What Does it Take to Build a High Rise?

In our last article, When Construction Projects Go Wrong, we showed just what can happen when the proper amount of forethought and consideration doesn’t get followed through on a construction project. 

When you are working on skyscraper construction and the world’s tallest buildings, you really have to do all of your homework. Teams of people have to move together like a colony of ants, all working toward the same goal.

Fortunately, this happens like a well oiled machine most of the time, and we end up with some beautiful and functional structures that stand the test of time.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at just how those processes are put into place in order to make a high rise building come to life, including differences between a typical steel structure and high rise timber structures.

What is a High Rise Building?

The definition for a high-rise building according to Section 202 of the 2021 International Building Code (IBC) is a building with an occupied floor more than 75 feet or 22,860 mm above the lowest level of fire department vehicle access.

75 feet is roughly about 7 stories, with a 10 foot allowance per floor. This can vary among architects, of course. Some may make each floor larger, but they cannot make a floor with a ceiling height of less than 7 feet, 6 inches.

How are High Rise Buildings Made?

Depending on the size of the high rise, there are a few different options for how they get built. The smaller the building, the less weight, which changes how the skeleton of the building will be built. When you have a giant building, you need more support structures in the ground, going throughout the building, and below the building.

Not all high rise buildings are that tall. 

Start with the Foundation

We touched on the foundations and requirements for building a skyscraper, where we discussed just how much material goes into creating those monster buildings, but there’s a lot more to it.

Skyscrapers are a type of high rise building. Generally, skyscrapers are high rise buildings with 40-50 floors (or more) and because of these heights, weight of these buildings are dramatically increased so huge foundations are created and poured with concrete and steel frames. 

Giant girder grids made from metal beams, set end to end. These are used for horizontal levels while vertical columns are constructed for height. Sometimes, these get additional support from diagonal beams. This system is called a super structure and it is the steel skeleton that actually helps us make buildings so tall.

Not all high rise buildings require this much effort, however.

Adding Elevators

When you add more floors, you have more people in the building. When you have more people, you have the need to add elevators in order to get everyone to the top floors, especially when we’re discussing skyscrapers. However, even smaller buildings benefit from elevators, because who wants to walk ten flights of stairs to get to the office everyday?

The required number of elevators depends on a number of items. You have to consider how many floors the building will have and how many people will be in the building. 

But with the addition of elevator shafts and stairways for the people, you lose some occupiable space. For this reason (and many others) blueprints are created first and approved before building ever begins.

Avoiding the Force of the Wind

One obstacle to overcome with high rises is the wind. We can’t just stop the wind. And did you know that as you get higher in the air, the stronger the wind is? 

Because of this, architects and engineers have had to consider this when building skyscrapers and other high rises. Since we can’t control the wind, builders must work around it. Not every building is created equal and some aren’t as aerodynamic as others. 

Some buildings are created to be more forgiving this way, but even then, sometimes there are unintended consequences, such as moving wind toward the street, funneling it where it wasn’t a problem before. This happened in London with their “walkie talkie centre”, which we talked about in our last article.

Because of these incidents, architects and engineers sometimes rely on the shape of the building, placements of windows, balconies, and even entrances, to help catch the wind and slow it down. Some of these designers even go so far as to build models and place them in a wind tunnel to determine what might happen before the building ever gets started.

What is ‘Mass Timber’?

Timber construction - being labeled as “mass timber” – is becoming more popular, with more than double the number of planned commercial timber buildings from 2019 to 2021 in the United States.

So what is Mass Timber? It’s been defined as “wood that is glued and pressed in special ways to make it similar in strength to concrete and steel and thus capable of replacing those building materials even for skyscrapers and other massive edifices," says the Wall Street Journal.

Possible Client highlight link: (https://nabholz.com/blog/industry-news/cross-laminated-timber-project-america-nabholz/)

Mass timber – or Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) - also has some major advantages worthy of noting:

  • Particularly, buildings created in this way are also more sustainable, used alongside responsible forestation practices.
  • These buildings are much more carbon footprint friendly than their concrete and steel counterparts.
  • Can take up to 25% less time to construct than other, typical structural systems.
  • They are more energy efficient as the timber is less sensitive to temperature changes.

How are Timber High Rise Buildings Made?

The construction process for a timber high rise building varies slightly from other buildings, but is similar in others.

These sturdy wood buildings still require a concrete and steel foundation, especially if they are taller, making them heavier (they can be up to 18 stories according to new 2021 International Building Codes). However, the engineered wood can be used for floors, walls, ceilings, beams, posts, and more.

In fact, in a recent study by Ohio State and a top rated engineering firm in Chicago, it was found that their CLT and concrete structural flooring system could actually withstand the pressure of roughly a 10-foot deep swimming pool, or 82,000 pounds, which exceeds requirements for construction.

And while the United States is catching up to the United Kingdom in how many timber high rise buildings we have, it’s a trend that is catching on very quickly, as seen in this report from June 2022 showing 4 buildings already under construction or built in Oklahoma with another in planning.

So in the not too distant future, you may very well get to watch as one of these timber towers is built in a city close to you.

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