It may go down on record as one of the most wrongheaded obituaries ever conceived. The modern skyscraper, given up officially for dead by real estate investors and developers amid the post-9/11 frenzy of fear, is mounting a comeback. From Dubai and New York to Chicago and Beijing, mega high rises are sprouting at a pace not seen in a decade or more. And the competition for the title of World's Tallest Building has never before been so keen.
Even in New York, where the twin towers of the World Trade Center went down, fears are fading. The World Trade Center is being replaced by the awe-inspiring Freedom Tower, designed by David Childs of Skidmore Owings & Merrill and slated for completion in 2010. At 1,776 feet, it will loom some 500 feet higher than the Empire State Building.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, where officials have erected formidable concrete barriers around landmarks such as the Sears Tower and John Hancock Center, the corkscrew-shaped Chicago Spire, designed by the celebrated Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, is under construction with plans to rise ultimately to 2,000 feet by completion in 2011. Long before then, the Trump International Hotel and Tower, another Skidmore Owings creation, will have taken its considerable position, at 1,362 feet, along the Chicago skyline.
In some Middle East cities, entire downtowns are littered with high-rise cranes. In the United Arab Emirates the Burj Dubai, conceived by Adrian Smith at Skidmore, is now under construction and likely to surpass 2,500 feet by the time the skyscraper is complete. Ambiguity about the height can be attributed to the developer, Emaar Properties, who has kept the exact height a secret to forestall rivals planning their own big projects.
There are plenty of those projects. In Bahrain the proposed Murjan Tower, designed by the Danish architects Henning Larsens Tegnestue A/S, is advertised at 3,353 feet. In Kuwait the Burj Mubarak al-Kabir has been proposed as part of a mixed-use project at 3,284 feet.
“In the Middle East and in places like Shanghai and Beijing, developers are putting up high rises like crazy,” observes Gyo Obata, a founding partner at the architectural firm Hellmuth Obata & Kassabaum in St. Louis. There a staff of 2,000 is currently working on more than 100 large-scale projects. “In the U.S. we may see things slow a little bit in the future, but that will depend on the economy.”
Robert Stern, a principal partner at Robert A.M. Stern Architects in New York and dean of the Yale School of Architecture, declares that “people still think that higher is pretty great.”
He believes that the terrorists who attacked the twin towers of the World Trade Center were “attacking the modern world and the idea of modernity, as symbolized by the skyscraper. But the people in Dubai and China and India are all embracing modernization now, and in the process the skyscraper has reasserted its importance in urban centers.”
Five of the most noteworthy new high rises are profiled on the following pages. They're employing new glass and concrete materials, and devising a multitude of energy-saving principles in creating structures very different from the high rises of just a decade ago.
“Some 15 or 20 years ago buildings were not considered in terms of sustainability,” Stern says. “Now we recognize that the construction of the future must be responsible to the environment.”