it.

4. Beware the big bad wolf!

We have grown up listening to the fables narrated to us by our parents or grandparents. Do you remember the story of the big bad wolf who tried to blow down the little pigs’ house? The wolf in this scenario is the high-speed winds striking the skyscrapers near its peaks. Buildings tend to sway and move when the winds hit the side of the building.

Architects have found several ways to counter this effect. They attempt to ‘confuse the wind’ as it is put. Tapering at the edges, cut-outs at the top, or by curving the edges; are few of the ways to counter-effect the swaying.

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The Shanghai World Financial Center, Shanghai, has a cut out at its peak to allow winds to pass through. Designed by William Pedersen ©
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30 St. Mary Axe or the Gherkin, London, edges are smoothly curved and tapers at the top. Designed by Norman Foster and Ken Shuttleworth ©

5. Sketch it out!

An idea is born with a line or maybe a small scribble on a piece of paper. Great architects like Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid, to name a few, begin their designs by taking a pencil to paper. With the technology advancing these days, one can assume the sky as the limit, quite literally in fact. There is no idea too big or no design too bizarre that cannot get executed. Go crazy!

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8 Spruce Street, comparison between Gehry’s sketch and the building ©

An architecture firm in New York is proposing a design for the world’s tallest skyscraper, Analemma Tower, which would hang down from the sky suspended by air cables attached to an asteroid. Yes, you read that right!

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Analemma Tower, a proposed design, by Clouds Architecture Office ©

6. Create your style

Do not be afraid to let your creativity loose. Concepts often hit you out of nowhere. Make use of any tools at hand to express your idea. Frank Gehry, a pioneer in the deconstructivist style of architecture played around with crumpled paper balls and for the lack of a better word peeped into the dustbin for inspiration.

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Taipei 101, Taiwan, designed by C.Y. Lee and C.P. Wang ©

7. Stand out!

Skyscrapers, by definition, are meant to stand out. However, you may have noticed the monotony in the designs of such structures. You more often than not see cuboidal blocks making up the skyline of a city. Getting inspired by the existing buildings is well and good, but to be noticed in this rat race one must stand out for their uniqueness or peculiarity.

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The Shard, London, designed by Renzo Piano. Stands out for its tapering glass structure ©

8. Multi-purpose use

While designing skyscrapers, architects must always keep the client and the users in mind. The context or location usually determines the function of the building. For example, a location in a business hub would require a commercial building with the purpose of installing office spaces. The Burj Khalifa in Dubai, for example, is a mixed-use building. It comprises residential apartments, hotels, and offices.

9. Protected view

Architecture always enters a pre-existing environment, and in turn, affects its environment through energy consumption, among other things. Go back in time, before the age of skyscrapers, and you will find that humanity still built high rise structures. The pyramids of Giza are a good start.

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Cheops pyramid, The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt, height- 146.7m ©

Often the context or rather the image of a city provides for the perfect inspiration for an architect. In some cities with an abundance of cultural heritage buildings like Paris or London, there is a law called the ‘protected view’ which prohibits the construction of skyscrapers that might ruin the cityscape. Such restrictions, rather than being negative influences, often help narrow our minds to look in a particular direction.

Skyline of London ©

10. Official guidelines to be followed

Names like ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-conditioning Engineers) or CTBUH (Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat) will come up frequently in your searches. They are official governing bodies that provide the guidelines and international standards to be followed by all architects while constructing any structure, including skyscrapers. Having a look through these pages will give you a good idea about the dos and don’ts.



A pure romantic, but with a passion for the thriller and mystery genres, she tends to surprise people. She feasts on stories, may it be from a baby or a random dog. If she had her way, she would be camping in the mountains with a cup of ginger tea.

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