By Saifur Rahman, Business Editor

Dubai was not built in a day. The city’s modern skyline began to take shape in 2002 when a new wave of development was triggered by the opening of the real estate sector to foreign ownership.

Since then the region’s trading hub has been creating records in urban development. Gulf News takes a look at Dubai — the man-made wonder that perhaps could be known as the City of Towers …

One-sixth of the 66 super-towers — measuring 200 metres or higher — completed in 2010 worldwide, were located in Dubai, according to the latest statistics made available by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) — the global authority on tall building rankings.

The emirate is home to Burj Khalifa, the tallest man-made structure of any kind.

Dubai was followed by Singapore with six super towers. All top eight cities are in Asia.

In terms of the concentration of high-rises, Dubai has the 13th highest number in the world with 493 skyscrapers. It is ahead of cities and hubs such as Moscow, San Francisco, Houston, Seoul, Singapore, Beijing, Frankfurt and Kuala Lumpur, according to Skyscraper Page, which ranks New York City as the most dense city in terms of high-rises, followed by Toronto, Shanghai, Tokyo, Chicago, Hong Kong, Mexico, Vancouver, Montreal, Los Angeles, London and Sao Paulo.

Dubai, a small city of about 1.5 million inhabitants, currently holds the world record for the tallest tower of any kind, tallest all-residential tower and the tallest all-hotel tower.

Ever-increasing rate

Going forward, it will host the highest number of skyscrapers in a single city that will have more than 100 floors — when the Pentominium (124 floors), Marina 101 (101 floors), Princess Tower (107 floors), Burj Al Alam (108 floors) and Marina 107 (107 floors), among others, are completed.

“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 metres or more in height has risen from 286 to 602 in the last decade alone,” said the CTBUH study.

“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.”

Dubai currently hosts 17 of the world’s tallest 100 towers, statistics show, followed by Hong Kong with nine, Shanghai with eight, New York City and Chicago with seven each — reflecting a global shift of economic power towards growing metropolises in Asia.

‘In complete contrast’

“This is indicative of the rapid rate at which so many Asian cities are developing,” CTBUH chairman Professor Sang Dae Kim says.

“The tall-building world has changed significantly from what it was even just 20 years ago. In complete contrast to then, now the tallest buildings in the world are likely to be located in Asia, be residential or mixed-use in function, and be of concrete or composite structure.”

The UAE, as a country, ranked second to China in the CTBUH report. It has completed 14 super-tall towers in 2010 with the sum of their heights touching 4,196 metres. China led the global list with 21, while South Korea hosts eight followed by the United States and Singapore that have completed six each. Surprisingly, 55 out of the 66 towers were completed in Asian countries.

Five of the tallest 10 completed towers in 2010 were in the UAE, including four in Dubai and one in Abu Dhabi. China completed the top four out of the top ten while the rest were in Moscow.

Ahmad Azzam, project manager of ADC Construction, said: “Dubai is still considered the dream for other cities, including Jeddah and Doha.”

Despite challenging times, industry experts expressed their optimism in the region’s construction activities. A fresh wave of infrastructure spending has cemented the GCC’s position as one of the most exciting markets, with Saudi Arabia currently offering the most opportunities.

David Van Graan, vice-president of sales for MAN Trucks said, “We are at the dawn of the era of infrastructure development.”

The recent dramatic increase in tall buildings has been fuelled by a large variety of local and global factors, the report says.

Skyscraper Page

‘Tall typology’

“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 metres in height. For a country of 4.7 million people, this means that there are only 100,000 citizens for every 200-metres-plus building.

“In contrast, China, with 200 buildings at the 200-metres-plus level, has nearly seven million citizens for every 200-metres-plus 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 race for building the world’s tallest tower started nearly a century ago, with two 200-metres-plus towers completed in the 1920s, while six were completed in 1930s with the Empire State Building setting a new landmark that lasted more than 41 years until Sears (now Willis) Tower snatched the record in 1973.

In the 1940s and 1950s, the number of completed super-towers remained stable at 11 for each decade, while the pace took off in the 1960s with 16 and 28 in the 1970s.

Dramatic turn

This took a dramatic turn in the 1980s — a decade that saw the new emerging economies of Asia joining the race to build tall towers — with the number rising to 70. That explains why the numbers more than doubled in the 1990s to 144.

However, in the 1990s, Malaysia snatched the crown of the world’s tallest tower with Petronas Towers — raising the limit to 452 metres.

The crown shifted later to Taiwan when Taipei 101 pushed the limit to 508 metres in 2004.

The first decade of the new millennium saw the development of 260 towers, while 600 skyscrapers have already been completed since 2010.

It was during this time that Dubai’s Emaar Properties pushed the limits of the tallest tower to 828 metres — 320 metres and 62 storeys higher than its nearest rival — Taipei 101 and 53 floors higher than the Sears Tower which tops out at 110 floors. According to CTBUH records, 765 more towers are projected to be completed between 2011 and 2012 — the highest growth in super-tall buildings.

Last month Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Holdings, owned by billionaire Saudi Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal, awarded a contract to Saudi Bin Ladin Group to build a tower that is poised to rise to more than a kilometre, pushing up the limits of engineering and human imagination. That project is expected to be completed in five years.

However, “sleeping giant” Abu Dhabi is yet to join the race in a serious way. There were talks of building a 220-storey tower, the design contract of which was awarded to a California-based architectural firm last year. If that happens, then the crown to build the world’s tallest tower will rotate amongst the GCC countries for the next ten years, if not more.

Although 2010 will be noted in the history of urban development for completion of the Burj Khalifa, it will also be noted for the completion of the highest number of skyscrapers in a single year — 66 — in the middle of a worldwide economic slowdown. The previous record was set at 48 in 2008, at the height of the economic boom.

However, CTBUH data shows that this record could be broken, as about 97 towers are expected to be completed this year.

“From 2013, we expect to see a drop in the number of tall buildings completed due to the global recession, until the worldwide economy recovers,” the report says.

The Empire State Building that was the first landmark in the history of skyscrapers is currently ranked 15th in the world. If the current projects are complete, it will be ranked 47th.

At the 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, it says.

Higher than average

“Asia now contains 56.8 per cent (342) of the world’s 200-metres-plus buildings and 57.5 per cent 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.” the report says.

“However, while Europe is home to 10.6 per cent of the global population, only 3.7 per cent (22) of the world’s tallest buildings exist there. Conversely, the Americas contain 29.6 per cent (178) of the world’s 200-metres-plus buildings and only 13.6 per cent of the global population.”

It is also expected that, over the next few decades, the percentage of tallest buildings in Asia (China and India in particular) will grow significantly.


high-rise buildings characterise Dubai’s skyline


of the world’s tallest 100 towers are located in Dubai


Dubai’s rank among the cities in the world with tall buildings


out of 6.9 billion people live in urban environment

continuing growth

more pressure on cities

Rural people move to cities attracted by the promise of work, higher salaries and a better social life. This growth places ever greater pressure on the environment.

The UN World Urbanisation Prospects report says the global proportion of urban population rose dramatically from 13 per cent (220 million) in 1900 to 29 per cent (732 million) in 1950, to 49 cent (3.2 billion) in 2005. The same report projected that the figure is likely to rise to 60 per cent (4.9 billion) by 2030. In 1970, there were only three cities with more than 10 million people. Now there are 32 and three of these have more than 20 million.

In regard to future trends, it is estimated 93 per cent of urban growth will occur in developing nations, with 80 per cent of urban growth occurring in Asia and Africa.

Between 1920 and 2007, the world’s urban population increased from about 270 million to 3.3 billion, with 1.5 billion urban dwellers added to Asia, 750 million to the more developed regions, just under 450 million to Latin America and the Caribbean, and just over 350 million to Africa, said another UN report.

“These changes foreshadow those to come. Between 2007 and 2050, the urban population is expected to increase as much as it did since 1920, that is, 3.1 billion additional urban dwellers are expected by 2050, including 1.8 billion in Asia and 0.9 billion in Africa.”

— S.R.

Skyscraper Density

Rank City Country Buildings High-rises Population

1 New York City USA 6,310 5,849 8,175,133

2 Toronto Canada 2,147 1,883 2,503,281

3 Shanghai China 1,188 1,183 13,523,900

4 Tokyo Japan 1,189 1,162 8,583,481

5 Chicago USA 1,133 1,129 2,833,321

6 Hong Kong China 779 770 6,994,500

7 Mexico City Mexico 687 668 8,694,753

8 Vancouver Canada 804 639 578,041

9 Montreal Canada 729 604 1,812,723

10 Los Angeles USA 600 539 3,849,378

11 London UK 579 533 7,512,400

12 Sao Paulo Brazil 523 507 11,244,367

13 Dubai UAE 504 493 1,674,527

14 Moscow Russia 466 453 11,514,300

15 Honolulu USA 472 449 377,260

16 Houston USA 461 443 2,144,491

17 Buenos Aires Argentina 448 425 2,776,138

18 Sydney Australia 449 424 4,575,532

19 Bangkok Thailand 420 419 7,160,522

20 San Francisco USA 434 413 744,230