Council Predicts Buildings Will Increase Significantly in Height by 2020

Feb. 9, 2009

The Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) recently released data demonstrating that, despite the economic downturn that overtook the world in 2008, it was the single most successful year for tall building construction in history, both in terms of skyscrapers built and average height achieved. Furthermore, iconic structures are expected to continue to rise across the globe, particularly in Asia and the Middle East, to the point that the world’s current tallest building – the Taipei 101 – is likely to be in 20th place worldwide by 2020.


“Numerous examples from history demonstrate that tall buildings are frequently conceived at the economic height of a market and, due to the time required to construct them, completed during recessions,” says Antony Wood, executive director of CTBUH. “Though the speed of tall building construction may cycle with the markets, the overall trend is for the number of high rises to increase over the next decade and to continue to reach skyward as we eventually emerge from recession. For the bravest of developers with good financial backing, now is actually the best time to start a new skyscraper project – labor and materials are cheap and the project is likely to be delivered in an economic upswing again.”

The buildings that made CTBUH’s just-released “Ten Tallest Buildings Completed in 2008” list average 1048 feet in height – more than 100-feet taller than the previous highest average of tall buildings completed in a single year, set in 1998. China’s Shanghai World Financial Center tops the list as the world’s tallest building completed in 2008 at 1614 feet.

CTBUH’s data also show that the tallest buildings in the world are likely to increase in height with each passing decade regardless of economic cycles. In its newly released list predicting the “Tallest 20 Buildings in 2020,” CTBUH surmises that today’s iconic supertall buildings such as the Petronas, Sears Tower, and Empire State Tower (the last of which has been in the World’s Tallest Ten Buildings for more than 70 years) will not even make the list a decade or two from now.

CTBUH also reports a seismic shift in the location of tall building construction over the last two decades, a trend that is expected to continue. Twenty years ago, the world’s future tallest buildings would have been predicted to be in North America, of steel construction and composed of office space. Today, nearly the exact opposite is true. They are more likely to be located in Asia or the Middle East, be constructed of concrete, and be for residential or mixed-use functions. In fact, there are now more tall buildings in Asia than in North America.

Additional CTBUH 2020 predictions include:

  • Though several of the towers on the current 2020 list may not advance to construction onsite, and thus eventual completion, additional supertall buildings – ones eligible for inclusion on the Tallest 20 in 2020 list – will be proposed as the world comes out of recession.
  • The next “World’s Tallest Building,” the Burj Dubai (scheduled for completion in 2009), will likely remain as such for at least a decade.
  • A kilometer-high tower will be achieved sometime in the 2020s.

 “The year 2008 was a remarkable year for tall buildings. Along with increasing height, we are seeing a paradigm shift in how and where tall buildings are constructed, as well as stronger and more aesthetically pleasing structures that are dramatically changing the skylines of cities in Asia and the Middle East,” says Philip Oldfield, CTBUH research coordinator and collaborator on the data. “Based upon our findings, CTBUH is predicting that, despite the economic difficulties our world currently faces, innovators will continue to construct tall buildings, improving the sustainability, infrastructure, and beauty of our urban centers into the foreseeable future.”

Full lists and images of the “Ten Tallest Buildings Completed in 2008” and the “20 Tallest Buildings in 2020” are available at www.ctbuh.org.

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