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The Limitations Of High Rise Buildings Environmental Sciences Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 5409 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The purpose of this report is to illustrate the limitations faced when planning, designing or constructing a high-rise Building. This report will explore the background of high-rise buildings, including their origins and technological advancements. It will bring to light any technical aspects pertaining to the limitation of high-rise buildings, such as materials and available technology.

This report will also inform the reader of any professional involvement of both engineering and non-engineering careers, as well as bringing to light any social, cultural or heritage issues such as Indigenous participation.

Furthermore this report will demonstrate any Ethical or Economical issues which may have an impact on the planning, designing or construction of a high-rise Building.

Lastly it will discuss where High-rise Buildings may take us in the future and give insight to changes that may occur due to High-rise Buildings.

Report Introduction

Since man first started building high-rises, there has always been a limit on how high we can build them. As the years go on and as technology improves the limits to high-rise buildings height has been constantly broken and higher buildings have been made, BUT limits still exist. It is important to know why we have limits to building high-rise buildings and it is just as important knowing just what some of these limits are. Therefore research has been conducted and compiled and a report has been put together. This report is about the limits to building high-rise buildings the report will outline:

The involvement of both engineering and non-engineering professionals

Social/cross cultural/indigenous issues

Ethical issues

Economic issues

These are the 4 topics that will be discussed in the report, along with a brief background of the limits and some technical aspects of topics. The report will also make sum conclusions as to what is believed to where the limits may lead us in the future or high-rise buildings. Unfortunately the report will not be covering many other issues to limits in high rise buildings as there are many, many reasons limiting high rise buildings.

1.0 Background to High-Rise Limitations


The construction of high-rise buildings has been and always will be greatly limited. The provision of this section of the report is to provide the background information on why construction was so limited. Several major limits that were broken will be discussed. Also discussed will be the inventions and/or processes which were used to break them.


There are many factors that limit man from building great structures however many of these limits have already being broken and will continue to be surpassed. Throughout history man has built some great structures like The Great Pyramid of Giza and the Two Towers of Bologna. The Pyramid of Giza built in the 26th century BC was formally known as the tallest structure in the world. Standing 146m above ground its height was not exceeded for thousands of years. Although these great structures existed for thousands of years, tall buildings that were continuously habitable did not exist until the late 1800’s. After the late 1800’s buildings that blew the minds of men began to appear. These buildings include; Empire State Building of New York, The Q1 on the gold coast, and now the tallest building in the world, The Khalifa Tower of Dubai which stands 828m above ground.

Significant Changes to Highrise Buildings

The worlds first iron framed building was the Oriel Chambers in Liverpool built in 1864; it was only five stories high as elevators had not yet been invented yet [4]. This was a reason why construction was so limited before the mid 1800’s. It seemed that the higher the office building the cheaper it was to rent because it was impractical for inhabitants to walk a great number of stairs. The first building to include an elevator was the Equity Assurance Building of New York built in 1870. “Once the elevator was implemented, suddenly the top stories were more valuable than the lower stories. And now you can get higher rents on the top stories because they are quieter, there is better light, and they are away from the noise and dirt of the street” [1]. The invention and inclusion of the elevator in construction greatly influenced the skylines of every major city in the world.

Vertical architecture would be impossible, first of all,

without the elevator, the great equalizer of civilization,

which . . . by excessively rapid “express service,”

makes the twentieth floor scarcely more difficult to

access than the third. . . . Without [the elevator] its

chief merit [of the tall building] would be gone; without

it its upper stories would be as inaccessible as a

mountaintop. [2]

Skelton and Conventional Construction Methods

Even though the elevator now eliminated the hassle of stairs and allowed for growth of buildings the height of buildings was still limited because of the method of construction used. “In ordinary methods of building, the higher the wall the thicker it must be at its lower parts, a hefty area of a valuable lot in the tight inner-city must be surrendered to enormously thick walls” [3]. Architect William Le Baron Jenney was the first to use a load-bearing structural frame which supported the entire weight of the walls. This was the beginning of the “Steel Skeleton Construction” method of building. This development led to the construction of the first skyscraper being ten stories high. The Home Insurance Building in Chicago, built in 1885. Even though the building stood tall many people were scared and didn’t believe in the idea at all. Four years later an architect named Bradford Gilbert believed in the idea and designed the Tower Building in New York using the skeleton method. There were already buildings which were taller than the tower building however they were not built on block of land which seemed greatly inadequate. With the construction of the tower building Bradford Gilbert convinced people and architects in New York that this method of construction was feasible. The Skeleton method of construction solved the

problem of economizing space in the lower floors of high and narrow buildings and was used all over the world.

As land diminishes in the inner-city the tend is to build upwards. Lack of land in the inner city is great factor which limits the construction of high rise buildings. The skeleton method of construction helped solve this problem to a certain extent however with today’s knowledge and understanding the lack of land in the inner-city will always limit the height of construction.


There are still many limits which man has not yet surpassed, however as seen from this section of the report some inventions came along which completely changed the standard of construction. With the invention of the elevator the corporate world was turned on its head as tall buildings were now accessible and now the higher you go the more expensive it is, where as it used to be the opposite. The higher you went the cheaper it was. The skeleton method of construction revolutionised the construction world. It allowed for buildings to grow hundreds of metres in the air while using minimal area on the ground.

2.0 Technical Aspects Pertaining to the Limitations of High Rise Buildings

2.1 Introduction

High rise mega structures have forever plagued the thoughts of mankind, from the beginning of the technological age we have marvelled at our own achievements forever striving to build bigger, better and higher in an effort to reach for the stars. Tall buildings in modern society bestow many great attributes however as we continue to construct a more cumbersome empire of mega structures we will face many new technical obstacles to overcome.

2.2 Possible Risks

Many technical factors influence our ability to build greater structures. Environmental and human disasters such as; earthquakes, fires, hurricanes and terrorism supply great difficulty while scientific breakthroughs in materials, mechanics and methodology prove to be either impractical, ineffective or unachievable at this time [4].

External forces are a major concern we must face when designing our high rises. One of the most important concerns to consider when designing high rises is their ability to withstand lateral forces imposed by things like strong winds, hurricanes and earthquakes [5].

2.3 Strengths and Technologies

The strength of modern materials surprisingly is not a major factor in the development of high rise buildings. Steel is strong enough to support structures 10 km or taller while advanced composites can support structures much greater again. Certain mechanical implementations such as massive suspended tuned pendulum dampers can be utilised in tall buildings to counteract the environmental rigors of high wind and impending earthquakes [6].

High rises are not only a distinguishing symbol of prestige but they also prove to be excellent at accommodating a large mass of people in a relatively small area. In commercial terms this allows businesses to maintain close proximity with the central district of inner cities while reducing pressure on already densely populated urban localities [7].

2.4 Threat of Terrorism

As iconic and essential as these high rise structures may be, sometimes they can become the target of terrorism. One of the most historical events of this manner occurred on September 11th 2001 – When the World Trade Centres in the United States were demolished after airliners were hijacked and sent on suicide missions killing over 3000 people [8].

2.5 Conclusion

To overcome these problems various technical innovations such as; security cameras, vehicle detection equipment and computer identification checks can be utilised as well as organic, inorganic and metal x-ray detection systems. While technical defence and prevention systems such as these do help to prevent terrorism, modern security systems are still limited by current technologies.

3.0 The Involvement of both Engineering and Non-Engineering professions

3.1 Introduction

As this project will effect many individuals in the aspect of employment and work it is vitally important to specify who will be effected and how. Although a big project such as a high-rise building will provide a large scale of jobs, there is always the risk that the construction/finished project could permanently damage someone else’s business. As a result careful planning must be taken to ensure minimal harm is done to private business.

3.2 Engineering/Tradesmen Professions

High-rise buildings are great opportunities for steady work for hundreds of professions. Some of these professions include engineers, builders, architects and various tradesmen jobs. As the specific project looks to challenge the limited heights of high-rise buildings it can be assumed that it would provide a great deal of jobs throughout the construction and development. As this is a field of work which has been hit reasonably hard by the recent global economic crisis, this project would be greatly beneficial to the workers and contractors involved.

3.3 Non-Engineering Professions

Small business has an important role in local and regional economies, and collectively they contribute to the Australian economy. Many small businesses exist in inner city networks, which are areas prone to expansion and development, such as high-rise buildings. Many depend on easy access from roads as the primary means to transport goods and services and to link to other small businesses. Small businesses need to know about construction in the area which could impact on their profession [9].

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Before construction takes place it is the responsibility of the engineering company to ensure a community liaison contacts and notifies the surrounding businesses of the high-rise plans. It is also then the community liaisons task to answer any concerns or queries, as a result of development, regarding the businesses viability. These could include; loss of revenue, loss of customers, loss of/or restricted access for customers, disruptions to the delivery of goods and services, noise, visual and air pollution and lastly the potential for increased crime due to loss of visibility. It is vitally important to gain the support of private businesses, so any contact must be carefully planned first.

3.4 Construction and Development

During construction there is always the possibility of complaints regarding noise levels, obstruction and inconvenience. To ensure these matters are dealt with appropriately, engineering/construction firms provide adequate signage around the worksite referring the public as to whom to contact. Companies are also required to display signage before construction takes place, to allow time for any complaints or queries to be dealt with. By taking these steps engineering/construction companies can not be held accountable for any future complaints.

3.5 Conclusion

The construction of large high-rise buildings can have impacts on both engineering and non engineering professions. It is vital to take precautions, before initiating construction, to notify any and all non-engineering professions effected of the possible changes which will be taking place. For this reason liaisons must be employed to establish an effective working communication and to answer any concerns private business could have.

4.0 Social/ Cultural/ Indigenous Issues

4.1 Introduction

In every instance of construction it is vitally important to thoroughly cover the issue of public and cultural negotiations and communications. Careful precautions must be taken from the very start of planning the project, to ensure that everyone’s opinion is heard and concern answered. Both governmental and private corporations employ teams of people to guarantee that community engagement is correctly achieved.

4.2 Cultural Heritage Overview

A primary concern is that of cultural heritage, specifically towards indigenous peoples. Under that heritage protection act, engineering firms must take care that they do not damage or disturb any landscape that could be considered of indigenous importance.

Indigenous Australians make up for about 2.7 percent of the population (77.4% aboriginal and 22.6% Torres Strait islanders) [10]. Land and sea are very important to their cultures and connectivity to country is central to people’s lives. Legislation requires companies to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders on indigenous cultural heritage matters. When engaging with indigenous Australians, it is important to plan a communiqué before addressing the community. Past experiences with public officials has left many indigenous communities with a sense of frustration and powerlessness. As a result certain communities may not want be supportive and or cooperate with the company. The main steps in planning and engagement activity are imperative. Theses steps include, researching and knowing about the community, understanding its history and acknowledging their diversity and connection to land and sea.

4.3 Construction and Development

During the development and construction stage of the high-rise it is essential to make certain that no elements of indigenous importance are damaged. This is achieved by taking several precautionary measures. As Indigenous peoples have a right to oversee the project, a monitor, whose primary concern is recognizing and evaluating artifacts of importance must be hired. Indigenous Monitors have the authority to postpone and hold up projects for extended periods of time, until the landscape can be deemed safe to build on [11]. Another measure which must be taken under the Heritage Protection Act is notifying the Contractor that he or she shall be responsible for the management of indigenous cultural heritage artifacts while construction is underway. It is also the Contractors duties to ensure that all staff related to the project has attended a Cultural Heritage Induction Course.

4.4 Social/Community Issues

As well as being considerate to Indigenous peoples it is equally important to be considerate towards the general public. Before Building a High-Rise building it is the companies’ responsibility to notify the public that construction is going to be underway. This can be achieved using tools such as; flyers, TV advertisements, letterbox drop/direct mail and or website information. After the public has been properly alerted, they have the option to notify their city council about any concerns or complaints that they might have regarding the project.

4.5 Conclusion

Before commencing any construction project it is vital to deliver all necessary information to the key stakeholders and if possible gather their support. Adequate planning and preparation must be done before the project initiates and planning must be relevant to the community which is to be engaged. Care must also be taken to guarantee not to damage or violate any potential places of importance regarding indigenous Australians, during construction.

5.0 Ethical Limitations to High-Rise Buildings

5.1 Introduction

With today’s population only ever increasing the trend is to build upward. Throughout the planning and construction stages of high-rise buildings there are many limitations that affect the end products in which we see today. One of these limitations is the ethical issues involving high-rise building which revolve around the safety, the environment and the community. These issues must be carefully thought about and investigated before the building can begin.

5.2 Community

A limiting factor in the production of high-rises can often be the community. When plans go into council, the community also gets a say. Allowing the community to get a say in what goes ahead and what doesn’t can bring about large restrictions to high-rise buildings. Some issues that limit high-rise buildings, due to the community may include the use of the building and the look of the building. These two issues can become entwined in a communities decision making process, where depending on the ethical view point expressed by the community as a whole, these viewpoints include, Kantianism, Utilitarianism, human rights, environmental ethical. A community might take a utilitarianism point of view when approving a high-rise if the building does not fit the council guidelines although brings about beneficial use to the community. Some council departments have put in place restrictions on buildings to stop them being built past a certain height in order to keep a community in a certain manner. As stated in the Byron Environmental Planning and Assessment act 1979, Byron Local Environment plan 1988, [12] “The council must not consent to the erection of any building if the floor of the topmost floor level of the building exceeds 7.5 metres above the existing ground level, or, the vertical distance between the topmost part of the building and the existing ground level below exceeds 11.5 metres. This shows that Council departments have

5.3 Environmental Issues

When considering high-rise buildings the effects that the high-rise would have on the environment must be thoroughly investigated, as it would have limitations as to how high the building can go. The waste produced by the building as a day to day product will impact greatly on the environment. The higher the building is generally means the more people it can accommodate for, although with the number of people that would use the building rising, so does the waste they produce. With things such as rubbish and sewage it is important that there is adequate systems in place, where the building is going to be located that are able to deal with these issues. Such as that the sewers will be able to accommodate for the amount of sewage that is produced. Due to the amount of people that would use a high-rise building there is a lot of energy needed to keep the building running. This impacts on the environment as with the creation of energy comes the creation of green house gasses and the waste produced in making the energy. With the trend to build upward increasing, there are various strategies being invented and put into action to accommodate for the need for energy, these strategies are to limit the amount of environmental impact a building would have, there for allowing buildings to be built higher and higher. Studies have shown that through using energy conserving measures on a 20 story building can cut its energy consumption down to less than half its original usage. The issue with using these measures is that they often require some investment throughout the building stages, as materials can often cost more and take longer install, although in the long run would save owners and occupants of the building a lot of money. Taking a Utilitarianism view on this would allow the energy conserving measures to be put in place throughout construction, knowing that it would cost more but work out better in the end (end justifies the means). Where as Kantianism ethical views would possibly not put them in place as it would cost more throughout the building stages (means justifies the end). Plans are currently underway for extreme energy conservation measures in high-rise buildings, with a revolving tower planned to be built in Dubai see fig 5.31. This tower, powered by wind turbines, can not only generate enough energy to power itself but can also generate enough energy to power 10 other buildings similarly sized [13]. With such engineering advancements, in the future limits to high-rises caused by environmental ethical issues will be decreased. Although Personal ethical views often clash with environmental views, such as Energy generating high-rises versus wildlife reserve.

Fig 5.31 A computer generated image of the towers ability to physically move

5.4 Congestion Issues

One of the issues limiting high-rise buildings is congestion caused by the building. Most high-rises are planned to be built in already congested areas so whilst they are being built issues of space can impact on the construction of the building. As various cranes and machinery is necessary to construct them there must be adequate space to cater for such things. It is important that through the construction of high-rises that the effect on the public is kept to a minimum. Congestion can also be an issue once the building has been built such that various amounts of people may be trying to access the building, bringing in large amounts of traffic on the street. When the building is being designed it is necessary to make sure that building has adequate parking options to make sure it can accommodate for the influx of traffic that it would bring. There are also congestion problems with the amount of people that are around the building on a daily basis, footpaths and public transport must be able to accommodate for the influx of people on the already existing foot traffic. These issues must be accommodated for before the building is built and can often cause high-rises to be limited to how high they go, in certain areas.

5.5 Safety Issues

Safety can limit high-rise buildings throughout both the construction stages and once again when the building has been built. The safety of workers is highly important when building such large building and can also limit the height of the building. If something cannot be done safely then it should not be done. All workers have the right to refuse a job if they think it’s unsafe, this comes under the basic human rights ethic. When working with heights the risk level rises immensely, and all aspects need to be looked at to ensure the safety of both the works and the public around the construction site. Safety is a big concern in high rise building, when they are being designed they need to be designed to withstand various natural disasters, such as earthquakes, storms and floods. It is necessary to design a building to withstand or minimally destruct through these disasters. Even if doing so means that they are limited to how high they can stand. Because it is impossible to make high-rise buildings invincible, through the design process buildings are designed to keep their destruction to a minimal in the event of a disaster, this takes a Utilitarianism view, where actions are to be judged right or wrong solely on the virtue of their consequences, it would be better for a building get damaged in a disaster with human injury kept to a minimum. In 1978 shortly after construction the structural engineer behind the Citicorp building discovered a fatal floor in its design, realising that the building was vastly unsafe [14]. Whilst reviewing the design of the building in order to design one similar. This fatal floor was that the original butt weld designs used for the joints on the wind bracing system were replaced with a bolt design due to economic reason. After reviewing the forces that the joints were designed to withstand it was evident that they were only deigned to withstand a 16 year storm, whereas it was an understanding that the building was able to withstand a 50 year storm. William Le Messurier, of Cambridge, Mass., was lauded for his ethical conduct, as he proceeded to notify the architect, his client and the building owner that a remedial scheme must be undertaken immediately before the risk of high winds in the fall hurricane season in New York City. A solution was found and the building was brought up to scratch. See figure 5.51, it is evident that if this issue was not dealt with then if the building came down then it would have caused massive death and destruction. This shows good ethical decision making and a utilitarianism point of view. Safety often limits high-rise buildings, if correct ethical guidelines are not followed throughout the design and construction then it can often result in death and destruction.

Fig 5.51 City Corp Building Circled in Red

5.6 Conclusion

In conclusion it is evident that there are many Ethical issues limiting the construction of high-rise buildings. These issues can come from a range of reasons such as the community, environment, congestion and safety. It is through good ethical principles used by Engineers in today’s society that these issues can be overcome and accommodated for in order to brake the boundary’s that are holding our high-rises down, whilst still keeping everyone happy.

6.0 Economical issues associated with high rise buildings

6.1 Introduction

High rise buildings are typically commercial, or residential. When building a high-rise building there are certain economical issues that arise, such issues are, Business, Financial, Health and Political just to name a few, this can be described as economic imperialism.

6.2 Business Economics

Business economics, is closely linked to the economy, for a high-rise building to be made the business would be looking into making it in a city area rather than making one in a rural area, this is because not many people live in a rural area and getting jobs filled for the business can hinder the business growth of a high-rise. High-rise buildings are a standout and might be targeted by terrorists. A huge building being destroyed could have a major impact on the local business economy for example The World Trade Centre was a target for a terrorist attack. Another business factor into building a residential high-rise (apartments) would be the amount of people seeking accommodation [15]. The business economy relies on people consuming the product whether it be insurance or accommodation etc. Therefore this means building a high-rise building will create allot of jobs and boost the local economy a bit, if the product that is being sold is not in demand i.e. The high-rise is an accommodation hotel built in a rural area with little visitors. The Business will lose money and eventually go bust. Therefore the business limits of the size of the high-rise are limited by the economy.

6.3 Financial Economics

Financial economics is the allocation and deployment of economic resources, both spatially and across time, in an uncertain environment [16]. What this means is the way the resources of a company are spent to increase business is always a risk and the financial decisions made will have an affect over time on a business. The need to spend money to make money. For some companies that are investing in the future look into building a high-rise as a financial risk. Finance is the biggest limiting factor when building as high-rise out of all economical factors. This is because high-rise buildings cost allot of money to build, and once built allot of money to maintain. FMV(future monetary value), the nominal future sum of money that a given sum of money is “worth” at a specified time in the future assuming a certain interest rate, or more generally, rate of return, it is the present value multiplied by the accumulation function. Knowledge of the future can reduce, or possibly eliminate, the uncertainty of FMV. When building a high-rise they cost a lot of money to a business and are generally a risk that is made to increase asset value, knowledge of the future will decrease the risk associated with building a high-rise. One such knowledge is the height of the high-rise. Another financial burden is safety, and implementing safety in a high-rise building can be very costly, and the cost to maintain safety is costly. With safety comes the cost of security to prevent such things like attacks. Security/safety can have a direct impact on the financial future as they are an ongoing cost.

6.4 Health Economics

Health economics is a branch of economics concerned with issues related to scarcity in allocation of health and health care. In broad terms, health economists study the functioning of the health care system and the private and social causes of health-affecting behaviours such as smoking. Health economics is mostly concerned with ethics, it is not ethical to have no health/safety at a high-rise. Health can limit high-rises by a fair bit, as it financially costs money to maintain the health of the employees/patrons. When building a high-rise it is very dangerous and many safety precautions must be implemented. People can die when building a high-rise, ethically this can have a big impact of the building of the high-rise if one worker was to be killed on the work site [17]. Health also requires a safe work environment for the employees, therefore a fire safety and other measures such as security need to be implemented, and these have a direct impact on the future income of the high-rise. Disability measures must be taking for disable people, this means elevators and/or alternative steps etc. Lastly a big cost is toilet facilities, the cost to maintain and to implement toilet facilities is a very costly process and one of the top costs this therefore limits high-rise buildings due to financial costs.

6.5 Political Economics

Public choice in economic theory is the use of modern economic tools to study problems that are tradictionally in the province of political science. From the perspective of political science, it may be seen as the subset of positive political theory which deals with subjects in which material interests are assumed to predonminte. Basically this means that political economy is mainly concerned with the behaviour of politicians and government officials. To build a high-rise it first must be approved by officials, then the height of the building may be limited by the officials to. A high-rise is a generally a very tall building and if the local


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