- The historic cultural importance of the skyscraper, and this article’s methodology;
- Mapping the skyscraper construction timeline from NYC, Chicago and Pittsburgh to the rest of the U.S.;
- America’s biggest construction boom to date kicked off in the 1960s, culminated in the 1980s;
- The post-eighties wave of supertall building is driven by residential towers;
- How the current skyscraper boom is changing the country’s cityscape;
Counting America’s Highest Rooftops and Spires—Our Methodology
Evolutions in engineering, economic cycles, major national and international events, and social changes made their mark on the nation’s cityscapes throughout history. Transformative innovations in engineering, such as the steam engine, railroads, Portland cement, and, most importantly, the use of steel as a structural material, have led to various construction booms in the country’s urban centers. As skyscrapers have reached ever-bigger heights, they have stood as symbols of economic strength and cultural prestige.
The definition of a skyscraper was subject to much discussion in the 19th century, when engineering marvels like the elevator made it viable for buildings to soar far higher than ever before. Influential architecture critic Montgomery Schuyler declared that New York’s Western Union Telegraph Building and Tribune Building should be considered the first skyscrapers, as they realized the possibilities of the elevator, and were among the first conspicuously tall buildings to rise above the average level of Manhattan’s skyline. Peruvian-born architect Francisco Mujica argued that the metallic skeleton frame embedded in the masonry, along with elevator systems, counted as defining elements, and thus considered William LeBaron Jenney’s Home Life Insurance Co. building, and Holabird & Roche’s Tacoma Building in Chicago to be the first true skyscrapers.
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