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Skyscrapers

By Jerilyn WatsonMost of the world's tall buildings, called skyscrapers, are in the United States. They provide space for offices, eating places, homes and hotels. I'm Steve Ember.And I'm Shirley Griffith. The story of skyscrapers is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

The first skyscrapers were built in the United States. As early as the Eighteen-Eighties, two new technical developments made these taller buildings possible. One development was the mechanical elevator. It meant that people would not have to climb many steps to reach the upper floors of tall buildings. Elevators could carry them quickly to the top floors.

The development of steel also helped make taller buildings possible. Walls of stone, concrete and other materials had supported earlier buildings. But such walls were too heavy for a truly tall building. Pieces of steel, however, could help form a strong skeleton for a tall building. The steel frame was strong enough to support the building. Walls could be made of glass or other thin materials. Today, most skyscrapers have steel frames with glass or metal walls connected to them.The first skyscraper was built in Chicago, Illinois in Eighteen-Eighty-Five. It was the Home Insurance Building. It was almost fifty-five meters tall. By the early Nineteen-Hundreds, skyscrapers were rising in all large American cities, especially in New York.

The world's most famous skyscraper was built there in Nineteen-Thirty-One. The Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world for more than forty years. It is still one of the most popular. Each year, more than three-million visitors to New York City ride an elevator to the top of the Empire State Building. They stand outdoors in a special observation area almost three-hundred-eighty meters above the ground. From there, they can see all of the city of New York far below.By the Nineteen-Fifties, most big American businesses had their headquarters in skyscrapers. The goal was to keep all employees of the same company together. By the Nineteen-Sixties and early Nineteen-Seventies, almost every skyscraper looked the same. They were like boxes with flat tops and square sides. The buildings were made of glass, steel and concrete.

European architects invented this simple design. It is called the International Style. They wanted to create buildings for working people. They wanted buildings that were simple and expressed the idea that all people were equal. But after a while, architects and other people became tired of buildings that looked like boxes. They said that too many of them made a city look ugly.Today, architects are designing many unusual and interesting skyscrapers. Some architects use elements of past, classical architecture in their skyscrapers. For example, they might use tall stone columns like those of Greek temples in a new skyscraper.

Some recent skyscrapers rise up from the ground in long, wide curves. Some are round, rising into the air like a steel pipe. Others have uneven shapes, with walls of different sizes. Architects also use different building materials to make skyscrapers more beautiful and interesting. They use granite and other kinds of stone to add color to the newest tall buildings. Colored glass also has become popular in skyscrapers.Many skyscrapers provide space for offices, apartment homes, stores, and hotels. Some have eating places, sports clubs and other businesses. Some have so much space and provide so many activities that they are like small cities. One example is the World Trade Center in New York City. It was built in Nineteen-Seventy-Three. It occupies six and one-half hectares. The Center includes two buildings that are more than four-hundred-ten meters tall. They once were the tallest buildings in the world.

About fifty-thousand people work in the World Trade Center. About seventy-thousand other people visit the two buildings every day.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))New York City has more skyscrapers than any other city in the world. So it seems natural that a skyscraper museum was organized there in Nineteen-Ninety-Six. It probably is the world's first museum of its kind. It was developed to show visitors tall buildings of the past, present and future. The museum explains the history, design, building and operation of skyscrapers. The museum's managers suggest people should see the museum before visiting other areas of New York.

For several years, the Skyscraper Museum has had no permanent home. First, it was in a building on the famous financial street called Wall Street. Then it moved two more times.By the end of this year, the museum will have a permanent home. It will occupy space on the first level of a hotel and apartment building currently being built. Naturally enough, the Skyscraper Museum's new home will be a New York City skyscraper.

The museum will express a modern spirit in its new building. Mirrors in the exhibit area will give a feeling of unlimited space. Visitors may be given special shoes to wear to walk on the steel floors. An official jokes that the visitors will help clean the floors this way.After New York, Chicago, Illinois has the second largest number of skyscrapers. Until recently, it also had the tallest building in the world, the Sears Tower. It is four-hundred-forty-three meters tall. But in Nineteen-Ninety-Seven, two taller buildings were completed. They are the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. They are four-hundred-fifty-two meters high.Last year, a New York organization proposed the tallest building ever. The Maharishi Global Development Fund said it wanted to build a skyscraper in Dallas, Texas. It would be almost five-hundred meters high. However, community members opposed the plan. They said the building height would threaten air traffic. A federal air official says the organization has not renewed its request to build in Dallas.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))Architects and engineers say there is no technical limit to how tall a building can be. They say it is possible to build a skyscraper one-and-one-half kilometers tall. Such a building would be a true skyscraper, tall enough to rise through the clouds. Such an extremely tall building would have to be very strong. That is because winds near the top of the building could be as strong as one-hundred-fifty kilometers an hour. Such winds could make the top of a very tall building move dangerously, as much as twenty meters.Yet architects say new designs and extremely strong building materials have been developed that could resist strong winds. For example, very tall skyscrapers could be designed with large holes in them that wind could pass through. Other solutions could be special weights or ropes of steel connected to the ground to help the building balance in the wind.

A very tall skyscraper would be more like a city than a building. More than one-hundred-thousand people might be in the building to work, live, shop or visit. Such a building would need its own transport station, power producing center and waste cleaning system. It would need many elevators to transport all the people inside.

Would anyone want to live or work so far from the ground? Many experts do not believe that most people would feel safe in such a building. But most experts think a super skyscraper will be built some day.Most people find that skyscrapers add excitement and interest to their cities. And they increase business. But others say too many skyscrapers in the same area make city life unpleasant. New York is an example. In the central business area, skyscrapers are crowded together. They block sunlight from reaching the streets. The large numbers of people who work or live in these skyscrapers crowd the sidewalks and streets below. Walking is difficult. Driving cars is almost impossible.

And yet, even more skyscrapers are being built. This is happening because of economic pressure to replace small and medium size buildings with much larger ones. Americans may like skyscrapers. Or we may dislike them. But skyscrapers are here to stay.

This program was written by Shelley Gollust and Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. I'm Steve Ember.And I'm Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.


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