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Skyscraper was originally used in the 1880s to describe continuously habitable building that is 10 to 20 floor. Nowadays it use to describe buildings that have at least 40 to 50 floors that mostly designed for office or commercial. (New world encyclopedia, 2015) American architect, William Le Baron Jenney, had designed the prototype of skyscraper, the Home Insurance Company Building, Chicago, in 1884. This was the world’s first tall building that used a load-bearing structural frame and the first to use steel as a structural material. This structural form is commonly use in the future skyscraper model. (encyclopedia britannica, 1998) Skyscraper is gaining popularity in 21st century due to steady growth of population while the world is having limited space. The purpose of skyscraper had been diverse in the recent years. (Jolly, 2013)

Figure 1. Home Insurance Company Building, Chicago


Stephen Graham talk about the changing political economies and geopolitics of skyscrapers in his lecture. He cited a phrase from Deyan Sudjic “A huge tower makes nowhere suddenly into somewhere”, to show the influence of skyscraper to a place. He also explain that, the fundamental purpose of building skyscraper is no longer about attracting foreign investment; instead, it is about an intense political desire for world recognition. (Graham, 2017)

Besides that, He state the relationship between the Etymology, Cosmography and the Elite Symbolism of Spectacle, Power and Prestige. “Low suggests immorality, vulgarity, poverty, and deceit. High is the direction of growth and hope, the source of light, the heavenly above of angels and gods” Stephen Kern (1983). He explain about that, social status is being determined as high or low instead of great or small. The world on the higher level always being promote as the world of law, order, economy and conformity. (Graham, 2017)

Case study

Shanghai of China is a typical example of using skyscraper for commercial use and trying to get world recognition at the same time. Since the implementation of reform and open policy in 1978, China is trying to prove it economic power and influence to the world. In the past 10 years, Shanghai had built 8 tower which ranked in top 100 height in the world, and the tallest tower, Shanghai tower, had reached 632m and ranked 2nd highest in the world. The rapid development in the past 10 years had shown that the construction technology of China had comparable to other first world country. Besides that, it also shown it have sufficient economic support to run the high amount of skyscraper. (China Highlights, 2016)

Figure 2. Skyscrapers of shanghai

Another country that had gone through a rapid growth of amount of skyscraper in the past 10 years was Dubai. The purposed of majority of skyscraper in Dubai are different from the example above. Most of the skyscraper are residential or hotel tower. Dubai have huge amount of empty landscape, but they still invest in twelve skyscrapers for accommodation purposed in Dubai in the past 10 years, this is because they believe that, the higher you live above ground, the higher your status and power. (The Skyscraper Center, 2017) These skyscrapers promote high quality life style, status, and power. For example, the tallest residential tower in Dubai, while at the same time tallest tower in the world had promoted itself with the phrase, “I am the power. I am the magnet. I am the life force. I am the heart of the city and its people. I am Burj Khalifa.” (Breuel, 2013)

Figure 3. Burj Khalifa


Although both city build huge amount of skyscrapers for different purposed, but both of them have a similarity, which is to symbolise their status and power in the world using their own way. In conclusion, the purposed of skyscraper is slowly but surely changing from continuously habitable to the symbol of advancement, economic power, and the status of the country. (Barss, 2017)

The Skyscraper Center. (2017). 100 Tallest Completed Buildings in the World by Height to Architectural Top. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Jan. 2017].

Graham, S. (2017). Vertical City. [Lecture]


encyclopedia britannica. (1998). William Le Baron Jenney AMERICAN ENGINEER AND ARCHITECT. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Jan. 2017].

Image Sources
Figure 1 : Home Insurance Company Building, Chicago. Taken from :
Figure 2 : Skyscrapers of shanghai. Taken from :
Figure 3 : Burj Khalifa. Taken from :

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