The global boom in skyscrapers—why it’s happening now, how they’re made, and what they do to cities and people.
We are living in a new urban age, and its most tangible expression is the “supertall”: megastructures that are dramatically bigger, higher, and more ambitious than any in history.
Cities around the world are racing to build the first mile-high building, stretching the limits of engineering and design as never before.
In this fascinating work of urban history and design, TED resident Stefan Al—himself an experienced architect—explores the factors that have led to this worldwide boom. He reveals the marvelous and underappreciated feats of engineering that make today’s supertalls a reality, from double-decker elevators that silently move up to 50 miles per hour to the sophisticated blend of polymers and steel fibers that enables concrete to withstand 8,000 tons of pressure per square meter. Taking readers behind the scenes of the building and design of remarkable megastructures, both from the past (the Empire State Building, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower) and the present (Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, London’s Shard, Shanghai Tower), Al demonstrates the impact of these innovations.
Yet while the supertall is undoubtedly a testament to great technological victories, it can come at an environmental and social cost. Focusing on four global cities—London, New York, Hong Kong, and Singapore—Al examines the risks of wealth inequality, carbon emissions, and contagion that stem from supertalls. And he uncovers the latest innovations in sustainable building, from skyscrapers made of wood to tree-covered buildings, that promise to yield a better urban future.
Featuring more than thirty architectural drawings, Supertall is both a fascinating exploration of our greatest accomplishments and a powerful argument for a more equitable way forward.
About the Author
Stefan Al, who holds a PhD in urban planning from the University of California, Berkeley, is the author of The Strip: Las Vegas and the Architecture of the American Dream, among other works. Originally from the Netherlands, he is a licensed architect in New York.
A thoughtful inquiry into the new generations of skyscrapers…There is a lot of rich history here, well and concisely told (and illustrated with superb line drawings, a refreshing change). — Paul Goldberger - New York Times Book Review
The sheer volume of calculation required to build and keep [supertalls] aloft and functioning is astounding. Al...explains these esoteric technical challenges in lucid fashion...[T]he story of what’s come about in the age of the supertall is gripping. — Anthony Paletta - Wall Street Journal
An informative introduction to supertalls and the global cities where they rise above the skyline. — Kirkus Reviews
In Supertall, Stefan Al turns the jumbled skylines of our biggest cities into a powerful story of human possibility. Looking to both past and future, this astonishing synthesis reveals how skyscrapers have made us who we are and can help us become who we want to be.
— Andrew Blum, best-selling author of Tubes and The Weather Machine
Lighter concrete, faster elevators, and even faster-growing cities are part of the formula architect Stefan Al lays out in this foundational book. Rather than describing the latest supertall skyscrapers, he shows us what makes them possible and why cities and companies think they are necessary. Mixing personal experience, history lessons, and explanations of technology that are clear and simple, Al's book shows how and why a new generation of skyscrapers is now under construction around the world. — Aaron Betsky, author of Architecture Matters
Stefan Al draws on the exhilarating history of skyscrapers and his own work as an architect for some of the iconic Supertall structures that are transforming cities around the globe. He then warns us about the environmental and socioeconomic repercussions of this recent phenomenon. The result is a fascinating and necessary book. — Gwendolyn Wright, author of USA: Modern Architectures in History and Professor Emerita, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University