Category Archives: Architecture

Post-World War II Prefabricated Aluminum and Steel Houses and Their Relevance Today

Peter Lobner

1. Background

At the start of World War II (WW II), US home ownership had dropped to a low of 43.6% in 1940, largely as a consequence of the Great Depression and the weak US economy in its aftermath.  During WW II, the War Production Board issued Conservation Order L-41 on 9 April 1942, placing all construction under rigid control. The order made it necessary for builders to obtain authorization from the War Production Board to begin construction costing more than certain thresholds during any continuous 12-month period.  For residential construction, that limit was $500, with higher limits for business and agricultural construction.  The impact of these factors on US residential construction between 1921 and 1945 is evident in the following chart, which shows the steep decline during the Great Depression and again after Order L-41 was issued. 

Source:  “Construction in the War Years – 1942 -45,” 
US Department of Labor, Bulletin No. 915

By the end of WW II, the US had an estimated 7.6 million troops overseas.  The War Production Board revoked L-41 on 15 October 1945, five months after V-E (Victory in Europe) day on 8 May 1945 and six weeks after WW II ended when Japan formally surrendered on 2 September 1945.  In the five months since V-E day, about three million soldiers had already returned to the US.  After the war’s end, the US was faced with the impending return of several millions more veterans. Many in this huge group of veterans would be seeking to buy homes in housing markets that were not prepared for their arrival.  Within the short span of a year after Order L-41 was revoked, the monthly volume of private housing expenditures increased fivefold.  This was just the start of the post-war housing boom in the US.

In a March 1946 Popular Science magazine article entitled “Stopgap Housing,” the author, Hartley Howe, noted, “ Even if 1,200,000 permanent homes are now built every year – and the United States has never built even 1,000,000 in a single year – it will be 10 years before the whole nation is properly housed.  Hence, temporary housing is imperative to stop that gap.”  To provide some immediate relief, the Federal government made available many thousands of war surplus steel Quonset huts for temporary civilian housing.

Facing a different challenge in the immediate post-war period, many wartime industries had their contracts cut or cancelled and factory production idled. With the decline of military production, the U.S. aircraft industry sought other opportunities for employing their aluminum, steel and plastics fabrication experience in the post-war economy. 

2. Post-WW II prefab aluminum and steel houses in the US 

In the 2 September 1946 issue of Aviation News magazine, there was an article entitled “Aircraft Industry Will Make Aluminum Houses for Veterans,” that reported the following:

  • “Two and a half dozen aircraft manufacturers are expected soon to participate in the government’s prefabricated housing program.”
  • “Aircraft companies will concentrate on FHA (Federal Housing Administration) approved designs in aluminum and its combination with plywood and insulation, while other companies will build prefabs in steel and other materials.  Designs will be furnished to the manufacturers.”
  • “Nearly all war-surplus aluminum sheet has been used up for roofing and siding in urgent building projects; practically none remains for the prefab program.  Civilian Production Administration has received from FHA specifications for aluminum sheet and other materials to be manufactured, presumably under priorities.  Most aluminum sheet for prefabs will be 12 to 20 gauge – .019 – .051 inch.”

In October 1946, Aviation News magazine reported, “The threatened battle over aluminum for housing, for airplanes and myriad postwar products in 1947 is not taken too seriously by the National Housing Agency, which is negotiating with aircraft companies to build prefabricated aluminum panel homes at an annual rate as high as 500,000.”……”Final approval by NHA engineers of the Lincoln Homes Corp. ‘waffle’ panel (aluminum skins over a honeycomb composite core) is one more step toward the decision by aircraft companies to enter the field.…..Aircraft company output of houses in 1947, if they come near meeting NHA proposals, would be greater than their production of airplanes, now estimated to be less than $1 billion for 1946.”

In late 1946, the FHA Administrator, Wilson Wyatt, suggested that the War Assets Administration (WAA), which was created in January 1946 to dispose of surplus government-owned property and materials, temporarily withhold surplus aircraft factories from lease or sale and give aircraft manufacturers preferred access to surplus wartime factories that could be converted for mass-production of houses.  The WAA agreed.

Under the government program, the prefab house manufacturers would have been protected financially with FHA guarantees to cover 90% of costs, including a promise by Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) to purchase any homes not sold.  

Many aircraft manufacturers held initial discussions with the FHA, including:  Douglas, McDonnell, Martin, Bell, Fairchild, Curtis-Wright, Consolidated-Vultee, North American, Goodyear and Ryan.  Boeing did not enter those discussions and Douglas, McDonnell and Ryan exited early.  In the end, most aircraft manufacturer were unwilling to commit themselves to the postwar prefab housing program, largely because of their concerns about disrupting their existing aircraft factory infrastructure based on uncertain market estimates of size and duration of the prefab housing market and lack of specific contract proposals from the FHA and NHA.

The original business case for the post-war aluminum and steel pre-fabricated houses was that they could be manufactured rapidly in large quantities and sold profitably at a price that was less than conventional wood-constructed homes.  Moreover, the aircraft manufacturing companies restored some of the work volume lost after WW II ended and they were protected against the majority of their financial risk in prefab house manufacturing ventures.

Not surprisingly, building contractors and construction industry unions were against this program to mass-produce prefabricated homes in factories, since this would take business away from the construction industry.  In many cities the unions would not allow their members to install prefabricated materials. Further complicating matters, local building codes and zoning ordnances were not necessarily compatible with the planned large-scale deployment of mass-produced, prefabricated homes.

The optimistic prospects for manufacturing and erecting large numbers of prefabricated aluminum and steel homes in post-WW II USA never materialized.  Rather than manufacturing hundreds of thousands of homes per year, the following five US manufacturers produced a total of less than 2,600 new aluminum and steel prefabricated houses in the decade following WW II:  Beech Aircraft, Lincoln Houses Corp., Consolidated-Vultee, Lustron Corp. and Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa).  In contrast, prefabricators offering more conventional houses produced a total of 37,200 units in 1946 and 37,400 in 1947.  The market demand was there, but not for aluminum and steel prefabricated houses.

US post-WW II prefabricated aluminum and steel houses

These US manufacturers didn’t play a significant part in helping to solve the post-WW II housing shortage.  Nonetheless, these aluminum and steel houses still stand as important examples of affordable houses that, under more favorable circumstances, could be mass-produced even today to help solve the chronic shortages of affordable housing in many urban and suburban areas in the US.  

Some of the US post-WW II housing demand was met with stop gap, temporary housing using re-purposed, surplus wartime steel Quonset huts, military barracks, light-frame temporary family dwelling units, portable shelter units, trailers, and “demountable houses,” which were designed to be disassembled, moved and reassembled wherever needed.  You can read more about post-WW II stop gap housing in the US in Hartley Howe’s March 1946 article in Popular Science (see link below).

The construction industry ramped up rapidly after WW II to help meet the housing demand with conventionally-constructed permanent houses, with many being built in large-scale housing tracts in rapidly expanding suburban areas.  Between 1945 and 1952, the Veterans Administration reported that it had backed nearly 24 million home loans for WW II veterans. These veterans helped boost US home ownership from 43.6% in 1940 to 62% in 1960.

Two post-WW II US prefabricated aluminum and steel houses have been restored and are on public display in the following museums:

In addition, you can visit several WW II Quonset huts at the Seabees Museum and Memorial Park in North Kingstown, Rhode Island.  None are outfitted like a post-WW II civilian apartment.  The museum website is here:

You’ll find more information in my articles on specific US post-WW II prefabricated aluminum and steel houses at the following links:

3. Post-WW II prefab aluminum and steel houses in the UK 

By the end of WW II in Europe (V-E Day is 8 May 1945), the UK faced a severe housing shortage as their military forces returned home to a country that had lost about 450,000 homes to wartime damage.

On 26 March 1944, Winston Churchill made an important speech promising that the UK would manufacture 500,000 prefabricated homes to address the impending housing shortage. Later in the year, the Parliament passed the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act, 1944, charging the Ministry of Reconstruction with developing solutions for the impending housing shortage and delivering 300,000 units within 10 years, with a budget of £150 million.  

The Act provided several strategies, including the construction of temporary, prefabricated housing with a planned life of up to 10 years.  The Temporary Housing Program (THP) was officially known as the Emergency Factory Made (EFM) housing program.  Common standards developed by the Ministry of Works (MoW) required that all EFM prefabricated units have certain characteristics, including:

  • Minimum floor space of 635 square feet (59 m2)
  • Maximum width of prefabricated modules of 7.5 feet (2.3 m) to enable transportation by road throughout the country
  • Implement the MoW’s concept of a “service unit,” which placed the kitchen and bathroom back-to-back to simplify routing plumbing and electrical lines and to facilitate factory manufacture of the unit.
  • Factory painted, with “magnolia” (yellow-white) as the primary color and gloss green as the trim color.

In 1944, the UK Ministry of Works held a public display at the Tate Gallery in London of five types of prefabricated temporary houses.

  • The original Portal all-steel prototype bungalow
  • The AIROH (Aircraft Industries Research Organization on Housing) aluminum bungalow, made from surplus aircraft material.
  • The Arcon steel-framed bungalow with asbestos concrete panels.  This deign was adapted from the all-steel Portal prototype.
  • Two timber-framed prefab designs, the Tarran and the Uni-Seco

This popular display was held again in 1945 in London.

Supply chain issues slowed the start of the EFM program.  The all-steel Portal was abandoned in August 1945 due to a steel shortage.  In mid-1946, a wood shortage affected other prefab manufacturers. Both the AIROH and Arcon prefab houses were faced with unexpected manufacturing and construction cost increases, making these temporary bungalows more expensive to build than conventionally constructed wood and brick houses.

Under a Lend-Lease Program announced in February 1945, the US agreed to supply the UK with US-built, wood frame prefabricated bungalows known as the UK 100.  The initial offer was for 30,000 units, which subsequently was reduced to 8,000. This Lend-Lease agreement came to an end in August 1945 as the UK started to ramp up its own production of prefabricated houses. The first US-built UK 100 prefabs arrived in late May/early June 1945.   

The UK’s post-war housing reconstruction program was quite successful, delivering about 1.2 million new houses between 1945 and 1951.  During this reconstruction period, 156,623 temporary prefabricated homes of all types were delivered under the EFM program, which ended in 1949, providing housing for about a half million people. Over 92,800 of these were temporary aluminum and steel bungalows.  The AIROH aluminum bungalow was the most popular EFM model, followed by the Arcon steel frame bungalow and then the wood frame Uni-Seco.  In addition, more than 48,000 permanent aluminum and steel prefabricated houses were built by AW Hawksley and BISF during that period.

In comparison to the very small number of post-war aluminum and steel prefabricated houses built in the US, the post-war production of aluminum and steel prefabs in the UK was very successful. 

UK post-WW II prefabricated aluminum and steel houses

In a 25 June 2018 article in the Manchester Evening News, author Chris Osuh reported that, “It’s thought that between 6 or 7,000 of the post-war prefabs remain in the UK…..”   The Prefab Museum maintains a consolidated interactive map of known post-WW II prefab house locations in the UK at the following link:

Screenshot of the Prefab Museum’s interactive map (not including the prefabs in the Shetlands, which are off the top of this screenshot). 

In the UK, Grade II status means that a structure is nationally important and of special interest.  Only a few post-war temporary prefabs have been granted the status as Grade II listed properties: 

  • In an estate of Phoenix steel frame bungalows built in 1945 on Wake Green Road, Moseley, Birmingham, 16 of 17 homes were granted Grade II status in 1998.
  • Six Uni-Seco wood frame bungalows built in 1945 – 46 in the Excalibur Estate, Lewisham, London were granted Grade II status in 2009.  At that time, Excalibur Estates had the largest number of WW II prefabs in the UK: 187 total, of several types.

Several post-war temporary prefabs are preserved at museums in the UK and are available to visit. 

I think the Prefab Museum is best source for information on UK post-WW II prefabs.   When it was created in March 2014 by Elisabeth Blanchet (author of several books and articles on UK prefabs) and Jane Hearn, the Prefab Museum had its home in a vacant prefab on the Excalibur Estate in south London.   After a fire in October 2014, the physical museum closed but has continued its mission to collect and record memories, photographs and memorabilia, which are presented online via the Prefab Museum’s website at the following link:

You’ll find more information in my articles on specific UK post-WW II prefabricated aluminum and steel houses at the following links:

4.  Post-WW II prefab aluminum and steel houses in France 

At the end of WW II, France, like the UK, had a severe housing shortage due to the great number of houses and apartments damaged or destroyed during the war years, the lack of new construction during that period, and material shortages to support new construction after the war.

To help relieve some of the housing shortage in 1945, the French Reconstruction and Urbanism Minister, Jean  Monnet, purchased the 8,000 UK 100 prefabricated houses that the UK had acquired from the US under a Lend-Lease agreement.  These were erected in the Hauts de France (near Belgium), Normandy and Brittany, where many are still in use today.

The Ministry of Reconstruction and Town Planning established requirements for temporary housing for people displaced by the war.  Among the initial solutions sought were prefabricated dwellings measuring 6 x 6 meters (19.6 x 19.6 feet); later enlarged to 6 × 9 meters (19.6 x 29.5 feet). 

About 154,000 temporary houses (the French called then “baraques”), in many different designs, were erected in France in the post-war years, primarily in the north-west of France from Dunkirk to Saint-Nazaire.  Many were imported from Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Austria and Canada.

The primary proponent of French domestic prefabricated aluminum and steel house manufacturing was Jean Prouvé, who offered a novel solution for a “demountable house,” which could be easily erected and later “demounted” and moved elsewhere if needed.  A steel gantry-like “portal frame” was the load-bearing structure of the house, with the roof usually made of aluminum, and the exterior panels made of wood, aluminum or composite material.  Many of these were manufactured in the size ranges requested by Ministry of Reconstruction.  During a visit to Prouvé’s Maxéville workshop in 1949, Eugène Claudius-Petit, then the Minister of Reconstruction and Urbanism, expressed his determination to encourage the industrial production of “newly conceived (prefabricated) economical housing.”

French post-WW II prefabricated aluminum and steel houses

Today, many of Prouvé’s demountable aluminum and steel houses are preserved by architecture and art collectors Patrick Seguin (Galerie Patrick Seguin) and Éric Touchaleaume (Galerie 54 and la Friche l’Escalette). Ten of Prouvé’s Standard Houses and four of his Maison coques-style houses built between 1949 – 1952 are residences in the small development known as Cité “Sans souci,” in the Paris suburbs of Muedon.

Prouvé’s 1954 personal residence and his relocated 1946 workshop are open to visitors from the first weekend in June to the last weekend in September in Nancy, France.  The Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nancy has one of the largest public collections of objects made by Prouvé.

Author Elisabeth Blanchet reports that the museum “Mémoire de Soye has managed to rebuild three different ‘baraques’: a UK 100, a French one and a Canadian one. They are refurbished with furniture from the war and immediate post-war era. Mémoire de Soye is the only museum in France where you can visit post-war prefabs.”  The museum is located in Lorient, Brittany. Their website (in French) is here:

The three wood frame ‘baraques’ at Mémoire de Soye.  Source: Elisabeth Blanchet via the Prefab Museum (UK)

You’ll find more information on French post-WW II prefabricated aluminum and steel houses in my article on Jean Prouvé’s demountable houses at the following link:é-demountable-houses-converted.pdf

5.  In conclusion

In the U.S., the post-war mass production of prefabricated aluminum and steel houses never materialized.  Lustron was the largest manufacturer with 2,498 houses. In the UK, over 92,800 prefabricated aluminum and steel temporary bungalows were built as part of the post-war building boom that delivered a total of 156,623 prefabricated temporary houses of all types between 1945 and 1949, when the program ended.  In France, hundreds of prefabricated aluminum and steel houses were built after WW II, with many being used initially as temporary housing for people displaced by the war.  Opportunities for mass production of such houses did not develop in France.

The lack of success in the U.S. arose from several factors, including:

  • High up-front cost to establish a mass-production line for prefabricated housing, even in a big, surplus wartime factory that was available to the house manufacturer on good financial terms.
  • Immature supply chain to support a house manufacturing factory (i.e., different suppliers are needed than for the former aircraft factory).
  • Ineffective sales, distribution and delivery infrastructure for the manufactured houses.
  • Diverse, unprepared local building codes and zoning ordnances stood in the way of siting and erecting standard design, non-conventional prefab homes.
  • Opposition from construction unions and workers that did not want to lose work to factory-produced homes.
  • Only one manufacturer, Lustron, produced prefab houses in significant numbers and potentially benefitted from the economics of mass production.  The other manufacturers produced in such small quantities that they could not make the transition from artisanal production to mass production.  
  • Manufacturing cost increases reduced or eliminated the initial price advantage predicted for the prefabricated aluminum and steel houses, even for Lustron.  They could not compete on price with comparable conventionally constructed houses.
  • In Lustron’s case, charges of corporate corruption led the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to foreclose on Lustron’s loans, forcing the firm into an early bankruptcy.

From these post-WW II lessons learned, and with the renewed interest in “tiny homes”, it seems that there should be a business case for a modern, scalable, smart factory for the low-cost mass-production of durable prefabricated houses manufactured from aluminum, steel, and/or other materials.  These prefabricated houses could be modestly-sized, modern, attractive, energy efficient (LEED-certified), and customizable to a degree while respecting a basic standard design. These houses should be designed for mass production and siting on small lots in urban and suburban areas.  I believe that there is a large market in the U.S. for this type of low-price housing, particularly as a means to address the chronic affordable housing shortages in many urban and suburban areas.  However, there still are great obstacles to be overcome, especially where construction industry labor unions are likely to stand in the way and, in California, where nobody will want a modest prefabricated house sited next to their McMansion.

You can download a pdf copy of this post, not including the individual articles, here:

6.  For additional information

US post-WW II housing crisis and prefabricated homes:

UK post-WW II housing crisis and prefabricated home:

French post-WW II housing crisis and prefabricated homes:

Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1956 Mile-High Skyscraper – The Illinois

Updated 9 May 2020

Peter Lobner

1.  Introduction to the Mile-High Skyscraper

On 16 October 1956, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, then 89 years old, unveiled his design for the tallest skyscraper in the world, a remarkable mile-high tripod spire named “The Illinois,” proposed for a site in Chicago.

Frank Lloyd Wright.
Source: Al Ravenna via Wikipedia

Also known as the Illinois Mile-High Tower, Wright’s skyscraper would stand 528 floors and 5,280 feet (1,609 meters) tall plus antenna; more than four times the height of the Empire State Building in New York City, then the tallest skyscraper in the world at 102 floors and 1,250 feet (380 meters) tall plus antenna. At the unveiling of The Illinois at the Sherman House Hotel in Chicago, Wright presented an illustration measuring more than 25 feet (7.6 meters) tall, with the skyscraper drawn at the scale of 1/16 inch to the foot.

Frank Lloyd Wright presents The Illinois at the Sherman House Hotel in Chicago on 26 October 1956.  Source:

Basic parameters for The Illinois are listed below:

  • Floors, above grade level:    528
  • Height:
    • Architectural:                5,280 ft (1,609.4 m)
    • To tip of antenna:        5,706 ft (1739.2 m)
  • Number of elevators:             76
  • Gross floor area (GFA):         18,460,106 ft² (1,715,000 m²)
  • Number of occupants:           100,000
  • Number of parking spaces:  15,000
  • Structural material:
    • Core:                                  Reinforced concrete
    • Cantilevered floors:    Steel
    • Tensioned tripod:        Steel 

The Illinois was intended as a mixed-use structure designed to spread urbanization upwards rather than outwards. The Illinois offered nearly three times the gross floor area (GFA) of the Pentagon, and more than seven times the GFA of the Empire State Building for use as office, hotel, residential and parking space. Wright said the building could consolidate all government offices then scattered around Chicago.

The single super-tall skyscraper was intended to free up the ground plane by eliminating the need for other large skyscrapers in its vicinity.  This was consistent with Wright’s distributed urban planning concept known as Broadacre City, which he introduced in the mid-1930s and continued to advocate until his death in 1959.

Sketch for Frank Lloyd Wright’s proposed mile high skyscraper, 
The Illinois.  Source:  Wright Mile Gallery, MCM Daily
Frank Lloyd Wright illustration and data sheet for The Illinois.  
Frank Lloyd Wright illustrations of The Illinois.  
L to R:  Cross-section; Back exterior view; Front exterior view;  Side exterior view.  
Source:  Wright Mile Gallery, MCM Daily
Close-up view of the five-story base of The Illinois. 
Source:  Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
Illustration of the footprint of The Illinois base and tower.
Source: Source:  Wright Mile Gallery, MCM Daily
Frank Lloyd Wright illustration of The Illinois, showing the five-story base structure and the transition of the central reinforced concrete core into the “taproot” foundation structure.  In the background are scale silhouettes of famous tall structures: Eiffel Tower, the Great Pyramid, and Washington Monument.  Source:  Wright Mile Gallery, MCM Daily

2.  Tenuity, continuity and evolution of Wright’s concept for an organic high-rise building

Two aspects of Wright’s concept of organic architecture are the structural principles he termed “tenuity” and “continuity,” both of which he applied in the context of cantilevered and cable-supported structures, such as slender buildings and bridges.  Author Richard Cleary reported that Wright first used the term tenuity in his 1932 book Autobiography, and offered his most succinct explanation in his 1957 book Testament.

  • “The cantilever is essentially steel at its most economical level of use. The principle of the cantilever in architecture develops tenuity as a wholly new human expression, a means, too, of placing all loads over central supports, thereby balancing extended load against opposite extended load.”
  • “This brought into architecture for the first time another principle in construction – I call it continuity – a property which may be seen as a new, elastic, cohesive, stability. The creative architect finds here a marvelous new inspiration in design. A new freedom involving far wider spacing of more slender supports.”
  • “Thus architecture arrived at construction from within outward rather than from outside inward; much heightening and lightening of proportions throughout all building is now economical and natural, space extended and utilized in a more liberal planning than the ancients could ever have dreamed of. This is now the prime characteristic of the new architecture called organic.”
  • “Construction lightened by means of cantilevered steel in tension makes continuity a most valuable characteristic of architectural enlightenment.”

The structural principles of tenuity and continuity are manifest in Wright’s high-rise building designs that are characterized by a deep “taproot” foundation that supports a central load bearing core structure from which the individual floors are cantilevered.  A cross-section of the resulting building structure has the appearance of a tree deeply rooted in the Earth with many horizontal branches. 

Before looking further at the Mile-High Skyscraper, we’ll take a look at three of its high-rise predecessors and one later design, all of which shared Wright’s characteristic organic architectural features derived from the application of tenuity and continuity:  taproot foundation, load-bearing core structure and cantilevered floors:

  • St. Mark’s Tower project
  • SC Johnson Research Tower
  • Price Tower
  • The Golden Beacon

St. Mark’s Tower project (St. Mark’s-in-the-Bouwerie, 1927 – 1931, not built)

Wright first proposed application of the taproot foundation, load-bearing concrete and steel core structure and cantilevered floors was in 1927 for the 15-floor St. Mark’s Tower project in New York City.  

The planned St. Mark’s Tower project in the Bowery, New York City.  Source: Architectural Record, 1930, via The New Yorker
St. Mark’s Tower exterior view (L) and cross-section (R) showing the central core and cantilevered floors. The deep taproot part of the foundation is not shown.  
Sources: (L) Architectural Record, 1930, via The New Yorker; 
(R) adapted from Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation drawing

The New York Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) provides this description of the St. Mark’s Tower project.

  • “The design of these apartment towers for St. Mark’s-in-the-Bouwerie in New York City stemmed from Wright’s vision for Usonia, a new American culture based on the synthesis of architecture and landscape. The organic “tap-root” structural system resembles a tree, with a central concrete and steel load-bearing core rooted in the earth, from which floor plates are cantilevered like branches.”
  • “This system frees the building of load-bearing interior partitions and supports a modulated glass curtain wall for increased natural illumination. Floor plates are rotated axially to generate variation from one level to the next and to distinguish between living and sleeping spaces in the duplex apartments.”

While the St. Mark’s Tower project was not built, this basic high-rise building design reappeared from the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s as a “city dweller’s unit” in Wright’s Broadacre City plan and was the basis for the Price Tower built in the 1950s.  

SC Johnson Research Tower, Racine, WI (1943 – 1950)

The 15-floor, 153 foot (46.6 m) tall SC Johnson Research Laboratory Tower, built between 1943 and 1950 in Racine, WI, was the first high-rise building to actually apply Wright’s organic design with a taproot foundation, load-bearing concrete and steel core structure and cantilevered floors.  On their website, SC Johnson describes the structural design of this building as follows:

  • “One of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous buildings, the tower rises more than 150 feet into the air and is 40 feet square. Yet at ground level, it’s supported by a base only 13 feet across at its narrowest point. As a result, the tower almost seems to hang in the air – a testament to creativity and an inspiration for the innovative products that would be developed inside.”
  • “Alternating square floors and round mezzanine levels make up the interior, and are supported by the “taproot” core, which also contains the building’s elevator, stairway and restrooms. The core extends 54 feet into the ground, providing stability like the roots of a tall tree.”
The SC Johnson Research Tower exterior & cross-section views. The taproot foundation extends 54 feet into the ground and the central core supports 15 cantilevered floors.  Sources: (L)

Because of the change in fire safety codes, and the impracticality of retrofitting the building to meet current code requirements, SC Johnson has not used the Research Tower since 1982.  However, they restored the building in 2013 and now the public can visit as part of the SC Johnson Campus Tour.  

You can make reservations at the following link for the Campus Tour and a separate tour of the nearby Herbert F. Johnson Prairie-style home, Wingspread, also designed by Frank Lloyd Wright:

Price Tower, Bartlesville, OK (1952 – 1956)

The 19-floor, 221 foot (67.4 m) tall Price Tower, completed in 1956 in Bartlesville, OK, is an evolution of Wright’s 1927 design for the St. Mark’s Tower project.  Wright nicknamed the Price Tower, “the tree that escaped the crowded forest,” referring to the building’s cantilever construction and the origin of its design in a project for New York City.  Price Tower also has been called the “Prairie Skyscraper.”  

Price Tower exterior view (L) and cross-section (R).  
Sources:  (L)  

H.C. Price commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design Price Tower, which served as his corporate headquarters until 1981 when it was sold to Phillips Petroleum.  Philips deemed the exterior exit staircase a safety risk and only used the building for storage until 2000, when the building was donated to the Price Tower Arts Center.  Since then, Price Tower has been returned to its multi-use origins and public tours are offered, including a visit to the restored 19th floor executive office of H.C. Price and the H.C. Price Company corporate apartment with the original Wright interiors.  You can arrange your tour here:

You also can stay at the Inn at Price Tower, which has seven guest rooms.  You’ll find details here:

The Golden Beacon, Chicago, IL (1959, not built)

The Golden Beacon was a concept for a 50-floor mixed-use office and residential apartment building in Chicago, IL.  

The Golden Beacon exterior view (L), cross-section showing taproot foundation,
central core and cantilever floors. (R).  
Sources:  (L),  (R) Richard Cleary, “Lessons in Tenuity….”

As shown in the cross-section diagram, the building design followed Wright’s practice with a deep taproot foundation, a central load-bearing core and cantilevered floors. This design is very similar to the foundation structure proposed for the earlier Mile-High Skyscraper.

The Golden Beacon exterior view. Source:  Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation via

3.  Extrapolating to the Mile-High Skyscraper

By 1956, Wright’s characteristic organic architectural features for high-rise buildings, derived from the application of tenuity and continuity, had only appeared in two completed high-rise buildings, the 15-floor SC Johnson Laboratory Tower and the 19-floor Price Tower.  These two important buildings demonstrated the practicality of the taproot foundation, load-bearing concrete and steel core structure and cantilevered floors for tall, slender buildings.  With the unveiling of The Illinois, Wright made a remarkable extrapolation of these architectural principles in his conceptual design of this breathtaking 528 floor, 5,280 feet (1,609 meters) tall skyscraper.

Blaire Kamin, writing for the Chicago Tribune in 2017, reported:  “The Mile-High didn’t simply aim to be tall. It was the ultimate expression of Wright’s “taproot” structural system, which sank a central concrete mast deep into the ground and cantilevered floors from the mast. In contrast to a typical skyscraper, in which same-size floors are piled atop one another like so many pancakes, the taproot system lets floors vary in size, opening a high-rise’s interior and letting space flow between floors.”

In addition to the central core to support the building’s dead loads, The Illinois also incorporated an external tensioned steel tripod structure to resist external wind loads and other flexing loads (i.e., earthquakes), distributing those loads through the integral steel structure of the tripod, and resisting oscillations.  In his book, “Testament,” Wright stated: 

“Finally – throughout this lightweight tensilized structure, because of the integral character of all members, loads are at equilibrium at all points, doing away with oscillations.  There would be no sway at the peak of The Illinois.”

Tuned mass dampers (TMD) for reducing the amplitude of mechanical vibrations in tall buildings had not been invented when Wright unveiled his design for The Illinois in 1956. The first use of a TMD in a skyscraper did not occur until the mid-1970s, first as a retrofit to the troubled, 790 foot (241 m) tall, John Hancock building completed in 1976 in Boston, and then as original equipment in the 915 foot (279 m) tall Citicorp Tower completed in 1977 in New York City.  While tenuity and continuity may have given The Illinois unparalleled structural stability, I wouldn’t be surprised if TMD technology would have been needed for the comfort of the occupants on the upper floors, three-quarters of a mile above their counterparts in the next tallest building in the world.

To handle its 100,000 occupants, The Illinois had 76 elevators that were divided into five groups, each serving a 100-floor segment of the building, with a single elevator serving only the top floors.  Each elevator was a five-story unit that moved on rails and served five floors simultaneously.  With the tapering, pyramidal shape of the skyscraper, the vertical elevator shaft structures eventually extended beyond the sloping exterior walls, forming protruding parapets on the sides of the building.  In his 1957 book, “A Testament,” Wright said the elevators were designed to enable building evacuation within one hour, in combination with the escalators that serve the lowest five floors.

Wright alluded to the building (and the elevators) being “atomic powered,” but there were no provisions for a self-contained power plant as part of the building.  The much smaller Empire State Building currently has a peak electrical demand of almost 10 megawatts (MW) in July and August after implementing energy conservation measures.  Scaling on the basis of gross floor area, The Illinois could have had a peak electrical demand of about 70 MW.  You’ll find more information on current Empire State Building energy usage here:

The 2012 short video by Charles Muench, “A Peaceful Day in BroadAcre City – One Mile High – Frank Lloyd Wright” (1:31 minutes), depicts The Illinois skyscraper in the spacious setting of Broadacre City and shows an animated construction sequence of the tower.  Two screenshots from the video are reproduced below.  You’ll find this video at the following link:

Two views of the start of The Illinois construction sequence.
Screenshots from Charles Muench video, 2012.

You can see more architectural details in the 2009 video, “Mile High Final Movie – Frank Lloyd Wright” (3:42 minutes), produced for the Guggenheim Museum, New York.  Two screenshots are reproduced below.  You’ll find the video here:

The Illinois, showing architectural exterior details.
Screenshot from Guggenheim video, 2009.
The top of The Illinois, showing details at the 528th floor, including the protruding parapets for the elevators, and the 420+ foot (128 m) antenna on top.  Screenshot from Guggenheim video, 2009.

In his 1957 book, Testament, Wright provided the following two architectural drawings showing typical details of the cantilever construction of The Illinois.

The Illinois was intended for construction in a spacious setting like Broadacre City, rather than in a congested big-city downtown immediately adjacent to other skyscrapers.  Two views of The Illinois in these starkly different settings are shown below.

Model of The Illinois.  Source:  Milwaukee Sentinel Journal
The Illinois skyscraper as part of Frank Lloyd Wright’s mid-1950s landscape for his urban planning concept known as Broadacre City.   Source: utopicus2013.blogspot
Artist’s concept of The Illinois skyscraper punctuating a rather congested contemporary Chicago skyline, not quite as Frank Lloyd Wright envisioned.  Source: Neoman Studios

4.  Wright’s Mile-High Skyscraper on Exhibit at MoMA

Since Wright’s death in 1959, his archives have been in the care of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation ( and stored at Wright’s homes / architectural schools at Taliesin in Spring Green, WI and Taliesin West, near Scottsdale, AZ.

In September 2012, Mary Louise Schumacher, writing for the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal, reported that Columbia University and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Manhattan had jointly acquired the Frank Lloyd Wright archives, which consist of architectural drawings, large-scale models, historical photographs, manuscripts, letters and other documents.  You’ll find her report here:

Columbia University’s Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library ( will be the keeper of all of Wright’s paper archives, as well as interview tapes, transcripts and films. MoMA ( will add Wright’s three-dimensional models to its permanent collection.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation will retain all copyright and intellectual property responsibilities for the archives, and all three organizations hope to see the archives placed online at some point in the future.

On 12 June 2017, MoMA opened its exhibit, “Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive,” which ran thru 1 October 2017.  You can take an online tour of this exhibit, which included Wright’s plans for The Illinois, here:

MoMA’s curator of the Wright collection, Barry Bergdoll, provided an introduction to the trove of recently acquired documentation on The Illinois in a short 2017 video (4:32 minutes) at the following link:

Plans and sketches for The Illinois mile-high skyscraper at the 
2017 MoMA exhibit.  Source:  MoMA

You can download a pdf copy of this article here:

5.  For more information

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Mile-High Skyscraper, The Illinois:

Frank Lloyd Wright’s concept for Broadacre City:

Frank Lloyd Wright’s related organic high-rise building designs:

Also check out the following short videos:

60th Anniversary of the Atomium

Peter Lobner

The official Atomium’s website reports that 2018 marks the 60thanniversary of this iconic mid-century “atomic age” structure in Brussels.

“The Atomium was the main pavilion and icon of the World Fair of Brussels (1958), commonly called Expo 58.  It symbolized the democratic will to maintain peace among all the nations, faith in progress, both technical and scientific and, finally, an optimistic vision of the future of a modern, new, super-technological world for a better life for mankind.

The peaceful use of atomic energy for scientific purposes embodied these themes particularly well and, so, that is what determined the shape of the edifice.  At 102 meters high, with its nine interconnected spheres, it represents an elementary iron crystal enlarged 165 billion (thousand million) times. It was dreamed up by the engineer André Waterkeyn (1917-2005).  The spheres, though, were fitted out by the architects André and Jean Polak.

The Atomium was not intended to survive beyond the 1958 World Fair but its popularity and success soon made it a key landmark, first of Brussels then internationally.

Half a century later, the Atomium continues, for that matter, to embody those ideas of the future and universality.  And, among other things through its cultural programming, it carries on the debate begun in 1958:  What kind of future do we want for tomorrow?  What does happiness depend on?

Over and above the symbolic value linked to its history, the Atomium has become one of the icons of the city of Brussels: capital of Europe, with which it has a special relationship. Since its inspired restoration (2006), the landmark that many people call the most Belgian monument is also a museum with its permanent collections and temporary exhibitions.

The completely steel-clad Atomium is a kind of UFO in the cultural history of humanity, a mirror turned simultaneously towards the past and the future, comparing our utopias of yesterday with our dreams for tomorrow”

As originally built, the Atomium had a load-bearing steel structure enclosed in an aluminum skin.  After 40 years, the aluminum skin had lost its sheen and gaps had opened up in the joints between panels.  The two-year restoration, which was completed in February 2006, involved removing the aluminum skin and replacing it with a new polished stainless steel skin that maintained the original design while adding LED exterior lighting and other modern features for thermal, sound and fire insulation. You’ll find details on the renovation project in a 2007 Euro Inox report at the following link:

Atomium during renovation.  Source:

The restored Atomium at night. Source:

Cross-section of the Atomium.  Source: adapted from

The above cross-section diagram shows the areas of the Atomium used for exhibits, event space, observation platforms and a restaurant. The three unsupported spheres are not open to the public.

See more details on the official Atomium website here:

View from the inside. Source:  Georgio Galeotti via

Architect David Fisher’s Dynamic Skyscraper

Peter Lobner

David Fisher is the leading proponent of dynamic architecture and the inventor of the shape-changing dynamic skyscraper. The shape-changing feature is a clear differentiator between the dynamic skyscraper and earlier symmetrical rotating high-rise buildings like Suite Vollard, which was the first rotating high-rise building. This unique residential building opened in 2001 in Brazil.

David FisherSource:

GE.DI Group

The GE.DI Group is an Italian construction firm that has become a leading proponent of new construction systems, including David Fisher’s dynamic architecture.

“GE.DI. Group (GEstione DInamica stand for Dynamic Management) in 2008, decided to embark on a new era of architecture: the Dynamic Architecture, a project of the architect David Fisher for rotating towers, continually evolving: dynamic, ecological, made with industrial systems.”

“The revolution of Fisher put an end to the era of the static and immutable architecture and it inaugurates a new one, at the sign of the dynamism and the lifestyle. These buildings will become the symbol of a new philosophy that will change the image of our cities and the concept of living.”

More information on GE.DI Group is available at the following link:

Concept of a Dynamic Skyscraper

Dynamic skyscraper conceptShape-changing rotating skyscraper. Source:

Three unique features of the dynamic skyscraper are:

1. Building exterior shape changes continuously: Each floor can rotate slowly thru 360 degrees independently of the other floors, with control over speed and direction of rotation. Coordination of the rotating floors to produce the artistic building shapes shown above may not be implemented in some applications. Nonetheless, the building’s exterior shape now has a fourth dimension: Time. The artistic possibilities of the dynamic skyscraper are shown (in time lapse) in the following 2011 video.

2. Prefabricated construction, except for the reinforced concrete core: After the reinforced concrete core has been completed and building services have been installed inside the core, factory manufactured prefabricated units will be transported to the construction site completely finished and will be hung from the central core. Connecting each rotating floor to electrical and water services in the stationary core will be an interesting engineering challenge. The extensive use of prefabricated construction (about 85% of total construction) greatly reduces site labor requirements, construction environmental impacts, and overall construction time. Read more on plans for prefabrication at the following link:

Building plan - dynamic skyscraper

Assembly plan for a dynamic skyscraper. Source: Source:

Modular unit installationPrefabricated modules being lifted into place. Source: Source:

3. Generates its own electric power: Horizontal wind turbine generators installed in the approximately two-foot gap between the rotating floors will be the building’s primary source of power. Roof-mounted solar panels on each floor also will be employed. Surplus power will be delivered to the grid, delivering enough power to supply about five similarly sized buildings in the vicinity. Read more on the energy generating and energy saving features of the dynamic skyscraper at the following link:

Wind turbine installationWind turbine installation.  Source: Source:

The first dynamic skyscraper may be built in Dubai

In a 14 February 2017 article entitled, “Dubai Will Have the World’s First Rotating Skyscraper by 2020,” Madison Margolin reported on the prospects for an 80-story mixed-use (office, hotel, residential) rotating skyscraper in Dubai. You can read the complete article on the Motherboard website at the following link:

Da Vinci rotating-tower DubaiSource:

Each floor of the 420 meter (1,378 ft.) Da Vinci Tower will consist of 40 factory-built modules hung from the load-bearing 22-meter (72.2 ft.) diameter reinforced concrete core. Each module will be cantilevered up to 15 meters (49.2 ft.) from the core.

Cantilevered floorsCantilevered rotating floors. Source:

The lower retail / office floors of the Da Vinci Tower will not rotate. The upper hotel and residential floors will rotate and each will require about 4 kW of power to rotate. Each residential floor can be configured into several individual apartments or a single “villa.” You’ll find a concept for a “luxury penthouse villa” at the following link:

You’ll find more details on the Da Vinci Tower in a slideshow at the following link:

If it is built, the Da Vinci Tower will be the world’s first dynamic skyscraper. It also will be David Fisher’s first skyscraper.

Post-World War II Prefabricated Aluminum and Steel Houses and Their Relevance Today

This 3 August 2016 post was replaced on 15 June 2020 with my updated and expanded post with the same title, “Post-World War II Prefabricated Aluminum and Steel Houses and Their Relevance Today,” which is available at the following link:

The updated and expanded resource document provides a brief overview of the post-WW II housing crisis in the US, UK and France, and the efforts in these nations to help resolve the housing crisis with mass-produced, prefabricated aluminum and steel houses.  It also provides links to 13 individual, downloadable articles I prepared on specific types of post-WW II prefabricated aluminum and steel houses manufactured in the US, UK and France.

I hope you’ll find the new post to be informative, useful and different from any other single source on the subject.

Best regards,

Peter Lobner

15 June 2020

Tall and Skinny in New York City and Miami

Peter Lobner

An architectural trend in New York City (NYC) is the construction of very tall, very slender residential / multi-use towers on small building sites in the heart of the city. This trend is driven by the very high cost and limited availability of large building sites. This trend is enabled by zoning laws and the following technical factors:

  • Materials: Use of higher-strength steel, concrete and composite structures permits lighter / stronger structures than commonly found in earlier generation skyscrapers.
  • Advanced design analysis and simulation: Advances in structural modeling, computing power, and simulation permit a more detailed engineering analysis of the building’s response to static and dynamic loads and optimization of the design for the specified conditions.
  • Aerodynamic shaping: Incorporation of shapes and design details that break up the wind flow around a building help reduce wind loads that can cause swaying and vortex shedding that can shake / vibrate a building.
  • Damping devices: Devices such as mass dampers (moving weights) and slosh dampers (large tanks of water) are employed to counteract the building’s natural response to external forces. For example, mass dampers installed on an upper floor can be tuned to move out of phase with wind-induced forces and thereby reduce sway. Slosh dampers can help absorb vibrations. Both can help make the building more comfortable for its occupants, particularly on the upper floors.

New York City’s Skyscraper Museum ( defines “slenderness” as the ratio of the width of a building’s base to its height.

  • The 1,250 ft. (381 meters) tall Empire State Building (not including antenna) occupies a full city block site measuring 424 x 187 ft. (129.2 x 57 meters), for a slenderness ratio of 1:2.95.
  • The original World Trade Center (WTC) north tower (not including antenna) was 1,368 ft. (417 meters) tall and measured 209 ft. (63.7 meters) on a side, yielding a slenderness ratio of 1:6.5.
  • New “super-slender” towers in NYC have slenderness ratios up to 1:23. At this slenderness ratio, a 12-inch ruler standing on end would be slightly more than 1/2 inch wide.

Visit the Skyscraper Museum’s website and check out their 2013 – 2014 exhibition, “SKY HIGH & the logic of luxury.”  The museum describes this exhibit as follows: “SKY HIGH exhibit examines the recent proliferation of super-slim, ultra-luxury residential towers on the rise in Manhattan. These pencil-thin buildings-all 50 to 90+ stories-constitute a new type of skyscraper in a city where tall, slender structures have a long history.” The direct link to this exhibition is here:

The top three NYC “super-slenders” are discussed below. Also discussed below is a notable “super-slender” building being developed in Miami.

Rafael Vainly & SLCE Architects: Residential tower, 432 Park Avenue, New York City

This 96-floor residential tower in mid-town Manhattan was built between 2012 and 2015, and, at a height of 1,396 ft. (426 meters), is one of the tallest buildings in New York City and currently is the tallest residential tower in the Western hemisphere. The highest occupied floor is almost a quarter mile up, at 1,287 ft. (392 meters).

432 Park Ave NYCImage source:

This square building measures 93 ft. (28 meters) on a side (one foot less than the length of a basketball court), giving it a slenderness ratio of 1:15.

You can explore this skyscraper at the following website:

This site includes the following diagram, which compares (L to R) the new One WTC, the 432 Park Ave tower, one of the original WTC towers, and the Empire State Building.  Note how slender the 432 Park Ave tower is relative to the conventional skyscrapers.

Tall builsing comparisonIn case you’re interested, you can find apartment listings for sale or rent at the following website:

On the date I wrote this article, the least expensive apartment (6 rooms, 3 bedrooms, 4-1/2 baths) was selling for $17.5M on the lowly 36th floor. A penthouse on the 88th floor was under contract for $76.5M.

SHoP Architects: Residential tower, 111 West 57th Street, New York City

This building is under construction and will be an 80-floor, 1,438 ft. (438 meter) tall, residential tower when it is completed in 2018. With a slenderness ratio of 1:23, this will be the most slender skyscraper in the world. The square cross-section of the building steps back at about 2/3 height to give the top of the building a chisel-like profile.

SHoP Architects describes this project as:

“The design aims to bring back the quality, materiality and proportions of historic NYC towers, while taking advantage of the latest technology to push the limits of engineering and fabrication.”

To improve stability in high winds and seismic events, the building includes an 800-ton tuned mass damper.

You can explore this cutting-edge skyscraper at the following link:

111 W 57 St NYCImage source: SHoP Architects

Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture: Central Park Tower, 225 West 57th Street, New York City

This is a mixed-use, irregularly shaped 99-floor skyscraper that will be 1,550 ft. (472 m) tall when it is completed in 2019. The highest occupied floor will be more than a quarter mile high, at 1,450 ft. (442 meters).

The developers purchased “air rights” from a neighboring property owner to permit part of the Central Park Tower to be cantilevered over the neighboring property, as shown in the following figures.

Central Park Tower 1          Central Park Tower 2Image source: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

The deck at the top of the building will be 182 ft. (55.5 meters) taller than the new One World Trade Center, which is still considered to be taller because of its antenna structure on the roof. This height comparison can be seen in the following diagram, which also highlights how slender the Central Park Tower is in comparison to One WTC.

Central Park Tower 3

Image source: adapted from New York YIMBY

SHoP Architects: Miami Innovation Tower, 1031 NW First Ave, Miami

The trend toward tall, slender towers is not limited to NYC. Another stunning tall, slender mixed-use skyscraper is SHoP’s twisting 633 ft. (193 meters) Miami Innovation Tower planned for Miami’s Park West neighborhood. This skyscraper will be built as part of a four block “Miami Innovation District,” which is intended to attract high-tech businesses to the mixed-use neighborhood.

Miami Innovation Tower

Image source: SHoP Architects

The tower incorporates a fully integrated “active skin” that provides lighting and a messaging capability on the surface of the building. The Miami Herald reported:

“Unlike traditional billboard signage, the mesh-like messaging technologies are in fact integrated completely into the complex, pleated form of the tower’s exterior. The result is an ethereal, highly-transparent surface, open to the slender concrete tower core and views of the city and the sky beyond.”

You will find more information on the Miami Innovation Tower, and its integration in the Innovation District at the following link:

Other skyscrapers around the world

If you want to know more about other skyscrapers around the world, I refer you to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH). Their home page is at the following link:

From here, you can navigate to their Tall Buildings Information & Resources, including The Skyscraper Center, which contains the Global Tall Building Database. The direct link to the Skyscraper Center is:

Have fun exploring!

World Federation of Great Towers

Peter Lobner

The tower is one of mankind’s oldest architectural accomplishments. The World Federation of Great Towers is an international association with 48 members in over 20 countries that exists to showcase the world’s great modern towers and celebrate the feats of architecture and engineering that led to their creation. You can examine many of the tallest buildings in the world at the following link:

The following members of the World Federation of Great Towers were completed in the last decade include:

  • Oct 2005 – Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth, NH, 170 m (558 ft) tall
  • Apr 2006 – Goryokaku Tower, Hokkaido, Japan, 107 m (351 ft) tall
  • Oct 2006 – Eureka Skydeck 88, Melbourne, Australia, 300 m (984 ft) tall (see photo below)
  • Oct 2007 – The Hague Tower, The Hague, Netherlands, 132 m (433 ft) tall
  • Jan 2010 – Burj Khalifa, Dubai, UAE, 828 m (2,716.5 ft) tall
  • Sep 2010 – Canton Tower, Guangzhou, China, 600 m (1,968 ft) tall
  • April 2011 – Henan Tower (Tower of Fortune), Zhengzhou, China, 388 m (1,273 ft) tall
  • May 2012 – The Shard, London, UK, 310 m (1,016 ft) tall

image Eureka Skydeck 88   Source: Melbourne Library

The World Federation of Great Towers membership does not include all of the very tall buildings in the world, such as the new One World Trade Center in New York City. You can find a listing of all of the world’s buildings that have a height exceeding 300 meters (984 feet) at the following link:

Sorting this list by date highlights the great number (72) of very tall buildings that have been completed in the past decade:

  • 2005:  2
  • 2006:  0
  • 2007:  5
  • 2008:  2
  • 2009:  5
  • 2010: 13
  • 2011: 8
  • 2012: 14
  • 2013:  7
  • 2014:  9
  • 2015:  7

There definitely is a building boom for giant skyscrapers.

22 May 2016 Update: Global Tall Building Database

Another source of information on skyscrapers is the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH). Their home page is at the following link:

From here, you can navigate to their Tall Buildings Information & Resources, including The Skyscraper Center, which contains the Global Tall Building Database. The direct link to the Skyscraper Center is:

5 January 2019 Update:  Top 30 tallest buildings dynamic info-graphic

Ian Fisher (WawamuStats) created the following dynamic Info-graphic that compares the world’s top 30 tallest buildings ever built. Most of these buildings are located in China, UAE, or the United States.  The oldest of these buildings was completed in 1974 and the newest in 2018.  The Empire State Building is not among the top 30. Here’s the link to the dynamic Info-graphic: