I played some video games with beautiful environments filled with buildings which can't be found in the real world. And so I'm wondering, would such buildings be even realistically possible to exist in the real world?

My assumption is that they are made from the most likely material - stone. If it is impossible, would it be possible to make it from some other material while being able to maintain the aesthetics of the exterior (painted steel)?

At some point, the materials (marble, concrete) under certain conditions must start deforming, correct? So how high could a gothic cathedral possibly be?

For reference, I will enclose a couple of pictures from Dark Souls 3 which will hopefully give you an idea of what I have on my mind. If you ever played this game, you will know how colossal the buildings are:


For your convenience, I added red lines to represent the height of a human in comparison to these structures. If you can't find them, I put them into yellow circles. Additionally, these two pictures are showing the same castle, and I made sure that these representations of the human height are on the same sea level. So the heights add up.

Also, for a better sense of how high it actually is, I am also enclosing a video where the player travels from the location of the second human height representation. Hopefully, it will give you a better sense of the size:

From the outside

And a second video, so that you can grasp how large the castle is when you stand on its outer wall:

From the inside

  • $\begingroup$ So how big are the pyramids ... $\endgroup$
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 13:01
  • $\begingroup$ @SolarMike 139 meters $\endgroup$
    – Gillian
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 13:21
  • $\begingroup$ Why are you interested in the pyramids anyway? $\endgroup$
    – Gillian
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 13:23
  • $\begingroup$ Well, you mentioned building out of stone... You want to know a bit about height... Why don't you investigate compressive strength? $\endgroup$
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 13:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Strasbourg Cathedral is 142m, what type of arch construction do you plan to use? $\endgroup$
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 13:47

2 Answers 2


The tallest masonry building erected is the Philadelphia City Hall . It is 548 feet high.

The issue with building masonry structures is the walls have to support the weight of the building and the weight of the wall itself. Bricks & stone are heavy, so for a masonry wall to be tall the width of the wall at its base needs to wide - it can taper to a thinner wider up the wall. This can place limitations on the area of usable space inside such buildings.

The other issue is, with so much weight there will be a lot bearing pressure on the ground and the ground needs to be strong enough to support the structure. Soils are not as strong as bed rock, and some bedrock can be weak, depending on the bedrock. Sometimes masonry wall need to have foundations set in bedrock.

  • $\begingroup$ Wow. Well, and do you think it would be possible to construct a masonry structure . . . something like 5 times larger Cologne cathedral? $\endgroup$
    – Gillian
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ (height of Burj Khalifa yet still a habitable masonry structure) $\endgroup$
    – Gillian
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 15:25
  • $\begingroup$ The Burj Khalifa is not a masonry structure. The primary structure is made from reinforced concrete. The upper part of the building is made of steel. $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ did I ever say it was a masonry structure? $\endgroup$
    – Gillian
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 17:28
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Well, obviously you can do it in principle. Mount Everest is a masonry structure, for example! But whether you can do it in practice for something that "looks like your idea of what a building should look like" is a different question, of course. $\endgroup$
    – alephzero
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 18:45

The tallest brick building is the Monadnock building in Chicago at 215 ft. A solid brick structure could be made taller ; with no interior space. All very tall buildings are steel . The stone or glass facing you see is hanging on the steel; "curtain wall" design. Foundations that I know of are based on steel pilings drilled hundreds of feet into bed rock; Criteria are based on the strength of bedrock. Correction ; Since the Sears Tower .they are concrete/steel composites, not steel. I hate when I need to learn something new. I worked for Amoco when they built the SOB ( Standard Oil Bldg ) , aka Aon Tower, so that was my reference point.

  • $\begingroup$ See Fred's answer and the comments underneath. $\endgroup$
    – AndyT
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 8:55
  • $\begingroup$ Basically they are still steel, concrete can't begin to be strong enough. But a clever idea ; They replace a large expensive single steel beam with several lower cost, higher strength steel rebars that are held together with concrete. So they use cheaper, higher strength steel . Rebar is higher carbon = higher strength steel that is difficult to weld. The single steel beams have many various attachment points welded to them so need to be very weldable = lower strength. And the composites solve another problem ; fire protection of the steel that the actual load bearing member. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 15:02
  • $\begingroup$ How I wish i could downvote comments. Speaking as a civil and structural engineer I would never call it "composite", it's reinforced concrete. You (almost) never see plain concrete in structural applications, it doesn't have the tensile strength. "Composite" normally refers to a steel beam strcuturally connected a concrete slab. $\endgroup$
    – AndyT
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ As far as "basically still steel" - no. Steel has a compressive stress limit two to three times that of concrete, but due to concrete's lower cost per unit volume you can have much bigger concrete members; the cross-sectional area making up for the lower stress limit (and total force = area times stress don't forget). When talking about very tall buildings the limit is the vertical stress from the weight of the building, and this vertical stress is compressive. The steel reinforcement for tensile stresses is useful in bending, caused by transverse loads. $\endgroup$
    – AndyT
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 15:12
  • $\begingroup$ As far as weldable and your comments about it: you're probably right that rebar isn't as weldable (I'm no metallurgist); but it is possible to build steel buildings with bolted connections instead of welded. $\endgroup$
    – AndyT
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 15:14

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