Symposium Synopsis

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) is the world’s premier authority on tall buildings, maintaining the internationally-accepted criteria for measuring height, and determining the “World’s Tallest Building.” In 2019, the Council celebrated its 50th anniversary in its home city of Chicago, where it also held its 10th World Congress, from 28 October to 2 November, on the theme 50 Forward | 50 Back. As part of this event, CTBUH and the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) hosted an important one-day symposium on Thursday, 31 October, entitled “First Skyscrapers | Skyscraper Firsts.”

The purpose of the Symposium was to identify the ground-breaking achievements in the formative years of the skyscraper, and to separate popular myth from settled scholarship in the debate over “the first skyscraper.” The tall commercial building developed through an evolutionary process across numerous projects. One aim of the Symposium was to discuss and debate the many candidates for “first skyscraper,” depending on differing criteria or categories of innovation (e.g., first tall building with an all-iron frame, or first complete curtain wall). In addition, the term “skyscraper”—the romantic, even poetic, term for tall buildings—can and should be defined by more characteristics than just height, vertical transportation, or structural systems. A broader aim of the symposium, then, was also to clarify a definition of "skyscraper."

The symposium was kindly sponsored by Otis Elevator Company.

Previous CTBUH Conference Presentations:

Winy Maas
Co-Founding Director, MVRDV
What’s Next?

Santiago Calatrava
Founder, Santiago Calatrava Architects & Engineers
Turning Torso, Malmo

Carol Willis
President, The Skyscraper Museum
The Logic of Luxury

Rem Koolhaas
Founding Partner, OMA
CCTV Headquarters, Beijing

Kim Nielsen
Founder and Principal, 3XN
Quay Quarter Tower: Humanizing the High-Rise

Bjarke Ingels
Founding Partner, Bjarke Ingels Group
Social Infrastructure