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What It Will Take to Finally Build the Mile-High Skyscraper

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Last year may have delivered a record-setting 11 "supertalls," but a breakthrough height surge by a single building remains to be seen. In a new piece over on New York Magazine, writer Justin Davidson tackles the when and how of the "mile-high skyscraper," a vision Frank Lloyd Wright sketched out nearly 60 years ago but has yet to be realized. At 2,722 feet, the Burj Khalifa, the current tallest building in the world, is only halfway there. But as Davidson explains, the mile-high tower is inevitable and it probably won't even stop there.

Saudi Arabia's Kingdom Tower, a 3,304-foot building planned for completion in 2018, would kick the Burj Khalifa to the second spot. But apparently, even that's just one more step in a never-ending upward climb. "I don't see a limit other than people's chutzpah—arrogance, actually," Ken Lewis, a partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) tells Davidson. Davidson also asked William Baker, the SOM structural engineering master behind the Burj Khalifa, how high he'd build if he'd been offered unlimited resources. Baker mentioned doubling the Burj and then doubling that again, which puts it at something like two miles.

Davidson explains that in terms of structural design, building the megatall tower requires approaching it like a "new species." "Different orders of magnitude require different skeletal structures," he writes. So far, this has meant embracing the "tapered" form, where structures "narrow from a sprawling mall below to a cozy penthouse palace." Engineers will also have to get real good at "confusing the wind," devising solutions (like the mass damper seen in the Taipei 101) against both earthquakes and gentle—but potentially still nausea-inducing—vibrations. And then there's the elevator infrastructure: cables need to be thinner, lighter, and more energy-efficient in order to avoid multiple elevator changes amidst the lengthy ascent.

According to Davidson, even though there are no foreseeable plans for a mile-high skyscraper in Manhattan (One World Trade Center is currently the tallest in the Western Hemisphere and the 4th tallest in the world), the city would nevertheless be affected if one such megatall finally arrives in, say, Asia or a Gulf Emirate. "Two or three contestants for the mile-high mark will sow an underbrush of half-milers," he writes. "New York may never again have the world's highest anything, but those thin-air buildings halfway around the world will surely pull the local skyline upward."

Do check out Davidson's full story over on New York Magazine.

· The Rise of the Mile-High Building [NYMag]
· History's Tallest Buildings, Visualized with Fancy 'Flashcards'">The Rise of the Mile-High Building [Curbed National]
· Using Computer Models and Giant Mirrors to Create the Shadowless Skyscraper of the Future [Curbed National]