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The Science of Skyscrapers: Understanding Tall Building Design

The Science of Skyscrapers: Understanding Tall Building Design

In a world where land is at a premium, it only makes sense to build vertically. While there are many advantages to constructing high-rise-less suburban sprawl, closer to public transportation hubs, and easier access to important resources/services building skyscrapers presents its own set of challenges.

Tall buildings will be uniquely impacted by severe weather, can potentially consume vast amounts of energy, and will shelter thousands of occupants at any given time. As such, the standard is set just a bit higher when building these types of structures. Keep reading as we break down the science of skyscraper construction from all angles!

Selecting the Appropriate Site

The Science of Skyscrapers: Understanding Tall Building Design

There are some locations where building a skyscraper is simply not feasible. For example, some municipalities have restrictions on high rises and will not permit buildings over a certain height. In other cases, the region’s climate and edaphology (soil’s ability for use) preclude the construction of some types of structures. As such, high-rise developers must perform a thorough analysis of local building codes, soil, climate, and natural disaster risk before beginning structural designs for their skyscrapers. 

Ensuring Structural Integrity During the Design Process

It is no secret that BIM and CAD software have changed the game in modern construction. However, these tools are even more critical when designing skyscrapers. Architects must perform thousands of simulations to ensure that their structure will meet all demands upon completion.

For example, the horizontal and vertical load-bearing capacities must be pinpointed to the letter, with designers having a complete understanding of how the building will perform if any elements of its support system are compromised. History is fraught with examples of how unforeseen structural inadequacy in high-rises led to unmitigated disaster. Modern society simply will not tolerate another “house of cards” disaster, so it is critical to preempt any potential structural breach during the design process. 


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Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing

Mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) will be more complex in skyscrapers than in standard structures. Architects have to ensure that all utilities are adequately distributed to all floors and rooms in the building. Accomplishing this creates its own set of challenges. Pipes will need to be properly insulated to prevent leaks and water damage. Wiring will need to be safeguarded from electrical fires. The appropriate industrial noise reduction systems will be necessary to help muffle noisy HVAC ducts spanning across multiple floors. 

Sustainability and Energy Efficiency

The Science of Skyscrapers: Understanding Tall Building Design

Modern commercial buildings are increasingly under the microscope in terms of sustainability and energy efficiency. Not only are they required to weigh well vs leed in order to meet local sustainability and wellness initiatives, but they must show that they are going above and beyond the call of duty to satisfy an increasingly conscientious workforce and client base.

Some ways that skyscrapers are improving their sustainability and reducing ongoing maintenance requirements is through the use of durable materials, such as polished concrete floors, metal handrails, and hurricane grade storm windows.

They are also waterproofing foundations to ensure that erosion and runoff do not compromise structural integrity. For improved energy efficiency, they are using larger windows and glass walls to promote natural light flow. They are also increasing automation and adding insulation to the appropriate areas of the structure, such as lightweight polyiso board to exterior walls. 



Occupant Comfort

The traditional high-rise office cubicle is a thing of the past as businesses look for new and improved ways to promote employee wellness. This has given rise to the open floor concept, which facilitates natural light flow for a more positive work ambiance. In addition, the open concept allows for greater customization, allowing occupants to quickly and efficiently reconfigure interior space to satisfy emergent needs.

In addition, modern skyscrapers are continuing to prioritize indoor air quality to ensure that allergens and pathogens do not spread. This has made the installation of HVAC dampers and commercial air scrubbers an important component of high-rise design. Architects are also looking for unique ways for employees to access the outdoors, with an increased focus on features such as rooftop decks and multi-story patios. 

Functional Roofing

The Science of Skyscrapers: Understanding Tall Building Design

With exploding rents in recent years, modern skyscrapers are feeling the pinch to leverage every square inch of available space. This includes increasing the functionality of the roof. In addition to rooftop decks, high-rise roofs also need to serve as areas for temporary storage and emergency building access.

To utilize the roof, however, architects must ensure that roofs have adequate load-bearing capacity. One material that can help in this regard is sbs roofing. Styrene butadiene styrene (SBS) is a synthetic rubber roofing system ideal for the flat roofs found atop most skyscrapers. It ages exceptionally well and has a high level of elasticity and abrasion resistance, which helps it withstand all types of loads and weather conditions. 

Skyscrapers 101: The Science Behind the Design

Despite their many advantages, skyscrapers present a unique set of challenges for which architects and construction professionals must carefully plan. By considering the key points listed above, you can get a head start on understanding the myriad issues that are inherent to tall building design.


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