2020 records a 20% drop in number of new skyscrapers globally: CTBUH

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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The number of new skyscrapers built globally dropped more than 20 percent in 2020, according to data released this week by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), an international body in the field of tall buildings and sustainable urban design.

Last year saw the completion of 106 new buildings measuring 200 meters (656 feet) or above, down from 133 in 2019 and the lowest total since 2014.

COVID-19 Impact

The CTBUH largely attributed the slowdown to COVID-19, as projects around the world “ground to a halt” amid restrictions on assembly, said its annual report. Though the group was only able to find nine projects directly blaming delays on the pandemic, it assumed that “many more” had “encountered difficulties” as a consequence.

China continues to lead

China, which traditionally dominates global high-rise construction, experienced another comparatively slow year. Its annual total of 56 new 200-meter-plus buildings was down only one from 2019, though this follows a drop of almost 40 percent the year prior.

Beyond the impact of COVID-19, the CTBUH pointed to broader shifts in China, namely attempts to reduce debt and changing official attitudes towards the country’s breakneck construction of “exceedingly” tall buildings. In 2016, the State Council, China’s cabinet, called for an end to “oversized, xenocentric, weird” architecture before moving to ban buildings taller than 500 meters (1,640 feet) in June 2020.

Nonetheless, China still accounted for more than half of the year’s new 200-meter-plus towers and half of the year’s top ten, including a 339-meter (1,112-foot) skyscraper in Wuhan, the original epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.

Dubai and New York

The slowdown in China resulted in several other countries and cities featuring prominently in the year’s construction figures. Dubai completed more new skyscrapers than any other city last year, with its total of 12 completions knocking Shenzhen off the top spot for the first time since 2015.

New York City was home to the year’s two tallest new buildings: the 472-meter (1,550-foot) Central Park Tower and the 427-meter (1,401-foot) One Vanderbilt. It marked the first time in five years that the world’s tallest new building was completed outside China.

Elsewhere, India and Mexico both welcomed their new tallest buildings — in Mumbai and Monterrey respectively — in 2020. And despite the economic uncertainty caused by Brexit, London completed four 200-meter-plus buildings, the highest figure for the UK’s capital in a single year.


Looking ahead, the CTBUH said it expected worldwide completions to bounce back next year, predicting between 125 and 150 new 200-meter-plus buildings globally in 2021.
But its report also suggested the long-term impact of COVID-19 may yet to be fully realized. High-rise buildings take years to complete, meaning a drop in investment now may affect completion data further down the line.

“As tall buildings are often lagging economic indicators, any chilling effect that economic conditions or work interruptions may have had on new project starts, or projects that were under construction in 2020 remains to be seen,” the report reads. “It must be remembered, the economic crisis of 2008 was not reflected on skylines, in terms of lower completion rates, until 2010 and 2011.”