The supertall skyscrapers boom is out of control

In 2008, developers around the world built a grand total of four “supertall” skyscrapers, a term that refers to buildings that shoot 1,000 feet or more into the air. Fast forward 10 years later, and that number has more than quadrupled. In 2018, developers built more tall buildings than any other year in history–a grand total of 18.

[Image: courtesy CTBUH]That data comes courtesy of The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), which charts the completion of all skyscrapers being planned or built around the world at any given moment. In its yearly review released this week, the group reports that in 2018, the world saw 143 skyscrapers–or buildings taller than 650 feet–completed. Technically speaking, 2017 was actually a better year for skyscrapers, with 148 completed (the standing record for a year). But 2018 was a record for supertall construction, specifically.

[Image: courtesy CTBUH]So why are we building such tall architecture? Ask Asia, where 109 of the skyscrapers were built this year–or more specifically, China, which claimed 88, or 61.5%, of all skyscraper production in the world. Shenzhen, Beijing, and Shenyang are all expanding rapidly within the Chinese economy. The same is true in the Southeast Asian countries of Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, each of which contributed to the total amid better economic conditions. Where the money goes, the skyscrapers follow: Almost half the square footage in these buildings will be committed to offices.

Looking at projections, 2019 could break both the records for total skyscrapers and supertall skyscrapers built in a single year–but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Those jobs aren’t done yet. And more importantly, as CTBUH notes, the current skyscraper boom might not last forever. Even the skyscrapers built outside of China are often being funded by Chinese banks and developers. If tariffs are passed on steel, or if China chooses to continue a more conservative path toward foreign investment, we may very well have a looming shortfall on tall buildings.

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