Skyscrapers

Building up to accommodate population growth.

The world’s population has more than doubled over the last fifty years and currently stands at 7.5 billion. 18% of these people live in China and this is the result of a 79% increase in its population over the past thirty years. To put this into perspective, this is over four times the number of people living in America (0.3 billion). The populations of Middle Eastern countries have expanded rapidly also. Thirty years ago, there were fewer than 200,000 people living in the United Arab Emirates, now there are 9.4 million; a 5,000% increase.

The ever-increasing population brings with it many challenges, including the demand for housing. This is particularly acute because it is happening at the same time as urbanisation. At the turn of the twentieth century only 7% of the world’s population lived in cities. In 1985 two billion people live in cities; today the number is four billion.

To accommodate the increase in population, cities have a choice. Either they can expand horizontally so that they cover a greater area, or they can grow vertically by building more skyscrapers. And building upward into the skies is how many cities in places such as China and the Middle East have coped with growing populations.

Skyscrapers aren’t a new phenomenon. There was a wave of skyscraper construction in America, mainly Chicago and New York in the early 20th century, including the creation of the landmarked Flatiron building in New York in 1903. Despite a hiatus in construction during the Great Depression, three iconic US buildings were completed in the early 30s; The Chrysler Building, The Empire State Building and The Rockefeller Center. It was also during this period that Hong Kong’s first true skyscraper was built, in 1935.

The popularity of skyscrapers surged in the post-war period. In 1955 the height limit for residential buildings in Hong Kong was lifted, enabling a new wave of enabling high rise development. Hong Kong has become a beacon for modern architecture, with more Skyscrapers than any other city, and its skyline is often considered to be the best in the world.

London was less keen to build up, evidenced by a 1938 policy protecting the sightlines of St Paul’s Cathedral. There were several tall buildings built in London during the 1960s and 1970s (including Centre Point and 99 Bishopsgate), but London’s first official skyscraper, Tower 42, wasn’t built until 1980. And it wasn’t until the regeneration of the Isle of Dogs began in the late 1990s that more tall towers were built in Canary Wharf. There are now around 26 skyscrapers in London, but this is completely dwarfed by the number in New York (c115) and Hong Kong (c350).

The success of tall buildings looks set to continue. 2018 was a record year for high rise development. About 230 towers over 200 meters tall were expected to finish construction over the year. This marks a 60% increase from 2017, itself a record year, and was geographically diverse with towers built in a total of 69 cities across 23 countries. China accounted for 60% of the total construction (about 130 buildings).

Outside of China, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok are all experiencing a rise in skyscraper construction. In the Middle East, about 30 skyscrapers are being built, including a number in Dubai. The World’s tallest tower is the Burj Kahlifa in Dubai. However, also under construction is the Jeddah Tower, which is competing for the accolade and is planned to be the world's first 1 km high building. The number of super skyscrapers worldwide scheduled for completion in 2019 is slightly lower, estimated at about 170.