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A high-rise residential apartment building in Hong Kong.

A high-rise is a tall building or structure. Normally, the function of the building is added, for example high-rise apartment building or high-rise offices. Compare: low-rise

High-rise buildings became possible with the invention of the elevator (lift) and cheaper, more abundant building materials. Buildings between 75 feet (23 m) and 491 feet (150 m) high are, by some standards, considered high-rises. Buildings taller than 492 feet (150 m) are classified as skyscrapers. The average height of a level is around 13 feet (4 m) high, thus a 79 foot (24 m) tall building would comprise 6 floors.

The materials used for the structural system of high-rise buildings are reinforced concrete and steel. Most American style skyscrapers have a steel frame, while residential tower blocks are usually constructed out of concrete.

Although there is no precise definition that is universally accepted, various bodies have tried to define what 'high-rise' means:

  • The International Conference on Fire Safety in High-Rise Buildings defined a high-rise as "any structure where the height can have a serious impact on evacuation"
  • The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines a high-rise as "a building having many stories".
  • Massachusetts, United States General Laws define a high-rise as being higher than 70 feet (21 m).
  • According to the building code of Hyderabad, India, a high-rise building is one with four floors or more, or one 15 meters or more in height.[1]
  • Most building engineers, inspectors, architects and similar professions define a high-rise as a building that is at least 75 feet (23 m) tall.
  • Emporis Standards defines a high-rise as "A multi-story structure between 35-100 meters tall, or a building of unknown height from 12-39 floors."[2]

High-rise structures pose particular design challenges for structural and geotechnical engineers, particularly if situated in a seismically active region or if the underlying soils have geotechnical risk factors such as high compressibility or bay mud. They also pose serious challenges to firefighters during emergencies in high-rise structures. New and old building design, building systems like the building standpipe system, HVAC systems (Heating, Ventilation and Air conditioning), fire sprinkler system and other things like stairwell and elevator evacuations pose significant problems.


High-rise apartment buildings had already appeared in antiquity: the insulae in ancient Rome and several other cities in the Roman Empire, some of which might have reached up to 10 or more stories,[3] one reportedly having 200 stairs.[4] Because of the destruction caused by poorly-built high-rise insulae collapsing,[5] several Roman emperors, beginning with Augustus (r. 30 BC - 14 AD), set limits of 20-25 metres for multi-story buildings, but met with limited success,[6][7] as these limits were often ignored despite the likelihood of taller insulae collapsing.[8] The lower floors were typically occupied by either shops or wealthy families, while the upper stories were rented out to the lower classes.[9] Surviving Oxyrhynchus Papyri indicate that seven-storey buildings even existed in provincial towns, such as in 3rd century AD Hermopolis in Roman Egypt.[10]

In Arab Egypt, the initial capital city was Fustat. It housed many high-rise residential buildings, some seven stories tall that could reportedly accommodate hundreds of people. Al-Muqaddasi in the 10th century described them as resembling minarets, while Nasir Khusraw in the early 11th century described some of them rising up to 14 stories, with roof gardens on the top storey complete with ox-drawn water wheels for irrigating them.[11][12][13] By the 16th century, Cairo also had high-rise apartment buildings where the two lower floors were for commercial and storage purposes and the multiple stories above them were rented out to tenants.[14]

The skyline of many important medieval cities was dominated by large numbers of high-rising urban towers which fulfilled defensive, but also representative purposes. The residential Towers of Bologna numbered between 80 to 100 at a time, the largest of which still rise to 97.2 m. In Florence, a law of 1251 decreed that all urban buildings should be reduced to a height of less than 26 m, the regulation immediately put into effect.[15] Even medium-sized towns such as San Gimignano are known to have featured 72 towers up to 51 m height.[15]

The 16th century Yemeni city of Shibam is made up of over 500 tower houses,[16] each one rising 5 to 11 storeys high,[17] with each floor having one or two apartments.[18] The city has the tallest mud buildings in the world, with some of them over 30 meters (100 feet) high.[19]

Currently, the tallest high-rise apartment building in the world is Chicago's John Hancock Center, constructed under the supervision of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and completed in 1969. The building has 100 stories and stands at 344 meters tall.[20]


  1. ^ p. 57, Urban redevelopment: a study of high-rise buildings, K. Narayan Reddy, Concept Publishing Company, 1996, ISBN 8170225310.
  2. ^ Data Standards: high-rise building (ESN 18727), Emporis Standards. Accessed on line October 16, 2009.
  3. ^ Gregory S. Aldrete: "Daily Life in the Roman City: Rome, Pompeii and Ostia", 2004, ISBN 9780313331749, p.79f.
  4. ^ Martial, Epigrams, 27
  5. ^ Gregory S. Aldrete (2004), Daily Life in the Roman City: Rome, Pompeii and Ostia, p. 78, ISBN 9780313331749
  6. ^ Strabo, 5.3.7
  7. ^ Alexander G. McKay: Römische Häuser, Villen und Paläste, Feldmeilen 1984, ISBN 3761105851 p. 231
  8. ^ Gregory S. Aldrete (2004), Daily Life in the Roman City: Rome, Pompeii and Ostia, pp. 78-9, ISBN 9780313331749
  9. ^ Gregory S. Aldrete: "Daily Life in the Roman City: Rome, Pompeii and Ostia", 2004, ISBN 9780313331749, p. 79 ff.
  10. ^ Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 2719, in: Katja Lembke, Cäcilia Fluck, Günter Vittmann: Ägyptens späte Blüte. Die Römer am Nil, Mainz 2004, ISBN 3-8053-3276-9, p. 29
  11. ^ Behrens-Abouseif, Doris (1992), Islamic Architecture in Cairo, Brill Publishers, p. 6, ISBN 90 04 09626 4  
  12. ^ Joan D. Barghusen, Bob Moulder (2001), Daily Life in Ancient and Modern Cairo, Twenty-First Century Books, p. 11, ISBN 0822532212  
  13. ^ Joan D. Barghusen, Bob Moulder (2001), Daily Life in Ancient and Modern Cairo, Twenty-First Century Books, p. 11, ISBN 0822532212  
  14. ^ Mortada, Hisham (2003), Traditional Islamic principles of built environment, Routledge, p. viii, ISBN 0700717005  
  15. ^ a b Werner Müller: "dtv-Atlas Baukunst I. Allgemeiner Teil: Baugeschichte von Mesopotamien bis Byzanz", 14th ed., 2005, ISBN 978-3423030205, p.345
  16. ^ Old Walled City of Shibam, UNESCO
  17. ^ Helfritz, Hans (April 1937), "Land without shade", Journal of the Royal Central Asian Society 24 (2): 201–16  
  18. ^ Pamela Jerome, Giacomo Chiari, Caterina Borelli (1999), "The Architecture of Mud: Construction and Repair Technology in the Hadhramaut Region of Yemen", APT Bulletin 30 (2-3): 39–48 [44], doi:10.2307/1504639  
  19. ^ Shipman, J. G. T. (June 1984), "The Hadhramaut", Asian Affairs 15 (2): 154–62, doi:10.1080/03068378408730145  
  20. ^ John Hancock Center, Emporis

See also


High Rise  
Author J. G. Ballard
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Novel
Publisher Jonathan Cape
Publication date 1975
Media type print (hardcover & paperback)
Pages 204 pp
ISBN 0-224-01168-5

High Rise is a 1975 novel by J. G. Ballard. It takes place in an ultra-modern, luxury high-rise building.

Plot summary

The building seems to give its well-established tenants all the conveniences and commodities that modern life has to offer: swimming pools, its own school, a supermarket, high-speed elevators. But at the same time, the building seems to be designed to isolate the occupants from the larger world outside, allowing for the possibility to create their own closed environment.

Life in the high-rise begins to degenerate quickly, as minor power failures and petty annoyances over neighbours escalate into an orgy of violence. The high-rise occupants divide themselves into the classic three groups of Western society: the lower, middle, and upper class, but here the terms are literal, as the lower class are those living on the lowest floors of the building, the middle class in the centre, and the upper class at the most luxurious apartments on the upper floors.

Soon, skirmishes are being fought throughout the building, as floors try to claim elevators and hold them for their own, groups gather to defend their rights to the swimming pools, and party-goers attack "enemy floors" to raid and vandalize them. It does not take long for the occupants of entire building to abandon all social restraints, and give in to their most primal urges. The tenants completely shut out the outside world, content with their new life in the high-rise; people abandon their work and family and stay indoors permanently, losing their sense of time. Even as hunger starts to set in, many of the characters in the novel still seem to be enjoying themselves, as the building allows them a chance to break free from the social restrictions of modern society and toy with their own dark urges and desires. And as bodies begin to pile up and the commodities of the high-rise break down, no one considers alerting the authorities.

The tenants of the high-rise abandon all notions of moral and social etiquette, as their environment gives way to a hunter/gatherer culture, where humans gather together in small clans, claim food sources from where they can (including the many dogs in the building, and eventually even the other tenants), and every stranger is met with extreme violence.

As he did in Concrete Island and Crash, Ballard here offers a vision of how modern life in an urban landscape and the advances of technology could warp the human psyche in hitherto unexplored ways.

The book has been cited as an influence upon the Doctor Who episode Paradise Towers.

Hawkwind used the book as the basis for a song of the same name on their 1979 album PXR5. A different version appeared on the album's first CD issue.

Film adaptation

For nearly 30 years producer Jeremy Thomas wanted to do a film version of the book. It was nearly made in the late 1970s, with Nicolas Roeg directing and a script by Paul Mayersberg. However, funding fell through and Roeg and Thomas did Bad Timing instead. In recent times Thomas has revisited the project, and it has been in development with Canadian filmmaker Vincenzo Natali attached to write and direct.

External links


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