Written by Kara Lee
Kara is currently on a co-op term at Science World, working as a Science Facilitator. She is majoring in Psychology at UBC, as well as earning her Master of Management Degree at the Sauder School of Business. When she is not studying or working, she is travelling the world or discovering new eateries!

Created date

Thursday, March 16, 2017 - 5:37pm

How To Build a Skyscraper

What does it take to build a mega-tall building like the Burj Khalifa in Dubai?

First of all, did you know that there is a difference between a skyscraper and a tower? A skyscraper is a building, and a building is designed to be a habitable space. A skyscraper is a building made of many stories. Unlike a building, a tower is simply a structure that is taller than it is wide. A tower is not built to be habitable, but may be used for other functions.

This is why you will not see towers such as the Tokyo Skytree or the CN Tower on the list of the tallest buildings in the world.

How to Build a Skyscraper

If I were to build a skyscraper, where would I start?

Well, besides needing a ton of money, I would have to consider the following:


  • The structure must be strong enough to support its great weight.
  • A skyscraper must be able to resist strong winds and earthquakes.
  • Special safety features need to be considered, like fire prevention and easy evacuation.
  • A skyscraper needs to be conveniently accessible for all.
  • Various utilities must be available. 

Building a skyscraper requires the knowledge and skills of, not only engineers and architects, but developers, economists, marketers and many others! 

There is no exact method to building skyscrapers, but here is a general guideline

Raw Materials

We build most skyscrapers with, either reinforced concrete (common in Vancouver), or steel beams and columns. Reinforced concrete is, basically, concrete poured around steel rods throughout the entire building. The steel rods provide added strength to the concrete, so the building can withstand any bending motion caused by the wind.

Reinforced concrete, or steel beams and columns, act as the skeleton of the skyscraper.

Beyond the bare bones, many other materials are used to cover the skyscraper’s internal structure and make it look pretty—such as glass, drywall, aluminum, granite and marble.


The first thing you might notice about a skyscraper is its impressive exterior, soaring into the sky. However, beneath the shiny glass and fancy looks, all skyscrapers are feats of engineering.  

The main thing that engineers must consider is the force of the wind. Since the force of the wind affects a skyscraper more than the weight of it, engineers must ensure that the skyscraper will not topple by a strong wind or sway enough to cause occupants discomfort.

Did you know that it is normal, and expected, for skyscrapers to sway a few feet? In fact, if you were on the highest floor of the Burj Khalifa, you could feel the building slowly sway back and forth, about two metres!

But, don’t worry! The building design allows for this movement so, despite your mind telling you otherwise, you would be completely safe. In fact, models of mega-tall skyscrapers are tested in wind tunnels to examine the effects of strong winds. They also test the effects of changed wind patterns, caused by a new skyscraper, on the existing buildings in the area.

Construction Process

The substructure, or the part of the building that is below the ground, is the first thing to be built. This will support the building above and it is the most critical component. A building must have a strong foundation in order for the rest of it to stand up against the elements.

The superstructure comes next. This is the above ground portion—the storeys of the building. The exterior walls enclose the building by attaching panels of materials like metal, glass and stone to the structure’s framework.

Finally, the interior consists of all the typical utilities a building would include, such as toilets, lighting and heating systems. Interior design also accentuates the elegance of the skyscraper. 

Did you know that it took up to 12,000 construction workers to build the Burj Khalifa? It took about 22 million person-hours to complete. That’s a lot of hours!

So, the next time you come across a skyscraper, think about all the knowledge, planning, organization, and people needed to make it happen. Without all that, you would just be staring at the sky.

Curious about building stuff? Join us now until March 26, for Maker Break, our spring break Tinkering Space.



I would like to be an

I would like to be an Architect. Ian. From Mexico how can I vist. This expo and the price please

Hi Yady, see our hours and

Hi Yady, see our hours and rates page for more visitor info:http://www.scienceworld.ca/hoursrates

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