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August 28, 2018

A look into the future – By 2050 skyscrapers could be a mile high


City living is growing at an astonishing rate. In 1985, two billion people lived in cities; today the number is four billion, and by 2050 there will be some six billion urban dwellers.

Cities will have to adapt. Either they can expand horizontally so that they cover a greater area, or they can adapt by growing vertically—by building more skyscrapers. Indeed, that’s how many cities in places such as China and the Middle East have coped with growing populations.

And that raises an interesting question. If trends in skyscraper construction continue, what will cities look like in the future? How will the skyscraper evolve in the next 30 years?

Today, we get an answer thanks to the work of Jonathan Auerbach at Columbia University in New York and Phyllis Wan. They have studied the historical patterns of growth in skyscraper construction and used them to predict future patterns of growth. Their results suggest that skyscrapers are set to play an even more significant role in future cities and in the lives of city dwellers.

Auerbach and Wan’s method is straightforward. They begin with a database of skyscrapers compiled by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in Chicago, which sets building standards and arbitrates titles such as “world’s tallest building.” For this research, Auerbach and Wan consider buildings more than 150 meters “tall.” There are 3,251 such skyscrapers in 258 cities around the world.

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The researchers first characterize historical patterns the height of skyscrapers and the numbers built. It turns out the number of skyscrapers built each year has followed a remarkably stable pattern. “The number of skyscrapers exceeding 150 meters and 40 floors has risen eight percent each year since 1950,” say Auerbach and Wan.

That leads to a clear prediction. If this trend continues, some 41,000 skyscrapers will be built by 2050. That dramatically outpaces the rate at which city populations are expected to grow.

For instance, today there are around 800 skyscrapers for every billion people on the planet. “By 2050, cities will have 6,800 skyscrapers per billion people,” say Auerbach and Wan.

The historical record shows that skyscrapers have increased in height over time as well. But this follows a different pattern, mainly because taller buildings are harder to make profitable. That’s because more room has to be given over to services such as elevators, and this reduces the usable area within a building.

Keep reading in MIT Technology Review


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