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Marking building design milestones in May

Sears Tower, completed in 1973, introduced the...

Sears Tower (Image via Wikipedia)

When: May 1, 1884

What: At 2,716 feet, the Burj Khalifa in the United Arab Emirates is currently the world’s largest skyscraper, and is rivaled only by the 1,667 foot Taipei 101 in Taiwan. However, the modern skyscraper comes from more humble beginnings, starting with a design principle developed over 120 years ago and first put to use in a comparatively small Chicago skyscraper. On May 1, recognize the milestone in modern construction that was Chicago’s Home Insurance Building.

Background: Construction of the Home Insurance Building began on May 1, 1884, and is considered to be the world’s first skyscraper because of its combination of height and design. While construction at the time depended on walls, pillars and other methods to support a building, Home Insurance Building designer William Le Baron Jenney used a steel frame to bear the building’s weight and reach its final height of 180 feet. Although the building was torn down in 1931, its design paved the way for future skyscrapers.

Story Pitch: Skyscrapers mark one of the major achievements in modern engineering, and their lightweight frame design is now used in all manner of buildings. Architects and building engineers who specialize in education or analysis of buildings should take this time to offer some perspective on new innovations in design, such as contrasting the standards used in the Home Insurance Building with modern standards for safety and energy efficiency. Those who work in producing and analyzing construction materials can focus on their most recent innovations in not just materials, but also their usage. For example, detail the new approaches to concrete and other materials that were needed to create the Burj Khalifa. Local governments and construction companies can also take this as a time to promote any urban renewal or new construction efforts in the area.

Story Hook: The famous Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in Chicago is now trying out solar panel windows to produce energy and to help cooling. What other methods are being employed to make buildings more sustainable? Keep the following in mind when making your pitch:

  • What are other important milestones in building design?
  • What are recent innovations in “green” construction and buildings?
  • How have current design trends in architecture changed? Are people favoring larger or smaller? Expanding up or out?
  • How can combining architectural design, materials, and construction present challenges?

Tips: Provide contact information for an architect or architecture company as well as information on local architectural landmarks.


The Associated General Contractors of America
(703) 548-3118

The American Institute of Architects
(202) 626-7300

The Association for Preservation Technology International
(217) 529-9039

The Burj Khalifa

–Researched, compiled & written by Nicholas Testa
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