The words building, tower, and skyscraper are often used interchangeably, but it can be difficult to determine what the actual definitions of each are.
Learning more about each type of structure can help you decide which word is appropriate for a certain situation and what the purpose of each structure is.
Buildings are defined as any structure with a roof and walls. This means that a home, store, office building, school, or even a barn can be called a building.
It also means that all towers and skyscrapers are technically both types of buildings. People usually call a structure a building, however, when it’s only a few stories tall or when it’s wider than it is tall.
Some buildings have basements while others are simply built on a concrete foundation. What type of structure the building stands on doesn’t change its definition as a building.
As mentioned above, all towers are technically buildings, but they’re usually only called towers or tower blocks when they’re taller than they are wide.
These buildings sometimes have many floors, but some towers have only one or two floors at the top, with a main floor at the bottom and a large staircase winding through the main part of the structure.
Although there’s no definitive definition for a tower, these buildings are usually only called towers when they’re designed for uses other than habitation.
In appearance, towers are usually very narrow, although what the ratio of height to width must be in order to be called a tower is flexible. Because towers are so tall, they’re usually built in a certain way.
Most towers have a slightly wider base for support, and this support structure narrows slightly the higher up the tower you go.
This gives the tower a unique appearance and also makes it strong enough to withstand weather or attacks.
Towers can be freestanding or connected to another building, and they are often designed and built to perform a specific function.
For example, some important buildings that house machinery or serve a specific purpose, such as lighthouses or buildings used for air traffic control, are often called towers.
In years past, tall turrets that were used for the defense of an area were also referred to as towers.
A tower is usually built to be tall not to save space or look impressive but to afford people a clear line of sight or a better view of an area.
Towers are also often tall and unadorned with sheer walls so that they are impenetrable.
Towers used as defensive structures, particularly towers that serve as lookout areas in a wall or another large structure, must be constructed so that climbing them is challenging.
Many people think of these towers in a medieval setting, where they were quite popular, but defensive towers built in this manner are still used today, particularly in areas that must be guarded carefully, such as military installations or prisons.
Still, other towers serve a similar purpose but in reverse. Many towers were once used as prisons themselves, and the tower’s great height helped to ensure that prisoners couldn’t escape by climbing down.
In modern days, towers are often used for office space, and they might also be used for shopping or even restaurants.
Tower blocks are sometimes a bit less narrow than other towers, and these buildings offer more space inside, which can accommodate different shops or businesses.
Sometimes, towers are even built on top of other tall buildings, including skyscrapers, to offer a good view or to capture electricity or send out electronic or radio signals.
The tallest building defined as a tower in the world is the India Tower in Mumbai, which stands 2,321 feet tall. The tower was never completed, however.
Other famous towers include the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Tower of London in England. The Eiffel Tower, which is now a notable landmark, was designed as the centerpiece for the 1889 World’s Fair.
The Tower of London originally served as a fortress and prison, but today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Tower of London is an excellent example of a building made up of several connected towers.
The definition of a skyscraper and a tower or tower block can overlap, but generally, any building that is taller than 490 feet or 150 meters or has more than 40 stories is called a skyscraper.
This definition has changed a bit over the years as buildings became taller and taller.
A skyscraper used to be any building that was over 20 stories, but those structures might now simply be called buildings or tower blocks.
Skyscrapers are also sometimes referred to as high rises.
Skyscrapers are built differently than towers. Some skyscrapers have a tapered appearance, but in general, most skyscrapers are as wide at the top as they are at the bottom.
Skyscrapers are usually built using a series of underground piers as a substructure. This helps to support the skyscraper’s massive steel columns and girders, which operate as the frame of the building.
From these girders, curtain walls are hung. Curtain walls are usually very thin and are often made of lightweight aluminum or glass. These walls are not designed to be loadbearing.
This is why skyscrapers have so many windows.
Some people define a skyscraper as having a steel frame and curtain walls, and this is how almost all modern skyscrapers are constructed.
However, older skyscrapers did often feature sturdier walls, similar to the strong concrete, brick, or wood walls you might find on a different, shorter building or tower.
These walls were often loadbearing, which gave at least the bottom parts of the skyscraper added strength.
Unlike most towers, skyscrapers are often used for housing. Many skyscrapers are built to hold apartments or condominiums, while other skyscrapers are used for office space or retail areas.
Some skyscrapers are designed to function as miniature cities with housing, restaurants, shopping, and even office space all together in one building.
The tallest skyscraper in the world is Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The building stands 2,717 feet tall.
The tallest skyscraper in the United States is One World Trade Center in New York City, which stands 1,776 feet tall.