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How Do New 'Supertall' Skyscrapers in U.S. Cities Measure Up to the Rest of the World?

In this September 2017 photo, the Salesforce Tower, at left, in San Francisco's South of Market area nears completion.

In this September 2017 photo, the Salesforce Tower, at left, in San Francisco's South of Market area nears completion. Shutterstock


Connecting state and local government leaders

San Francisco and Philadelphia are joining the ranks of global cities with towers that rise above 300 meters, a height that may seem puny across Asia these days.

The Salesforce Tower looms above San Francisco. The skyscraper, which is expected to open in early 2018, will be by far the tallest building in the city. At 1,070 feet (326 meters) it will be more than 200 feet taller than the Transamerica Pyramid Center, which has been San Francisco’s tallest building since 1972. The Tower is a sign of San Francisco rise as a center of economic dynamism, and the financial might of the cloud computing company that bears its name.

Philadelphia’s 1,121 feet (342 meters) Comcast Technology Center will also likely be completed in 2018. The building, which will be the city’s tallest, is less a sign of Philadelphia’s economic health than Comcast’s rapid growth over the last decade—the company’s valuation has more than quadrupled since 2009.

Salesforce Tower and the Comcast Technology Center will be their city’s first “supertall” buildings—defined by the U.S.-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat as buildings over 984 feet (300 meters). Only New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles will have taller buildings. Atlanta and Houston are the only other US cities with supertalls.

(via Quartz)

Yet internationally, the new buildings in Philadelphia and San Francisco are not all that impressive. In 2018, 19 other supertall buildings are likely to be completed. Of those buildings, 14 will be in China, seven of which are taller than the Comcast Technology Center. The tallest of these will be the 1,483 feet (452 meters) Changsha IFS Tower located in south-central Chinese city of Changsha.

Neither Philadelphia or San Francisco will enter the top 25 cities in terms of tallest buildings. Philadelphia will place 27th just behind Xiamen, China; and San Francisco will be 36th behind Jiangyin, China.

Rank | City | Tallest building in feet

  1. Dubai: 2,717
  2. Shanghai: 2,073
  3. Mecca: 1,972
  4. Shenzhen:1,965
  5. Seoul: 1,819
  6. New York City: 1,776
  7. Guangzhou: 1,739
  8. Tianjin: 1,739
  9. Taipei: 1,667
  10. Hong Kong: 1,588
  11. Changsha: 1,483
  12. Kuala Lumpur: 1,483
  13. Nanjing: 1,476
  14. Suzhou: 1,476
  15. Chicago: 1,451
  16. Wuhan: 1,437
  17. Kuwait City: 1,354
  18. Riyadh: 1,263
  19. Dalian: 1,257
  20. Abu Dhabi: 1,251
  21. Nanning: 1,251
  22. Moscow: 1,226
  23. Shenyang: 1,150
  24. Xi'an: 1,148
  25. Kaohsiung: 1,140
  26. Xiamen: 1,128
  27. Philadelphia: 1,121
  28. Zhenjiang: 1,120
  29. Chongqing: 1,112
  30. Wuxi: 1,112
  31. Los Angeles:1,100
  32. Guiyang: 1,099
  33. Beijing:1,083
  34. Hanoi:1,078
  35. Jiangyin: 1,076
  36. San Francisco:1,070
  37. Yantai: 1,060
  38. Gold Coast:1,058
  39. Wenzhou: 1,056
  40. Zhuhai: 1,056

According to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, there are 120 future supertall buildings now under construction. Among these is the Jeddah Tower which, if all goes according to plan, will be the world’s tallest building at 3,281 feet (exactly one kilometer). It is expected to be opened for business in 2020. Of the supertalls currently under construction, 69 are in China. Only nine are in the US, all in New York and Chicago.

(via Quartz)

As my colleague Gwynn Guildford has pointed out, many of these future supertalls only make the grade by adding “vanity height” through features like spires above the top useable floor. For example, the world’s tallest building, Dubai’s 2,717 feet (828 meter) Burj Khalifa is 29 percent vanity height.

Dan Kopf is a reporter for Quartz, where this article was originally published.

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