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Working above the clouds

Life on the edge - Working above the clouds


As cities have become more crowded, buildings have had to become higher in order to accommodate the developer's requirements. Designing, planning and working on some of the world's tallest buildings is now commonplace for many involved in construction, including engineers. At Anderselite, we deal with workers like these on a daily basis but it can sometimes be difficult to imagine what's involved in working on these buildings, so here is a look into the lives of the workers that shape our landscapes...

Many countries around the world are now competing to create the world's tallest building. As soon as one takes the record, it seems there is another even taller building being planned. Currently, this record is held by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which stands 828 metres high. However, this is unlikely to remain in the top position for long, with the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia expected to be completed in 2017. It will be 1,000 metres tall!

As demand for skyscrapers increases, workers in the industry have to develop different construction methods in order to overcome the unique and demanding challenges that these projects present. Constructing a tall building is a fairly modular process, with work having to start from the bottom up and be completed one floor at a time. If the schedule is falling behind, it's hard to increase the pace of the project, as each part needs to be finished before the next one can start.

The Roles of Engineers

An important role on any skyscraper project is that of the structural engineer. They work on the overall structure of a building and how this will be kept stable. Without this expertise, the buildings wouldn't be designed to withstand the pressures exerted on them. For example, in certain parts of the world, buildings are designed to survive natural disasters such as earthquakes. They use computer and 3D models to see how buildings will react to different situations.

It might not be the most glamorous part of their job, but a lot of the work of a structural engineer is completed in the office. In the initial stages of a project, they work closely with the architects to ensure that both the design and structure of the building will support each other. They create the drawings and blueprints and decide on the materials it'll be constructed from. With skyscraper projects, the calculations undertaken by structural engineers are even more important. One small error could result in the building becoming unstable.

Once a project reaches the construction stage, the structural engineers will spend a lot of time on the site. They need to check the progress of the work and ensure that everything is running according to their plans. In order to check the side of a tall building, either during construction or to examine an existing structure, engineers will use industrial rope access. Also known as rappelling, this involves them abseiling down the side of a building using a harness system. This is the only way of seeing the exterior of the building close up, where they can check for any cracks or defects.

One of the major issues that has had to be overcome with the building of skyscrapers is the distribution of water around the building. As the water is lifted higher, it suffers from a loss of pressure, meaning that appliances won't operate effectively. The water systems in tall buildings can also create too great a pressure lower down. Using the calculations and design skills of hydraulic engineers, a system of pressure-reducing valves and sub-risers that help to provide a consistent pressure levels throughout the entire building has been developed. The pressure-reducing valves decrease the pressure at the bottom and sub-risers increase it on the higher levels.

Unless you've actually worked on a tall building project, it's hard to imagine what it’s really like. It's not all about hanging from a crane that's 93 storeys in the air, but there are definitely some unique challenges involved in this type of career.

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