Leadership in Engineering

High-Rise Design

As high-rise buildings grow taller, more slender, and geometrically unique, opportunities for structural creativity and economy increase dramatically.
MKA’s innovative design of 551-m (1,808-ft-) tall Doha Tower features a mega-frame system with only 8 corner columns and distribution belt trusses that result in 40% more efficient overturning resistance and perimeter-column-free lobbies and amenity levels.
MKA’s designs are architecturally sensitive, and optimized. The Suning Zhenjiang project includes sloping composite mega-frame columns, a structurally expressed diagrid that carries both gravity and lateral forces, and a 30+-m (98+-ft) column-free clear span at the tower base.

Tall building design is elemental to MKA’s DNA.  Beginning in 1930 with the 17-story art-deco Textile Tower Building in Seattle, the globe is now dotted with a decades-long history of our evolutionary high-rise designs. 

At MKA, we listen, understand, then create aesthetically appealing, highly functional, and economically viable solutions for tall buildings of all heights.  For example, in 1989, our design of 56-story Two Union Square in Seattle featured a first-ever structural system using steel pipe columns filled with record-setting 21,500-psi concrete combined with the first-ever use of viscoelastic outrigger dampers.  Not only did this innovative system reduce the structural cost by over 1/3, it created column-free floors throughout the building.  For Zhenjiang Suning Plaza, MKA’s development of an external diagrid frame contributed to 30 m (98.4 ft) of column-free space at the tower’s base and became part of the building’s architectural identity.  For 326.2-m (1,070-ft) Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, slated to be the tallest building on the U.S. West Coast and the 8th tallest in the country, our engineers applied state-of-the-art performance-based seismic design methodologies to produce a safer, more reliable structure in an area of high earthquake activity.

These examples are not unique; they are how we approach every high-rise design.


Material optimization strategies are critical to tower design.  From virtual work to iterative shape modeling, MKA is continually developing new approaches to graphically describe our findings and inform our understanding of the building design. This exploration, in collaboration with our architectural clients, can often lead to the structure informing the architectural tower expression. 

Human Perception to Motion

One of the biggest high-rise challenges is controlling human perception to motion caused by wind.  In fact, in many locations, wind forces impact tall buildings more than gravity or earthquake forces.  MKA has pioneered a variety of economical solutions to “dampen” wind-induced building movement.  In 1986, we implemented the first-ever use of multi-layer visco-elastic dampers in Seattle’s 76-story Columbia Center, reducing the amount of steel structure by 49%.  At the time of its erection, not only was Columbia Center the tallest structure in the western U.S., it was also the most economical high-performance structure of its height ever built, worldwide.

In 2002, MKA designed Highcliff, in Hong Kong, a skinny 73-story tower located on the side of a cliff in one of the windiest places on earth. The tower features the first-ever use of a tuned liquid mass damper (TLMD) to control building movement in wind, an innovative system which resulted in a 30% reduction in column, wall, and beam sizes and a 40% reduction in steel reinforcing.  This was achieved by "tuning" water tanks that were already required within the tower.  We have continued to advance this wind engineering technology:  150 North Riverside in Chicago features 12 TLMDs designed to address not only occupant comfort but also building “drift,” extending their application to structural performance.

Leading the Way

From the first liquid-fireproofed and temperature controlled columns in a building, to the first use of a rooftop liquid tuned damper, to many more "firsts" in the last 95 years, MKA continues to advance the development of tall building design.