Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Tag: building

China: the new home of the skyscraper

In my last post I talked about how London is getting a new clutch of 200m plus buildings. But then I thought – where are the biggest buildings around the world now?

In the past, New York was always regarded as the tall-building capital of the world, and held that reputation even though the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower in Chicago was the tallest building in the US. Hong Kong has always been a tall city, given the pressure on land space. And after that, a few smatterings of tall buildings in Asia held the world’s tallest title – the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, followed by Taipei 101.

Then came The Burj in Dubai – significanty bigger than anything else by some distance, at over 800m (Taipei 101 is around 500m).

And yet – the country that leads the way is China. A list of the top 100 tallest buildings in the world (completed, not in construction) shows that China has 32 – just shy of a third. Next is the US with 28. The UAE has 17. That leaves the rest of the world with only 22.

And the Chinese surge is amazing – 23 of China’s 32 were completed since 2000. As for New York, of its seven buildings in the list, four were built in the 1930s. That’s a bygone if golden age. Overall, 55 of the top 100 were built this side of 2000.

And where are the next clutch of buildings being built? India, Saudi Arabia, and of course, China. Three of the top five buildings under construction are in China, and it has five buildings under construction that will top out at over 500m.

Every so often China takes over something as the world’s most or biggest: most internet users, overtaking Japan as the second biggest economy (read Gavyn Davies for the best analysis of the economy issue). In skyscrapers, China may not have the tallest, or even the most iconic, but in sheer volume it leads the way.

London – the new monolithia

The London skyline is rapidly changing. This is obvious, and has been much-written about. Since the 2008-09 hiatus in construction due to the credit crunch, building big is back on.

UPDATE: would be remiss of me to not mention the FT’s excellent Shard of glass construction multimedia extravaganza.

But although a few buildings with catchy names are well-known, what is remarkable is just how many buildings over 200m are being built, and how few there are currently.

The problem is that many of these buildings are pretty uninspiring. For every Shard or Gherkin, there are several bland towers. Here’s a list (it’s a Google doc) and here is an excellent diagram-based list.

Of the nine 200m plus buildings listed above in London, only one is built – One Canada Square in Canary Wharf. The rest are all in construction, or about to be. The cranes are going up.

Of the 26 150m plus buildings, only two were built earlier than 2000 – again, One Canada Square and Tower 42.

What does this mean? London is not about to join the list of mega-skyscraper cities, where Hong Kong, New York and others are way ahead in terms of height and number. But this is a changing of a city.

Big buildings have impact – both in terms of inspiring residents and attracting tourists, but also in the gusts of wind around their base, the anonymous and impersonal nature of their function, and the sense of detatchment they can create.

London is a modern city which competes with New York, HK, Singapore and others on the world stage. But it did so successfully without building up up up. Is there a need now?

London is often described as a city of villages. It is becoming a city of mid-sized but imposing skyscrapers. I’m not sure it is any the better for that. Welcome to London – the new monolithia.

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