The Skyscraper Boom

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The Skyscraper Boom

In 1885, the Home Insurance Building was completed in downtown Chicago. At 10 stories high, it was then the tallest building in the world. At once, the race was on to build taller and taller buildings, and it seems that the allure of skyscrapers has never really worn off.

There have been boom times and bad times over the decades since then. The last big boom in high-rise construction came in the 1960s and ‘70s, when the Sears Tower went up in Chicago and took the crown as the tallest building in the world from the World Trade Center in New York, which had been completed just two years earlier. But the Sears Tower now stands in fourth place, and all its rivals are in Asia, the Pacific Rim, and the Middle East.

The Burj Tower in Dubai, scheduled for completion in 2008, is rumored to be 160 stories tall, but its builders are so determined that it will claim the title as the top skyscraper that they are keeping its actual height a secret. The design is such that they can add more floors at the last minute if a challenger appears on the horizon.

Although there are buildings near that height proposed for Moscow, Seoul, and Katangi in India, the next tallest building that is actually under construction is the Freedom Tower being erected on the site of the World Trade Center. Scheduled for completion in 2011, the plans call for it to be a patriotic 1,776 feet tall, more than 300 feet taller than the Sears Tower. And the tallest existing skyscrapers are now, in this order, Taipei 101, at 1,671 feet; Petronas Towers One and Two at 1,483 feet each; and the Sears Tower at 1,451 feet. The next tallest building in the U.S. is still the 1931 Empire State Building at 1,250 feet.

There is no question that there is a global boom in skyscraper building underway, and although not all builders are vying to erect the highest buildings, they are nevertheless putting up some impressive towers. About 40 percent of the tallest structures have gone up since 2000, according to the Economist.1 And in that same period, more than 40 buildings that are at least 50 stories tall were built or planned, according to an Associated Press report.2

The 124-story Fordham Spire in Chicago will overshadow Donald Trump’s 92-story hotel and condominium tower to become the tallest building in North America. With living space costing a record $1,000 per square foot and the penthouse going for $20 million, the Fordham will be the most expensive piece of real estate in Chicago.

The question remains, however: Do such projects make sense? Or are they simply displays of vanity for people with lots of money? The truth may involve a bit of both...

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