A high-rise building is a tall building, as opposed to a low-rise building and is defined by its height differently in various jurisdictions. It is used as a residential, office building, or other functions including hotel, retail, or with multiple purposes combined. Residential high-rise buildings are also known as tower blocks and may be referred to as "MDUs", standing for "multi-dwelling unit". A very tall high-rise building is referred to as a skyscraper.
High-rise buildings became possible with the invention of the elevator (lift) and less expensive, more abundant building materials. The materials used for the structural system of high-rise buildings are reinforced concrete and steel. Most North American style skyscrapers have a steel frame, while residential blocks are usually constructed of concrete. There is no clear difference between a tower block and a skyscraper, although a building with fifty or more stories is generally considered a skyscraper.
High-rise structures pose particular design challenges for structural and geotechnical engineers, particularly if situated in a seismically active region or if the underlying soils have geotechnical risk factors such as high compressibility or bay mud. They also pose serious challenges to firefighters during emergencies in high-rise structures. New and old building design, building systems like the building standpipe system, HVAC systems (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), fire sprinkler system and other things like stairwell and elevator evacuations pose significant problems. Studies are often required to ensure that pedestrian wind comfort and wind danger concerns are addressed. In order to allow less wind exposure, to transmit more daylight to the ground and to appear more slender, many high-rises have a design with setbacks.
Apartment buildings have technical and economic advantages in areas of high population density and have become a distinctive feature of housing accommodation in virtually all densely populated urban areas around the world. In contrast with low-rise and single-family houses, apartment blocks accommodate more inhabitants per unit of area of land and decrease the cost of municipal infrastructure.