Understanding Skyscraper Foundations

The foundation of a skyscraper is one of the most incredible architectural elements of a skyscraper. Although when you look at a skyscraper, you’re probably mostly thinking about the architectural elements you can see, the architectural elements under the surface are just as important, and possibly even more so. There are a variety of elements that you a designer needs to consider to build a skyscraper foundation effectively.

Building Design

The first thing you need to remember is that building design has a huge impact on what a skyscraper foundation will need to look like. Is the building going to be incredibly tall and thin, or is it going to have an extremely wide base that builds up to a very tall spire?

This impact becomes fairly obvious when you look at the differences between the two tallest buildings on the planet. The Shanghai Tower is the tallest twisted building in the world, and it has a foundation depth of 282 feet. The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world and has a very wide base, and it has a foundation depth of 164 feet. Neither a super-deep foundation nor a shallower foundation are inherently bad, but they just suit different needs.

Site Location

The actual makeup of the ground is one of the important things a designer will consider before they decide how deep the foundation will need to be. That’s because different foundation choices will be necessary for different soil types – sandy soil, for example, tends to absorb more water, so a foundation may have to be deeper.

It’s also important to think about how deep bedrock is. Because bedrock isn’t typically going to shift or move almost at all, designers typically want to put the building foundation into bedrock as much as possible. If bedrock is further down than normal, the designer may need to make the building foundation stretch further down.

Environmental Factors

There are many environmental factors that a designer may need to account for in a skyscraper foundation. For example, especially in locations like China and Japan, a skyscraper may need to account for earthquakes; in locations like New York City, it’s not expected that skyscrapers account for earthquakes.

Especially for skyscrapers, wind speed is also a hugely important thing to think about. Some skyscrapers sway slightly because of wind speed, and while this can feel very scary, it’s also something that a lot of skyscraper designers are aware of and are prepared for. Environmental factors can seriously impact how deep a foundation needs to go so it can counterbalance the potential problems.


From top to bottom, every skyscraper is truly a work of art. There’s no need to think about what the “most important” part of the skyscraper might be. Every part of a skyscraper does its own job, and that’s why it’s so important. However, many people don’t appreciate the foundation enough. It does its job along with the rest of the skyscraper, and it’s important to keep it in mind.