x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

The instant expert: Skyscrapers

This week, the instant expert casts an eye over the history of the skyscraper.

Float through any social event with M's fast facts. This week Rick Arthur looks at the history of the skyscraper, and at some of the innovative and famous designs in the UAE.

THE BASICS, PART ONE A skyscraper, we can agree, simplistically, is a tall building of many storeys - a very tall building, according to Oxford Dictionaries, employing the imprecise modifier. In fact, there are no official criteria on what qualifies a building as a skyscraper.

THE BASICS, PART TWO "Skyscraper" was first a nautical term meaning a small triangular sail above the skysail on a sailing ship. It was applied to buildings of steel-framed construction of at least 10 storeys in the late 19th century, when the public went bonkers at the amazing structures that were going up in such US cities as Chicago, New York, Detroit and St Louis.

THE BREAKTHROUGHS High-rise design and construction became possible thanks to several technological innovations in the late 1800s. Notable were the ability to mass produce steel, the invention of safe and efficient elevators, and the better techniques for measuring and analysing structural loads and stresses. Later, electric arc welding also made the building process easier and more efficient.

THE PINNACLE In 1931, the Empire State Building rose in New York City like a 381-metre exclamation point to the previous four decades of development. It would stay the world's tallest office building for 41 years, and provide a perch from which King Kong could swat at airplanes.

IN THE UAE Listing and describing all the iconic skyscrapers in the UAE would take up more space than the M magazine editor parsimoniously allots to the Instant Expert, so let's stick with the obvious three: the Burj Khalifa, the Burj Al Arab and the Aldar disc. Read on, and we'll hit some heights.

A TALL ACHIEVEMENT The magnificent centrepiece of Downtown Dubai, the Burj Khalifa soars more than 828 metres and more than 160 storeys. It is not only the tallest building in the world but also the planet's tallest structure and the tallest free-standing structure. Its light, music and water show is out of this world, and the view from the observation deck on the 124th floor is not to be missed. Oh, and Tom Cruise thinks dangling from the Burj is just dandy.

SAILING INTO HISTORY Shaped like a billowing sail and six years in the making, the 56-storey Burj Al Arab in Dubai put the UAE on the world map when it opened in 1999. The imposing and unmistakable tower that rises 321 metres over Al Sufouh is supported by 250 reinforced concrete pile foundations that were driven 40 metres into the seabed.

SLIM AND CIRCULAR The headquarters of the property developer Aldar in Al Raha Beach in Abu Dhabi rises 26 storeys in an improbable giant disc standing on its side. The spectacular building on a concrete plinth in the desert has more than 3,000 panes of glass.

ANOTHER UAE TITBIT The 77-storey Chrysler Building - the famed art deco New York icon that is one of the city's most admired landmarks - is 90 per cent owned by the Abu Dhabi Investment Council.

ONE MORE UAE TITBIT The 50-storey General Motors Building - another crown jewel of the Manhattan skyline - is 40 per cent owned by Meraas Capital, a Dubai private equity firm.

THE DISSENTING OPINION Skyscrapers, many environmentalists say, block sunlight, create unnatural updrafts, trap air pollution, and require vast amounts of energy and materials to build and operate. But since they're not going to suddenly disappear, make them as "green" as possible, says the eco-architect Ken Yeang.


'Skyscrapers' that are not buildings

THE POEM The US author Carl Sandburg lyrically captured the elevators, the tubes, the wires, the iron pipes, the girders and more as "the skyscraper looms in the smoke and sun and has a soul" in one of the offerings in Chicago Poems, his famous 1916 book.

THE SONG The American actress and pop singer Demi Lovato released this tearjerker in 2011. Part of the chorus: Go on and try to tear me down/I will be rising from the ground/Like a skyscraper, like a skyscraper.

THE ONLINE MAGAZINE Best known for its reviews of new music and interviews with artists, the zine also covers film, television, books, comics, visual art and more. Founded in 1998 and based in Boulder, Colorado in the US, it was a print quarterly until 2009.

THE FILM This 1996 cheesy rip-off of Die Hard starred the late Anna Nicole Smith (whose acting abilities ran the gamut from A to B) as a helicopter pilot. It went straight to video.

THE VIDEO GAMES There are several, including the wonderfully named Panic in the Skyscraper and Inside a Dead Skyscraper. The Instant Expert likes City Bloxx, included on many a mobile phone.