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Defining the Design: High-Rise Architecture

Written by Kelly Weimert on Friday, December 28th, 2018 at 3:07am.

Source: archdaily.com

In the 1880s, as the price of land in urban areas like Chicago and New York City increased and populations grew denser, the first high-rise buildings in the United States were built. High-rise buildings were (and still are) ideal in many respects because they provide ample housing and office space without encroaching on too much precious land.

The American technological revolution between 1880-1890 made high-rises possible with the inventions of materials like Bessemer steel, which afforded a taller and more flexible frame design than the cast iron that was previously used. By the mid-20th century, high-rise buildings were a staple in most countries worldwide, particularly in downtown areas, offering places for people to shop, work, eat, and live, all under one roof.

Features of High-Rise Buildings

High-Rise Condo Building Features
Source: archdaily.com


The most obvious characteristic of a high-rise is its height. The National Fire Protection Association defines a high-rise as any building that features an occupied floor higher than 75 feet above the lowest level of fire department vehicle access. This typically amounts to about 8 or 9 stories, at minimum.

Strong Foundation

Given their height, it should be no surprise that high-rises require strong foundations. The foundations are typically comprised of concrete piles or piers dug deep into the ground, usually into beds of solid rock.

Sturdy Frames

In order to withstand forces from strong winds and natural disasters, most high-rises consist of sturdy steel frames that are sometimes mixed with concrete.

Curtain Walls

Nearly all high-rises feature curtain walls. Curtain walls are non-load-bearing sheets of masonry, stone, metal, or glass affixed to a building’s frame that keep the weather elements out and the occupants in.


It’s tough to find a high-rise building without an elevator that allows occupants to shoot up and down between floors without breaking a sweat.

Life-Safety Systems

Because high-rises typically house large groups of people, they need adequate life-safety provisions for occupants to escape in case of a fire, power outage, or other emergency. Safety regulations and life-safety systems for these buildings are typically quite extensive.

Mixed-Use Construction

It’s not uncommon to find high-rises that feature both commercial and residential elements, providing housing in the same building as retail stores, restaurants, and office spaces.


Many of the high-rise condos and apartments you'll find today feature luxury amenities for residents, such as fitness centers, rooftop dog parks, pools, and doormen to keep the building secure.

Residential High-Rise Condos from Miami to San Diego

Faena House - Miami

Faena House Miami High Rise Building
Source: luxlifemiamiblog.com

This gorgeous high-rise in Miami Beach houses 47 luxury condos with floor-to-ceiling windows, wraparound terraces, and up to 8,000 square feet of living space. Search high-rise condos in Miami Beach >

Metropolis - Los Angeles

Metropolis Tower Los Angeles High Rise Condo Building
Source: buzzbuzzhome.com

The Metropolis is a 2.2 million-square-foot mixed-use high-rise in Los Angeles with 1,000 luxury condo units in three different residential towers. It also hosts a hotel in a fourth tower and 70,000 square feet of retail space over six acres. Search high-rise condos in Los Angeles >

Lumina - San Francisco

Lumina Luxury Residential High Rise Condo Building San Francisco
Source: hauteliving.com

The matching towers of Lumina were designed by Arquitectonica and feature 655 1-3-bedroom high-rise condos outfitted with ultra-luxe materials, like marble countertops and European porcelain flooring. Search high-rise condos in San Francisco >

Pinnacle Marina - San Diego

Pinnacle Marina Luxury High Rise Condos San Diego
Source: pinnaclesd.com

This luxury high-rise condo development offers 36 floors of residential living along with amenities like a 95-foot lap pool, private theater, steam room, and 24-hour concierge. Search high-rise condos in San Diego >

Famous High-Rise Buildings in the U.S.

Home Insurance Building - Chicago, Illinois

Home Insurance High Rise Building Chicago
Source: wikimedia.org

In 1884, William Le Baron Jenney completed what’s widely considered to be the first high-rise building of the industrial era. The Home Insurance Building was 12 stories high. 

Equitable Building - New York, New York

Equitable Building New York High Rise Building
Source: wikipedia.org

When this 40-story building, designed by Ernest R. Graham, was constructed in 1915, there was panic over how much it darkened the streets of the city. As a result, the idea of zoning laws was introduced, restricting construction to ensure that sunlight can reach the streets. 

The Chrysler Building - New York, New York

Chrysler Building High Rise New York
Source: thetowerinfo.com

Among the most famous high-rises to date is the Chrysler Building. The Art Deco-style construction was designed by William van Alen in 1930 and remains one of the most prominent buildings in the United States.

Empire State Building - New York, New York

Empire State Building New York High Rise Building
Source: newyorksightseeing.com

It’s tough to talk about famous high-rises without mentioning what’s perhaps the most famous of them all: the Empire State Building. Constructed in 1931 and designed by William Lamb, it held the title of the “World’s Tallest Building” from 1931-1972.

Transamerica Pyramid - San Francisco, California

Transamerica Pyramid San Francisco High Rise Building
Source: skyscrapercenter.com

The 260-meter Transamerica Pyramid was constructed in 1972 and designed by William Pereira. With its unconventional tapered design, Pereira wanted it to mimic a tree trunk, allowing natural light to shine down to the street.

Hip to High-Rises? Check out all High-Rise Condos for sale, or use Nook's innovative Search With Style® tool to find homes for sale in your favorite architectural style.

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