The colossal presence of skyscrapers is mind-bending, particularly if you’re standing at the bottom of one and looking up. NYC’s One World Trade Center practically performs a magic trick when you look at it, forming a perfect point at the top, despite not being triangular in shape.

The designers of skyscrapers are inherently ambitious, but the goal of ‘tallest’ is increasingly paired with an equally desirable goal of efficiency of space and use of energy; in keeping with their raison d’etre in cities that are bursting at the seams. The imposing heights of skyscrapers also make them representative icons of their cities by default. They become tourist attractions. Geographical and emotional reference points. Renzo Piano said of London’s Shard, “I always thought this tower will be a sensor of the city, reflecting the mood.”

Some of the world’s tallest towers include Dubai’s Burj Khalifa (almost a kilometer tall at 828 meters), the Shanghai Tower (632 meters) and NYC’s One World Trade Center which tops out at 541 meters. There’s understandably a fair bit of rivalry among cities to reach the greatest height, but that’s not for lack of necessity as many are growing at alarming rates. Shanghai’s population reportedly grew by 10% each year between 1993 and 2013, while NYC grew by almost 4% between 2010 and 2014. What better way to grow than up?

But more than just being tall, skyscrapers send a message, as pointed out in an article on The Atlantic. They say, “We’re risk-takers. We’re innovators. Look at us!” The speed in which it takes to build such tall buildings also seems to be an indication of a country’s capability and innovation. China built a 57-storey skyscraper in 19 days. Compare this to the Home Insurance Building in Chicago, which took a year to build in 1884/85 and was the first tall building of its kind – all 10 stories of it.

Skyscrapers give cities a sense of presence, at least in comparison to other cities that aspire to develop skylines that reach staggering heights. They draw people in. Perhaps that’s why a magnificent skyscraper has the ability to inspire and provides a visual focal point that reminds us of our human ingenuity.

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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