The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat has published its annual report on skyscrapers, finding that 2014 was a record-building year with 97 new monolithic structures popping up across the world. China led the way with a whopping 58 completions. The United States put up 3 skyscrapers, all in New York City. One WTC was the tallest building erected in the past year (and is currently the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere).
While the general trend shows that skyscrapers, defined in the report as at buildings at least 656 feet tall, have increased (and really spiked in the mid-2000s), the number of completed buildings has been stagnant for the last few years: 2013 and 2012 both saw 71 buildings, 2011 saw 81, and 2010 saw 73.
Gizmodo’s Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan wondered what this suggests about the economy, if anything. She looked further into the study, and reasoning that these buildings didn’t just appear — they took years of planning, construction, and funding — she looked up each project’s construction start date. She found that there was a spike in new skyscraper projects between 2010 and 2011, noting that this is when “the economy began to show signs of life after the downturn of 2008 (represented here by a particular dearth of new building sites).”
She cites economist Andrew Lawrence’s 1991 paper, “The Skyscraper Index: Faulty Towers,” creating a link between boom and bust cycles and skyscrapers:
In it, he showed how major economic collapses frequently occur just after record-breaking skyscrapers are built. And rather than just remark upon the curious timing, he set out a hypothesis for why. Lawrence saw a very simple cause and effect at work: During booms, interest rates go down. The economy gloats, companies expand, and bigger companies necessitate more (and nicer) office spaces. What follows is a construction boom-often in the form of towers-spurred by demand. At a certain point, a peak is reached, and a market over-saturated with empty buildings crashes.
But Lawrence’s calculations looked at the “height of the single record-breaking buildings of the year, not necessarily the quantity of tall buildings completed.” Campbell-Dollaghan notes:
The biggest boom for tall buildings, seen through this lens, came in 1972 (just before the 1973-75 recession), 2000 (just as the tech bubble burst), 2008 (we all know what happened that year) and 2011. 2014? Meh. In terms of actual height, this year was relatively small potatoes…
So it would be presumptuous to make predictions about the future based on Lawrence’s study, and a record-breaking number of skyscrapers doesn’t necessarily signal anything about a potential downturn in the economy. But it’s certainly an interesting relationship to consider when the next two years are both expected to break more completion records. And in 2019, the world can expect to see the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which, at 3281 feet, will be 564 feet taller than the current tallest building in the world.
(Photo: Maciek Lulko)