Shelley Finnigan
Global Technical Sales Engineer, Head of Technical Sales & Marketing
ArcelorMittal, Chicago

More than 125 years ago, an architectural gem was born: the skyscraper. Introduced by various advances in building technologies, integral to its success have been innovations in steel. The wide-flange enabled the 1930s surge in high-rise construction and high-strength steel led to its 1970s renaissance. The tall building revolutionized the urban landscape by facilitating the reorganization of societies and their priorities, with significance placed on proximity to community, green space, and daily needs. These factors led to a dramatic shift: skylines transitioned from distinct peaks and valleys to gently rolling hills.

Today, the skyscraper has become the norm; however, society’s ever-growing concern for sustainable development and conflicting messages on the affordability, safety and environmental impact of steel have resulted in confusion about its place in high-rise construction. Reflecting on advances in the production of different types of steel, available specifications and their applications, this research illuminates and expounds upon the crucial role of steel in skyscrapers, seeking to reframe society’s understanding of its function and lifecycle and strengthening the link between steel and designer’s ability to create innovative, cost-effective buildings. The material's impact on efficiency, adaptability, and sustainability are also explored in-depth throughout the past and present and into the future.