Steel and Skyscrapers: A Productive History and a Sustainable Future

The relationship between steel and skyscrapers has been ongoing for over one hundred years, and this affiliation is growing ever stronger. In the 1930s, steel facilitated the boom of high-rise construction, while high strength steel ushered in its resurgence in the 1970s. Thanks to its affordability and durability, steel has always been the material of choice for the design and construction of tall buildings’ principal structural systems.

The current times bring with them a growing concern for sustainable development, including contradictory notions on the affordability, safety, and environmental impact of steel. This has resulted in some misperceptions about the role of steel in high-rise construction. In response to this, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) and ArcelorMittal partnered together on a research paper entitled ‘Steel and Skyscrapers: A Productive History and a Sustainable Future’ in order to illustrate the recent developments in the partnership between steel and skyscrapers that make it a strong, sustainable choice for high-rise construction.


This research paper delves into the sustainability of steel while examining its impact on the life cycle analysis of a building with an overall aim to broaden innovation in design via an analysis of new ideas for the creation of sustainable, cost-effective, and optimised buildings for the future.

This paper provides a summary of the latest innovations in specifications with a special focus on high strength steel that can result in a reduced amount of steel being required for a building’s construction. The paper presents design methods that can streamline fabrication and erection for a reduction of energy usage during construction in addition to evaluation ideologies, such as standardising floor area, that increase operational efficiency and reduce negative environmental impact.


“Sustainable development is not a fixed state of harmony, but rather a process of change in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development, and institutional change are made consistent with future as well as present needs” (WCED 1987). As our global knowledge and understanding deepens, it is clear that we all must band together to discern innovative and sustainable methods that will allow for greater economic and social development with the minimisation of environmental damage taking its vital place at the core of these methodologies.

In the same way that tall buildings revolutionised the urban environment, steel has been, and will continue to be, revolutionary and transformational in terms of the correlation between tall buildings and sustainable development. It is the responsibility of those involved in the design and construction process to incorporate the advice of the experts, innovations, and highly sustainable building products in such a way that we will reduce our carbon footprint for future generations.

Text: Constructalia
Research paper: Shelley Finnigan (Global Technical Sales Engineer, Head of Technical Sales & Marketing, Americas, ArcelorMittal), Dario Trabucco (CTBUH Research Manager, Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat), Jean-Claude Gerardy (Head of Export, Sections and Merchant Bars, ArcelorMittal), Nicoleta Popa (Head of Global R&D Construction Applications, Infrastructures and Long Products, ArcelorMittal)