Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
Tall and Urban

An analysis of global population and tall buildings

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Tall buildings, once almost exclusively a product of North America, are spreading across the globe at an ever-increasing rate. The global number of buildings 200 meters or more in height has risen from 286 to 602 in the last decade alone. Currently, these buildings exist in 32 countries across the world. This study demonstrates the relationship between population and tall buildings across those countries and presents information on the average height and age of each country’s tallest buildings.

Figure 1. Global, regional and country populations compared to buildings 200 m+ in height. ©CTBUH. View Larger

The recent dramatic increase in tall buildings has been fueled by a large variety of local and global motivations, and therefore cannot be directly related to any single factor (such as an area’s population, density, government, etc). The historical and statistical contexts of the “tall typology” thus vary dramatically across the globe. At one end of the spectrum is the UAE, which can now boast 44 buildings over 200 meters in height. For a country of 4.7 million people, this means that there are only 100,000 citizens for every 200 m+ building. In contrast, China, with 200 buildings at the 200 m+ level, has nearly seven million citizens for every 200 m+ building. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the research demonstrates that the lowest population-to-building ratios can be found in Middle Eastern counties like the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar. The highest population-to-building ratios, meanwhile, are less geographically predictable, with India, Vietnam, Turkey, France, and Mexico topping the list.

At a regional level, the study reveals a number of interesting facts. Even with its recent tall building boom, Asia is only now approaching a proportional equality between its percentage of tall buildings and its percentage of the global population. Asia now contains 56.8% (342) of the world’s 200 m+ buildings and 57.5% of the global population. Europe’s proportional lack of tall buildings is also evident. As the location of a large number of the world’s developed countries, one might assume that Europe would contain a higher-than-average percentage of tall buildings. However, while Europe is home to 10.6% of the global population, only 3.7% (22) of the world’s tallest buildings exist there. Conversely, the Americas contain 29.6% (178) of the world’s 200m+ buildings and only 13.6% of the global population.

Figure 2. Global population and increase in buildings 200 m+ in height, 1950-2011. ©CTBUH.  View Larger
It is expected that, over the next few decades, the percentage of tallest buildings in Asia (China and India in particular) will grow to be significantly greater than the region’s percentage of global population, as is still currently the case in North America. Conversely, America and Europe will see their percentage of the world’s tallest buildings continue to decline.

Another point of interest in this global study of tall buildings is the average age of the tallest buildings within a country. A low average age indicates significant recent tall building completion. South Korea, for example, has a current average age of six years for its tallest 10 . A look at the CTBUH Tallest Database reveals that this is indeed a continuing trend for South Korea, with six additional buildings set to enter the country’s top ten in 2011 alone (effectively decreasing the average age to a mere four years). “This is indicative of the rapid rate at which so many Asian cities are developing,” comments CTBUH Chairman Professor Sang Dae Kim of Korea University. “Korea has now become a significant force in tall building design and construction. This will be a topic of focus at the upcoming CTBUH World Conference in Seoul this October.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the oldest average tallest 10 buildings exist in countries in the Americas and Europe, with the youngest in the Middle East and Asia. The USA, with buildings like the Chrysler Building (1930) at number seven and the Empire State Building (1931) at number three, has the world’s oldest tallest ten, with an average age of 32 years. Panama, Qatar and Vietnam, on the other hand, are currently competing for the youngest top ten, each with a three-year average age.

In addition to displaying each country’s tallest building and height, the study also contains the average height of each country’s tallest ten buildings. This figure provides a unique view into each region’s “tall typology.” In a number of countries, particularly in Asia, the difference between the tallest building and the average height of the tallest ten buildings is within 50 meters. This indicates a large number of buildings around the same height and demonstrates that the country’s tallest building is not simply an anomaly. At only 19 meters, South Korea has the smallest height difference and is closely followed by Singapore (29-meter difference), Indonesia (30-meter difference), France (33-meter difference), the Philippines (47-meter difference) and Panama (50-meter difference). This will soon change however, with the anticipated completion of South Korea’s first supertall, the 305-meter Northeast Asia Trade Tower. The UAE (with its 828-meter Burj Khalifa towering over the next tallest, the 360-meter Almas Tower) has by far the largest difference, at 452 meters. It is followed by Taiwan (266-meter difference), Malaysia (176-meter difference) and Saudi Arabia (128-meter difference).

Of the 32 countries with buildings 200 m+, Austria’s tallest ten are the shortest, with an average height of only 128 meters. China’s tallest ten, with an average height of 421 meters, are the tallest, followed by the UAE (376 meters) and the USA (357 meters).

The data in this study is accurate as of March 1, 2011. It does not contain a number of buildings which are projected to complete during 2011, including:  Tour First, 231m (Courbevoie, France); Heron Tower, 230m (London, United Kingdom); Tianjin World Financial Center, 337m (Tianjin, China); Wenzhou Trade Center, 322m (Wenzhou, China); and Northeast Asia Trade Tower, 305m (Incheon, South Korea).
Figure 3. Regional population and tall building figures. ©CTBUH. View Larger
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