Cool Tech Innovations Used in Megatall Buildings

A few years ago, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat declared that 2016 would usher in the era of megatall buildings, those rising higher than 600 meters (1,968 feet). To date, two are under construction and four are complete.

But height isn't the only thing outstanding about these buildings. They're outfitted with technological innovations that are setting the standard for other buildings to come.

For example, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in the world at 2,722 feet, breaks new ground for skyscraper fire safety technology. On every 25th floor is a pressurized, air-conditioned room in which occupants can take shelter from heat and smoke in the event of a fire until emergency crews arrive. The building’s mechanical design allows owners to gather 15 million gallons of extra water each year via a special condensation collection system. If implemented on a wider scale, such a system could be a boon for conservation efforts in high water-use areas.

The Shanghai Tower, in Shanghai, which is the second-tallest building in the world and the tallest in China, is what designer and architecture firm Gensler calls a vertical city. The building is divided into nine 12- to-15 story zones, or "neighborhoods," and the fastest express elevators in the world, manufactured by Mitsubishi, zip passengers from the ground floor to the observation deck at a record-breaking 40 mph. The elevators maximize passenger comfort by using active roller guides, roof covers that reduce shaking, vibration and noise and pneumatic controls that make up for sudden changes in atmospheric pressure.

The 3,281-foot Jeddah Tower in Jedda, Saudi Arabia, won't be complete until 2020, but the future "tallest building in the world" also takes its elevator system seriously. After all, it's important to make sure the 167-floor journey to the top is smooth. Designers are using Kone UltraRope elevator technology, which features a super-light, carbon-fiber rope system with high-friction coating that can carry elevator cars safely to heights of nearly 3,300 feet. The UltraRope system is more resistant to the common tall-building sway that can put elevators out of service.   

Finally, the developers of the 1,972-foot-tall Makkah Royal Clock Tower in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, found a custom solar solution to operate a 23-ton drive for each of the four clock faces on the world's third largest building. The faces are 35 times larger than Big Ben in London and are covered with 98 million mosaic tiles, but solar experts were able to cut 233 low-E panels to mimic the sphere and leaf design of the tower dome.

As the race to the top continues, designers and engineers are sure to come up with new technological advances to create a better and safer high-rise.


Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons