The trend in skyscrapers highlights the shifting landscape of global economics: the tallest buildings are no longer being constructed in America but in China and Dubai. But as go the skyscrapers, so do the economic futures of nations.
Demand for high-end office space is an indicator of real economic power. Skyscrapers arose in the late 19th century in what were then the most important cities: Chicago, London, New York, all places of intense economic growth. That economic activity made these capitols of capital the places to be if you wanted to make money: this is where you went if you had ambition, it was the place to locate your corporate headquarters. Many came for the opportunities these early global cities offered.
Growing population density in urban business districts called for buildings that would reach for the sky as architects found new ways of cramming more people into shrinking urban spaces. The skyscraper thus became a sign of economic vitality and wealth. America's economic might has indeed been indisputable for much of the late 19th and 20th centuries. But now the global economic balance of forces is shifting and the shift is expressed in the percentages of tall buildings being constructed.
According to an Urban Habitat 2008 Report from the Council on Tall Buildings, “Geographically the Tallest Ten Buildings Completed in 2008 reinforces what is becoming a well known doctrine in the tall building world – namely that Asia and the Middle East are the current center of high-rise construction globally. There are now more tall buildings in Asia than in North America, and of the ten tallest buildings on the 2008 list, six are located in Asia (all in China) and three in the Middle East (all in Dubai).”
America once had the world's highest percentage of skyscrapers, the tallest of the tall buildings of the world. Now that telling statistic has shifted East, along with economic prowess. While financial problems have mired building dreams in Dubai and elsewhere, the economic deluge of troubles has left the shores of the Middle Kingdom untouched. There, construction on dozens of high-rises is in progress. But in America, once the land of high-end building dreams, only a handful of towers are now under construction, indicating low confidence of investors in America's ability to surge ahead in the near future—why build spectacular office spaces if there won't be wealthy businesses to occupy them? (The work on one of these, the Chicago Spire, has stopped.)