Skyscrapers Inching Closer to the Heavens Again

Dubai has its famed Burj Khalifa, but the world’s tallest building is getting a lot of company these days with the business of building skyscrapers suddenly booming as the global economy recovers.

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The Shanghai Skyline (photo by Antony Wood)

China and the Middle East have been the source of most of these bold architectural statements that are shooting towers all around the world to dizzying new heights, but the two regions have hardly been alone.

More than 600 buildings of at least 200 meters (656 feet) in height – or about 60 stories high – are either currently under construction or in the planning stages, according to the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

There are currently just three buildings in the world – the Burj Khalifa, the Makkah Royal Clock Tower in Mecca, Saudi Arabia and China’s Taipei 101 – that stand at least 500 meters (1,640 feet) tall, but there are plans for 10 more by 2020, including the $1.2 billion Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. That building is scheduled to become the world’s first 1,000-meter (3,280 feet) tower upon its completion in 2019.

“The simplest way to explain is that urbanization is happening at an extremely rapid pace,” says Daniel Safarik, an editor with Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. “And we do think we’re going to see even more tall buildings in the near future.”

The trend hasn’t caught on nearly as much in the United States, where more restrictive building codes often exist to make sure time-honored local landmark views are never obscured by high-rise buildings. Nevertheless, Matt Tinder, a spokesperson for the American Institute of Architects, says his organization has also noticed the trend, citing a recent positive Architecture Billings Index that pointed toward an increase ahead in nonresidential construction spending.

“I would say that, if the economy is getting better as a whole,” he says, “I’m sure there are more skyscrapers being built.”

The Burj Khalifa currently ranks as the world’s tallest building at 828 meters (2,717 feet). Overall, three of the four tallest buildings completed in 2012 were located in Dubai, including the 413-meter (nearly 1,355 feet) Princess Tower that ranks as the world’s tallest residential building.

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Model of the Shanghai Tower (photo by Antony Wood)

China has likewise seen an explosion of mega towers, including the recent completion of the Shanghai Tower that ranks as the world’s second-tallest building at 632 meters (2,073 feet). Four of the five tallest buildings currently under construction are in China, according to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat website.

Overall, China lists 249 buildings standing at least 200 meters (656 feet) in height, with another 239 such structures currently under construction. Of those already completed, 25 percent (62 buildings) can be found in Hong Kong. Another 18 percent (44 buildings) are located in Shanghai.

The boom in China is as much about bragging rights as it is necessity as space is at a premium in the populous communist country with so many of its citizens being forced to leave the rural areas for more opportunity in the cities.

The dearth of space means it’s easier to build up rather than out.

The expansion has not come without its share of problems, however, as intense air pollution has become an issue in the cities with so many people crowded in close proximity.

But the Chinese are hardly alone in their rush to build big. In 2009, Europe listed only 19 buildings of at least 200 meters in height. The continent will feature 44 such buildings by the end of 2014, with 13 of those being in Moscow. No other European city will boast more than five, says the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

Formerly known as the Sears Tower, the Willis Tower in Chicago is currently America’s tallest building and ranks ninth in the world at 1,451 feet. When completed, New York City’s One World Trade Center will surpass it at 1,776 feet. The building is being constructed on the site of the former World Trade Center towers destroyed during September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

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