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Moving on Up: 2021 Looks Like Good Year for Skyscraper Builds After 2020 Dip

Jan 27, 2021 by Marc Rapport
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The pandemic put the hurt on a lot of new construction in 2020, including that of the tallest buildings. According to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), only 106 buildings of 200 meters (656 feet) or more were built on the planet last year, the fewest since 2014.

“As a global pandemic took hold in the first quarter, numerous projects around the world, at various stages, ground to a halt as restrictions on assembly came into force,” the CTBUH said in its annual report.

While 20% fewer skyscrapers were completed in 2020 than 2019, when there were 133, the trade group says, the two tallest finished up during the pandemic so far are actually in one of the cities where cratering demand for office space is particularly well-documented and closely followed: New York.

New York atop the list of tower toppers in 2020

Those would be the 1,550-foot Central Park Tower, at 98 floors the tallest residential building in the world, and One Vanderbilt, a 1,401-foot office tower across from Grand Central Station, both smack in the middle of Manhattan. No. 6 on the list is also on our shores: the 1,191-foot St. Regis Chicago, a combination hotel/condo project that now is the Windy City’s third-tallest building.

Five of the top 10 are in China -- including one in Wuhan, where COVID-19 was first detected – and the tall building trade group says 2020 was the first year since 2014 -- when One World Trade Center was completed -- that the tallest completed building was in the U.S. Last year also marked the first since 2014 where no building over 500 meters (1,640 feet) was completed anywhere.

But lots of tall buildings did get done, including in London, which saw four completed over 200 meters (656 feet), the most in one year for Great Britain’s capital. And 12 above that mark were built in Dubai, the most of any city last year. Also notable: T.Op Torre, a hotel-office project in Monterrey, Mexico, that at 1,002 feet is now the tallest in Latin America.

Wuhan and New York to hit new heights in 2021

While the report says it’s reasonable to predict that COVID-19 will affect investment and construction for some time to come, man will continue reaching for the sky in 2021, pandemic or not. The report says 18 of the tallest 30 projects expected to be completed this year are in China, while five are in America, and three are in Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian capital.

The CTBUH adds, “It is notable that the two tallest buildings estimated to complete in 2021, Riverview Plaza A1, Wuhan (436 meters/1,430 feet) and 111 West 57th Street, New York City (435 meters/1,427 feet), are in the two cities that were, by many measures, hit hardest and earliest by the 2020 pandemic.”

The Millionacres bottom line

The tall tower trade group says of that last fact -- that the tallest two buildings expected to be done this year are in Wuhan and New York: “This could be taken as a symbol of the resilience of cities and the tall building industry as well. It is also possible that the availability of vaccines and other positive developments in the battle against the pandemic will restore confidence by midyear, which gives CTBUH additional confidence in the predicted range of 125 to 150 completions for 2021.”

There is a kind of perseverance symbolized there that, at least here in the U.S., the flight to the suburbs and beyond by people in search of space and sustenance doesn’t mean those citadels of global commerce won’t again show their stuff as the pandemic mercifully fades.

(Some final fun facts: The tallest man-made structure in the world is Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, at 2,722 feet, followed by China’s Shanghai Tower at 2,073 feet, and the KVLY-TV mast in North Dakota at 2,060 feet.)

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