May 19 2012

Tall Tales from the CTBUH Point to a New 1960s-Style Golden Age

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) in Chicago is the world’s arbiter of all things tall. They keep endless, ballistic statistics on tall buildings of all kinds, and make official, industry-recognized decisions about whose building is The One.

The 20 tallest buildings completed in 2011 point to a new 1960s-style “Golden Age” that’s just around the corner.
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For example, last month the CTBUH announced that the new One World Trade Center tower in New YorK City (at Ground Zero) might not become the tallest in the Western Hemisphere after all because the 408 foot antenna atop the building would not be enclosed in an architectural spire; according to the CTBUH, spires count, but antennas sans spires don’t (Wall Street Journal, C. Bialik, 5/12/12).

Indeed, such erigible esoterica is of considerable significance as we at 21stCenturyWaves.com continue our development of a global ebullience index.

This is because — over the last 200+ years — large Macro-Engineering Projects (e.g., Panama Canal) and Great Explorations (e.g., discovery of the N and S poles) appear to be triggered by large economic booms, but are fundamentally driven by “ebullience” (e.g., “Panama fever”, “pole mania”) — a somewhat irrational, but highly positive view of the future.

For example, In the 1960s Apollo program and Peace Corps of John F. Kennedy it was the ebullient feeling that we could do almost anything; in the early 20th century it was Theodore Roosevelt’s Panama fever and (north & south) pole mania; in the mid-19th century it was manifest destiny of James Polk and the central Africa adventures of Dr. Livingstone, I presume; and about 200 years ago it began auspiciously with Jefferson, Napoleon, and Lewis & Clark.

Earlier this year at the University of Southern California an internationally recognized architect confided to me that erecting tall buildings is usually more about egos than profits.

The CTBUH executive director agrees and the early abullience shown by Saudi plans for the first kilometer supertower — that bests the current tallest Burj Khalifa in Dubai by 500+ feet — and other recent extraordinay endeavors suggest we are indeed headed for a new 1960s-style “golden age”.

For example, in their annual review (for 2011) of tall building trends, the CTBUH noted:
1) 2011 continues the trend since 2007 that each successive year has more 200 meter+ buildings completed than ever before; this record-setting pace is now expected to continue even through the current great recession.

Looking to the future, it is now foreseeable – indeed likely – that the recent trend of an annual increase in building completions will continue for the next several years, perhaps even through the end of the decade. This represents a change in recent predictions. It had been expected that skyscraper completions would drop off very sharply after 2011, as a result of the 2008 global financial crisis and the large number of projects put on hold. Now however, due in large part to the continuing high activity of skyscraper design and construction in China, as well as the development of several relatively new markets, this global dip is no longer expected.

2) Global shifts in the locations of the top 100 buildings are significant. For example, Asia (with 46) is edging toward 50% of the all top 100 towers, and the Middle East increased by three, while Europe dropped to only one building in the top 100.

3) While China remains a dynamic market for 200 m+ buildings, its production declined from 33% in 2010 to only 26% in 2011, which indicates the market is diversifying. For example, Panama — site of one of the most ebullient MEPs in the world today: the Panama Canal Expansion Project — is enjoying a 200 m+ spurt:

Before 2008, no 200 m+ buildings existed in all of Panama. Then, between 2008 and 2010, three buildings opened. In 2011, Panama City completed ten 200 m+ skyscrapers, more than any other city and more than double the number of completions in all of North America. With these completions, there are now 12 such buildings in Panama, perhaps signaling a new day for the tall building in this region.

The CTBUH Summary for 2011 concludes by forecasting a decade-long surge in tall buildings around the globe.

With over 300 projects above the 200-meter mark currently under construction internationally, the tall building community is set to continue to develop at an incredible pace. As new markets continue to discover and develop the tall building, it is quite possible that this pace will continue through the end of this decade. Without a doubt, the skylines of the world will see tremendous change by the year 2020.

The tall building community sees beyond current global economic difficulties to a more ebullient 1960s-style “golden age” that will sparkle into the 2020s. It’s called the 2015 Maslow Window and will also feature the new international Space Age.

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