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Not a big year for tall buildings: the world's new skyscraper count is low

Posting in Cities

A report released last week by The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) pointed out that for the first time in 6 years, the number of tall buildings (classified at reaching higher than 200 meters into the sky) completed around the globe declined in  2012. Canada, however, had a banner year. It added four tall, elegant edifices that stretched over the 200 meter mark, the most that country had ever finished during an annual period. (That includes the Bow, in the city of Calgary, pictured at right.) And Mecca was the individual city with the most new 200-meter-plus skyscrapers completed in 2012, adding five in that time span.

The CTBUH report observes that the "effects of the 2008/2009 global financial crisis became evident" in 2012, meaning we're just now seeing how the U.S. Great Recession and other economic woes are influencing tall building construction. Only 66 skyscrapers reaching above 200 meters were completed last year, down from 82 in 2011. That's a 20% decrease, if you do the math.

"The number of completions was slightly lower than expected, with some projects under construction delayed or stalled," Kevin Brass, Antony Wood, and Marty Carver, the authors of the report, write. However, CTBUH predicts that there will be an uptick in 2013 and 2014 as currently some of these projects are now scheduled for completion. We may even see record years for tall buildings in the near future.

After all, while the number of new tall buildings completed declined in 2012, the international collection of tall buildings has blossomed since the year 2000 (back then, there were only 263 in the world; now there are 756).

One big reason? Lots of tall buildings in the Middle East and in China--despite a notable decline in the United States, once the top of the charts in terms of skyscraper completion. In 2012 alone, China completed 22 buildings reaching above 200 meters. That is a full third of all the global tall skyscrapers of 2012. In comparison, the U.S. only finished two.

The CTBUH report goes on to look at how buildings are pushing even higher than ever before, with three "mega tall" buildings in the works around the world, reaching more than 600 meters high. Developers in prosperous cities, regions, and nations seem to not see the sky as the limit when building these globally recognized markers of wealth.

All of these skyscraper stats in the report are fascinating for representing a very palpable barometer of global economic peaks and valleys. But there are so many other issues to keep in mind as the history of skyscrapers pushes forward, such as how the styles and engineering of skyscrapers are changing as well the geography of where they are found. For instance, check out the complex and unique grid system of Canada's Bow -- could that be reflective of uniquely Canadian aesthetic? And then there are broader topics, too: How are economics, safety, new materials research, energy concerns, and even intellectual-property issues (given that a recently copy of a Zaha Hadid building is reportedly being constructed in China--the ultimate Shanzai, or copycat, project!) coming into play in the next chapter of tall building innovation?

Image: Colleen Maier/Flickr

— By on January 14, 2013, 3:10 AM PST

Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure