Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
Between 2010 and 2015, the world built 50 super-tall buildings.
The completion of 432 Park Avenue this year will add a flattering new bauble to New York’s celebrated skyline. Designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects, the skyscraper is the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere, a vigorous study of line and repetition. It’s an unmistakable accomplishment.
At 1,396 feet, it rises almost 150 feet higher than the Empire State Building, which marks it as an important addition for New York. In more ways than one, though, the significance of 432 Park Avenue exceeds its context as a Manhattan tower. The project underscores a new era for the skyscraper.
Now that it’s nearly finished, 432 Park Avenue joins elite company. It’s the world’s 100th super-tall tower. That’s the finding from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Environment, which is tracking the dramatic emergence of skyscrapers that are 300 meters tall (just short of 1,000 feet) or more. Half of them are brand new.
The number of super-tall skyscrapers around the world has doubled—doubled—in only the last 5 years. This acceleration is acute: While it took 80 years to finish the first 50 super-tall towers (from the Chrysler Building in 1930 to new stuff in 2010), another 50 super-tall buildings came online between 2010 and 2015 alone.
There are many more coming. According to the Council’s Skyscraper Center database, there are some 100 super-talls in the pipeline. (A few from the list were completed recently or will be finished soon, including One World Trade Center and 432 Park Avenue, and the database does not list some projects in development, including the gargantuan 3,779 foot tower planned for Basra Province in Iraq.) Many of the new projects will be built in China. If all of them are built, the number of super-talls could nearly double again by 2020.
Surely this is the beginning of the end? As Architect’s Caroline Massie points out, some people certainly think so: Andrew Lawrence, an economist and director for Asia at Barclays, has posited a “skyscraper index” linking up global economic catastrophe with pushes to build the world’s new tallest building. It might just be a broader manifestation of Asia’s industrialization, but if these linkages are indeed robust and predictive, then let’s call this phenomenon Babel’s Law and start panicking.