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Science, Maths & Technology

Tall building challenge

Updated Monday 12th June 2006

Adam asks if there’s a limit to how tall you can make a building.

flying seesaw Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission

Building structure made from spaghetti and jelly babies Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission The tallest building in the world when the programme was filmed was the Petronus Towers in Kuala Lumpur, which rise up over a quarter of mile. It is engineering and design skills which allow us to build so high, but the physical properties of the materials are also critical.

Bricks, which have been around for thousands of years, are incredibly strong. A single brick can take a pressure of about 10 tons, which is strong enough to support a five-mile tall tower made out of bricks. Unfortunately walls of single bricks have little sideways stability, this can only be achieved by building walls thicker at the bottom and adding buttresses. So, bricks have a practical design limit of about 15 storeys - any taller than this and your whole ground floor would be solid brick!

Steel can be 25 times stronger than brick, and has the advantage that it can be bolted together, and overlapped at joints, so that it can have sideways as well as vertical strength.

To demonstrate the importance of design, the Science Shack team chose to make a tall tower out of paper, in itself a very weak material. However, when paper is rolled into thick tubes, which are fitted together in a framework that can withstand both compressional and tensional stresses, it becomes very strong. Strong enough that the team were able to build a 7m tall tower that supported a lift, a lift platform and Adam!

As you’ll have seen in this episode of Science Shack, constructing a tall building requires engineering and design skills. You can demonstrate yours using just spaghetti and jelly babies. Follow the rules below to see if you can outdo the volunteers featured on our programme – or why not compete against friends in your own tall building competition!


study Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC
Stuff you need

  • Spaghetti
  • Jelly babies
  • Tape measure
  • An egg

What to do

See how tall a structure you can make out of spaghetti and jelly babies. Stick to the rules set in the programme to see if you can beat the winning structure. Our record so far is 1 metre - send us a photo if you beat it!

You are allowed 500 grams of spaghetti (any length) and 450 grams of jelly babies. Your structure must stand entirely within an area 30 cm by 30 cm.

One catch - the structure must support at its apex an unbroken raw egg for at least one minute. The winner gets all the jelly babies!

Have a look at the structures built by our contestants for inspiration. The Science Shack team tried applying all their engineering know-how and came up with our own design, which we think could easily exceed 2 meters in height:

rectangular contestant design

square contestant design


For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?