The Stories Behind 11 Iconic Skyscrapers

iStock
iStock

You may have snaked through a long line of fellow tourists to trek to the observation deck for a breathtaking view from the top of the city, but do you know the stories behind many of the world's most iconic skyscrapers? In honor of Skyscraper Day, we've stacked up some of the details.

1. WILLIS TOWER // CHICAGO

In 1969 the world’s largest retailer, Sears Roebuck and Company, decided they needed an office space for their roughly 350,000 employees. Four years, 2000 workers, and enough concrete to build an eight-lane, five-mile highway later, the 110-story Sears Tower was complete. (In 1988, Sears moved out of the building; 21 years later it was renamed the Willis Tower after global insurance broker Willis Group Holdings.) As a memorable finishing touch, 12,000 construction workers, Chicagoans, and Sears employees signed the building’s final beam.

2. BANK OF CHINA TOWER // HONG KONG

When famed Chinese architect I.M. Pei was tasked with designing this 70-story structure, he was dealt a number of challenges. He needed to craft a tall building (it stands at 1209 feet) in a typhoon zone and create a design that was pleasing to local residents. His masterpiece—opened in 1990 after a five-year construction—is supported by five steel columns meant to resist high-velocity winds, and is inspired by bamboo shoots, which symbolize strength and prosperity.

3. CHRYSLER BUILDING // NEW YORK CITY

A mere 11 months after it gained the title of tallest building in the world in 1930—thanks to the last minute addition of a 186-foot spire—this art deco wonder surrendered its title to the Empire State Building. But it has long been known as one of the world’s prettiest structures. When automobile tycoon Walter P. Chrysler took over financing, he strove to add glamour to New York’s East Side. The design already featured a multi-story section of glass corners and a stainless steel crown, but he requested the addition of eagle-esque gargoyles designed like the hood ornaments on his cars.

4. THE GHERKIN // LONDON

London's The Gherkin, 30 St. Mary Axe
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Known informally as "The Gherkin" for its pickle-esque shape, 30 St. Mary Axe was dreamed up after a 1992 explosion in London’s financial district destroyed the Baltic Exchange building. Plans for the original design—the much taller Millennium Tower—were scrapped for fear it could affect air traffic into the Heathrow Airport and the sightlines of St. Paul’s Dome. It turns out that the pickled inspiration was a winner; when the cylindrical building opened in 2004, it gained quick notoriety, and was soon used as a symbol for London on bid posters for the 2012 Olympic Games.

5. PETRONAS TWIN TOWERS // KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA

The world’s tallest twin towers (88 floors each) were completed in 1996 after a three-year build. The steel-and-glass façade was created to reflect elements found in Islamic art, while the sky bridge—between the towers’ 41st and 42nd floors—was crafted with safety in mind. It’s not bolted to the main structure, but rather designed to be able to slide in and out of the buildings to keep it from snapping during high winds.

6. HOTEL & CASINO GRAND LISBOA // MACAU, CHINA

When crafting this 58-floor hotel and casino, the Hong Kong architects didn’t take any chances. The $385 million structure, which opened in 2008, was built to resemble a bottleneck—the idea being that it would keep any cash from leaking out, according to feng shui. The outlandish exterior, meanwhile, was intended to look like a combination of crystals, fireworks and the plumes of a Brazilian headdress—all thought to symbolize prosperity.

7. EMPIRE STATE BUILDING // NEW YORK CITY

For four decades, the famed Manhattan skyscraper held tight to the distinction of being the world’s tallest. (It was eclipsed by the World Trade Center towers in 1972.) But the $41 million structure—featured in movies such as King Kong (1933) and Sleepless in Seattle (1993)—also scored another record: It was built in just one year and 45 days, the quickest for a building of its size. Each week, 3000 workers erected four-and-a-half new floors.

8. SHANGHAI WORLD FINANCE CENTER // PUDONG, SHANGHAI

This 101-floor behemoth was built to withstand destruction. There are fireproof floors, wind dampeners, and a glass skin to protect against lightning. (It can reportedly survive a magnitude 8 earthquake.) The building has also weathered adversity. Slated for construction in 1997, progress was delayed due to the Asian financial crisis before it was finally completed in 2008. And the initial design, which featured a circular opening at the top rather than the now rectangular one, had to be reconfigured when critics complained it too closely resembled the rising sun on the Japanese flag.

9. TAIPEI 101 // TAIPEI, TAIWAN

Fashioned to resemble a growing bamboo stalk—a Chinese sign of everlasting strength—this $1.8 billion building boasts two records. When it was opened in 2004 (construction took five years), it was the first skyscraper to surpass the half-kilometer mark. It also claims the title of fastest passenger elevator. After boarding on the fifth floor, riders reach the 89th floor observation deck in a speedy 37 seconds.

10. CN TOWER // TORONTO, CANADA

In a bid to demonstrate the strength of Canadian industry, railway company Canadian National set out to build the tallest tower in the world. For 40 months, 1537 workers toiled 24 hours a day, five days week, reaching completion in April 1975. (A 10-ton helicopter dubbed "Olga" was commissioned to bolt the 44 pieces of the antenna in place.) In 1995, the American Society of Civil Engineers deemed it one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, but 15 years later, its height was surpassed by China’s Canton Tower.

11. BURJ KHALIFA // DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

At 2716 feet (more than twice the height of the Empire State Building!) and half a million tons, the gleaming desert structure holds a number of records. Among them: tallest building in the world and the tallest freestanding structure. The $1.5 billion, state-of-the-art mega skyscraper was designed by the same firm that dreamt up the Willis Tower and New York’s One World Trade Center, and it opened in 2010 after six years of work. The opening ceremony featured a light and water effects show and some 10,000 fireworks!

All images via iStock.

This article originally ran in 2016.

Shanghai Is Now Home to the World’s Longest 3D-Printed Bridge

World's largest 3D-printed bridge in Shanghai, China.
World's largest 3D-printed bridge in Shanghai, China.
Tsinghua University

Small items like toys and shoes aren't the only things 3D printers can make. As a team of architects from China's Tsinghua University School of Architecture recently demonstrated, the machines can be used to print sturdy bridges large enough to span waterways.

As dezeen reports, at 86 feet in length, the new pedestrian bridge on a canal in Shanghai's Baoshan District is the longest 3D-printed bridge on Earth. Designed by the university's Zoina Land Joint Research Center for Digital Architecture (JCDA) and constructed by Shanghai Wisdom Bay Investment Management Company, it consists of 176 concrete units. The parts were printed from two robotic-arm 3D-printing systems over 19 days.

The 3D-printing technology cut down on costs as well as construction time. According to Tsinghua University, the project cost just two-thirds of what it would have using conventional materials and engineering methods.

Even though their approach was futuristic, the architecture team paid homage to a much older bridge in a different part of the country. The new bridge's arched structure is inspired by that of the 1400-year-old Anji Bridge in Zhaoxian, the oldest standing bridge in China (and the world's oldest open-spandrel arch bridge).

The bridge in Shanghai may be the longest 3D-printed bridge in the world, but it isn't the first. Last year, a 3D-printed steel bridge was unveiled in Amsterdam.

[h/t dezeen]

A Clue on the Ceiling of Grand Central Terminal Shows How Dirty It Was 30 Years Ago

iStock.com/undercrimson
iStock.com/undercrimson

The mural above the concourse at Grand Central Terminal is one of the most gawked-at ceilings in New York City, but even daily commuters may have missed a peculiar feature. Tucked at the edge of the green and gold constellations is a rectangular black mark. The apparent blemish didn't get there by mistake: As Gothamist explains in its new series WHY?, it was left there by restorers when the ceiling was cleaned more than 20 years ago.

Prior to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's renovation of Grand Central in the 1990s, the concourse was a lot dirtier. The station itself was constructed in Manhattan in the early 1900s, and the celestial scene that's on the ceiling today was painted there in the 1940s. It took only a few decades for tobacco smoke and other pollutants to stain the mural so badly that it needed to be restored.

Using Simple Green-brand cleaning solution and cotton rags, conservators spent two years scrubbing nearly every inch of the ceiling back to its former glory; the one part they skipped was a 9-inch-by-18-inch patch in the northwest corner. Sometimes, when doing a major cleaning project, preservationists will leave a small sample of the art or artifact untouched. If the cleaning products did any damage to the paint, the patch gives future preservationists something to compare it to. It also acts as a snapshot of what the mural looked like in its old condition.

To hear more about the mural and its dirty secret, watch the video from Gothamist below.

[h/t Gothamist]

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