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Tall Tech Showdown: Empire State Building v. Burj Khalifa

Tall Tech Showdown:
Empire State Building v. Burj Khalifa

by KELLY ZIGNOS LIV, FieldLens | May 13, 2015

Skyscrapers tell a good story. Not only do they help define city skylines, they tell us something about the technology available to builders when those skyscrapers were built. Seeing as the Empire State Building just celebrated its 84th anniversary, I'm taking a look at the technology that made it possible, and comparing it to the Burj Khalifa, currently the world’s tallest building.

Empire State Building

With 102 stories, the Empire State Building was the world’s tallest for 40 years, until it was deposed by the World Trade Center in 1972. The general contractor won the bid because they included custom building equipment designed specifically for that project. Steel-frame construction, fairly new at the time, allowed for a building to sustain more weight – but this GC took things a step further. Empire State Building construction was one of the earliest uses of prefabricated steel – all pieces were manufactured in a steel mill and then sent to the site, where they were put into place using a ‘hot rivet’ method.

Another first employed on the Empire State Building was the practice of fast-track construction (building before designs are finalized to reduce delays). Once steel went in, the building went up at a rate of about a story each day, a pace unheard of at the time. Bricks were not carried onsite one by one as they were on other construction projects; rather, mass quantities were delivered to various parts of the site at once via a chute designed by the GC.

Of all the stories and legends told about how the Empire State Building was built, the message that remains a marvel to contractors of yesterday and today was the builder’s ability to be completely efficient. Scheduled to be built in a record-breaking 18 months, the Empire State Building took only 13 months to build. Assembly line-style work was applied—as industrialism was fairly new—and it worked. Trades were given a strict schedule, and they barely deviated. As a result the project came in under budget and ahead of schedule. How often do you hear that today?

This short video is a unique look at the inside of the Empire State Building:

burj Khalifa

Recently completed at 163 stories, Burj Khalifa took 6 years to build. It is currently the world’s tallest building, and holds several more world records including highest outdoor observation deck and tallest elevator. The height of the elevator owes itself to advances in the materials used to make elevator cables. On top of that, the project team boasts the highest installation of aluminum and glass. Due to Dubai’s desert climate, special anti-reflective glass was used to offset the sun’s intensity.

A new structural system called a buttressed core was developed by the project’s engineers to support the unprecedented height of the building. This consists of a hexagonal core reinforced by three buttresses that form the ‘Y’ shape. This enables the building to support itself laterally. In addition, because of the building’s great height, it had to undergo 40 wind-tunnel tests. Ultimately, the design of the building ‘confuses’ the wind, to prevent it from creating damaging vortexes that constantly batter the exterior. Using BIM technology, developers were able to plan for maximum efficiencies to ensure water use, heating and cooling run at optimal levels.

If you have time, this National Geographic video on building the Burj Khalifa is well-worth viewing:

Which tower Wins?

The fact is an architectural marvel is impressive, no matter what. But there’s something about reviewing the technology applied to historic buildings that’s utterly awe inspiring. Aren’t you equally, if not more, impressed by the builders of the great pyramids of Giza, using then-new technology of pulleys and ramps as you are with the Burj Khalifa’s breathtaking height? The race to build the world’s next tallest building is already underway, using several new building technologies sure to amaze the world.

The author is public relations & marketing manager for NYC-based FieldLens. Before joining the software startup, she was a publicist for such authors as Hillary Clinton, the Dalai Lama, architect Toyo Ito, Charles Saatchi, Dieter Rams, and more. Having grown up with a grandfather, father, and brother all owning industrial painting and concrete firms, her family ties to construction now come full circle in her role with FieldLens.

See the original post on the FieldLens Building Better Blog here.

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