China overtook the United States in 2010 with the largest number of the world’s top 50 tallest buildings. Supertall buildings, known as “skyscrapers”, are a mirror of the economy, their construction reflecting the economic momentum of each country and region, but also becoming an indicator of risk when real estate market conditions deteriorate. Where are the top 50 skyscrapers in the world?
Supertall buildings, known as “skyscrapers,” are a reflection of the economy, and countries and regions are competing to build them in order to establish their prestige. Supertalls of more than 300 meters are not uncommon these days. If you rank buildings by height and look at their locations, you will find that half of the top 50 buildings are in China.
According to the database of the World Institute of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), a group of world architects and other experts, a comparison of supertalls categorized as “completed” as of 2023 reveals that half of the top 50 buildings by height are in China. In terms of country and region, the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong have the most, with 25 buildings, far more than the United States with eight and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with four. In past rankings, the United States led with 26 buildings in 2000, followed by China with nine, but in 2010 China reversed the trend with 15 buildings, surpassing the United States with 14.
China saw a construction boom in the 2010s. The Shanghai Center (632m), currently ranked as the 3rd tallest in the world, was completed in 2015, followed by a succession of 500m+ supertalls such as Guangzhou Chow Tai Fook Financial Center (530m) in 2016, Ping An International Finance Center (599m) in 2017, and Tianjin Chow Tai Fook Financial Center (530m) in 2019. China has more than 100 supertall buildings, nearly 60% of which were completed in the 2010s.
China still has many supertall projects under construction beyond 2023. In the CTBUH database, 85 skyscrapers are registered as “under construction” and 85 skyscrapers have been “submitted”.
In the United States, of the 31 super-tall buildings, the Willis Tower was completed in 1974, the Empire State Building was completed in 1931, and 11 buildings were completed in the 20th century, reflecting the early modernization of the United States. In addition, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center (417 meters and 415 meters), which collapsed in 2001 as a result of the September 11 terrorist attacks, ranked 5th and 6th in the world in 2000, respectively.
With oil money as a backdrop, the Middle East continues to see a boom in urban development. The Burj Khalifa Tower in Dubai, UAE, is currently known as the tallest building in the world, with a height of 828 meters. The height of the Burj Khalifa Tower can be easily imagined by comparing the height of Japan’s Mount Tsukuba, which is 877 meters above sea level. Plans for “Hyper buildings” over 1,000 meters have also been launched, such as the “Burj Mubarak Al Kabir” in Kuwait and the “Jeddah Tower” in Saudi Arabia.
Tall buildings in East and Southeast Asian countries and regions such as South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam are also listed in the top 50 list, but Japan does not make the list. In terms of super-tall buildings, the only one currently in operation in Japan is the Abeno Harukas (300 meters) at Kintetsu Osaka Abenobashi Station.
The map of supertall buildings reflects the economic momentum of each country and region, but it is also an indicator of risk when the real estate market deteriorates.
In China, the credit crisis of large real estate companies is expanding, and the operational crisis of developers has become a concern. The developer of the 499-meter-high Greenland Jinmao International Finance Center in Nanjing, scheduled for completion in 2025, has defaulted on its dollar-denominated debt with Shanghai Municipal Government-affiliated Greenland Holdings Group (Shanghai). In addition, Country Garden Holdings, the largest real estate company, has been recognized by the international financial community as having defaulted on its repayment of the 373-meter “Country Garden Guiyang Center” in Guiyang, which is being built with a target completion date of 2024, and which is categorized in the database as “on hold”.
On the regulatory front, a 355-meter-high rocking event occurred in Shenzhen in 2021. Following this, China issued a notice that no new supertall buildings over 500 meters in height would be approved, and in the middle of the same year this limit was tightened to 250 meters. Projects under construction as well as those in the planning stage are also at risk of being changed or frozen.
The U.S. is also facing continued high office vacancy rates due to the normalization of the home office. Some new construction plans may be frozen.
Construction of the Saudi “Jeddah Tower”, which began in 2013, was halted in 2018 after the arrest of the chairman of the bin Laden Group, the builder. According to Engineering News-Record, a U.S.-based construction research firm, local media reported in September this year that construction had resumed, but the completion date could not be predicted.
According to the Old Testament book of Genesis, mankind angered God by building the Tower of Babel, a tower whose top reached to the heavens, causing it to collapse. Currently, the world is in obvious turmoil with events such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the fighting between Israel and the Islamic organization Hamas, in addition to the downturn in the real estate market. Under these circumstances, the future of the modern Tower of Babel is difficult to predict.