In what is perhaps best considered a measurement of the overheated pace of post-millennial development, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) has released a report that says more tall buildings were constructed in 2008 than in any other year in history.
Yes. Despite the greatest global economic meltdown since the Great Depression, the brakes have yet to be fully applied.
Here’s Antony Wood, the Executive Director of the CTBUH from the press release:
“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. 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.”
Furthermore, the buildings (mostly in the Middle East and China) completed last year were on average 100 feet taller than in any year previous, and the Council predicts that many of today’s tallest buildings’ will barely even make their Tallest 20 in 2020 list. Most disturbingly, these lists don’t even count the still-unfinished 160-story-plus Burj Dubai. When SOM’s stratosphere-piercer is completed later this year, the Council predicts it will remain at the top of the world for at least a decade, though this might be a bit conservative. SOM’s William Baker (the Burj Dubai’s engineer) told Tom Dyckhoff of the Times of London that the mile high tower is “possible right now.” The Council places their bets on a kilometer high tower rising up in the 2020s.
Certainly, the economic climate has felled a good number of high rises (Gold Medal Winner Santiago Calatrava’s Chicago Spire, high rises in New York and Los Angeles by Jean Nouvel, Hon. FAIA, according the Chicago Tribune’s Blair Kamin, and the latest round of post-inaugural public infrastructure boosterism , Woods Bagot’s Nakheel Harbor and Tower in Dubai pictured above), yet others will rise in 2009 no matter what.
Somehow, that still makes sense. There’s a heedlessly proud history of cultures insecure of their place in the world building skyscrapers to remind everyone else how important and relevant they still are, even while everything else crashes around them. (One of the tallest buildings built in 2008 has the uncomfortably self-conscious and presumptuous name "The Address Downtown"). We’re watching a wave crest and break, while vital public needs like affordable housing, transportation, and public infrastructure go unmet, which could be addressed with high-rise buildings. But if the thicket of mega-project high rises full of luxury condos and designer goods shops expands in 2009 as it did in 2008, I fear we’ll be caught in a deep, dark shadow of our own self-importance and pity.