At a time when Manhattan luxury condos can cost tens of millions of dollars, residential high-rise buildings made of glass have become symbols of gargantuan excess and privilege. But the history of vertical living goes far back in time and extends around the globe – from the biblical Tower of Babel, to Arizona cliff dwellings to the Soviet Khrushchyovka towers.
In the last century, the high-rise (a common contemporary word for buildings 12 or more stories high) became a common tool, made of concrete, to counter urban sprawl and social inequality. New York played a crucial role in the evolution of this global phenomenon. And as the world’s cities have grown, the residential high-rise has become a social and political barometer of urbanization’s successes and failures. We’ve paid surprisingly little attention to this part of the urban fabric.