The Real Deal New York

Why this 2,073-foot Chinese building could be an omen of economic doom

June 09, 2015 03:35PM
By Business Insider

Rendering of the Shanghai Tower in Shanghai, China

Rendering of the Shanghai Tower in Shanghai, China

Nothing suggests the height of human achievement and economic prowess quite like a skyscraper.

The newly completed 2,073-foot-tall Shanghai Tower is officially the second-tallest building in the world (behind Dubai’s Burj Khalifa) and the tallest in China.

And taller skyscrapers are planned, such as China’s Sky City and Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Tower.

But as “cool” as all of these buildings are, glitzy construction booms have historically coincided with the beginnings of economic downturns, according to Barclays’ “Skyscraper Index.” (For all you economics wonks out there, basically, skyscrapers can be considered a sentiment indicator.)

Using Barclays’ index, we pulled together 10 skyscrapers whose constructions overlapped with financial crises.

The Equitable Life Building in New York

The Equitable Life Building in New York

Equitable Life Building (1873)

The Long Depression, 1873–1878

The Long Depression, a pervasive US economic recession with bank failures, coincided with the construction of the Equitable Life Building in New York City in 1873.

The 142-foot building was the world’s first skyscraper. (You could stack 14 of these on top of one another, and they still wouldn’t be taller than China’s new Shanghai Tower.)

The New York World Building (left) in New York

The New York World Building (left)

Auditorium (1889) and New York World (1890)

British banking crisis, 1890

Chicago’s 269-foot-tall Auditorium, completed in 1889, and New York’s 309-foot-tall New York World, completed in 1890, coincided with the British banking crisis of 1890 and a world recession.

Milwaukee City Hall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee City Hall


Masonic Temple, Manhattan Life Building, and Milwaukee City Hall (1893)

US panic marked by the collapse of railroad overbuilding, 1893

Chicago’s 302-foot-tall Masonic Temple, the 348-foot-tall Manhattan Life Building, and the 353-foot-tall Milwaukee City Hall coincided with the US panic of 1893 marked by the collapse of railroad overbuilding.

It also overlapped with a string of bank failures and a run on gold.

Philadelphia City Hall

Philadelphia City Hall

Park Row Building and Philadelphia City Hall (1901)

First stock market crash on the NYSE, 1901

The construction of the 391-foot Park Row Building presaged the US stock-market crash and panic of 1901, as did the completion of Philadelphia City Hall, which stood at a height of 511 feet.

Singer Building in New York

Singer Building in New York

Singer Building and MetLife Building (1907)

The Bankers’ Panic and US economic crisis, 1907–1910

The construction of New York’s 612-foot Singer building and the 700-foot Metropolitan Life Building corresponded with the panic of 1907.

The Bankers’ Panic was a financial crisis that occurred after the New York Stock Exchange fell nearly 50% from its peak, and it reflected a monetary expansion brought about by the establishment of trust companies.

Empire State Building

Empire State Building

40 Wall Street (1929), Chrysler (1930) and Empire State Building (1931)

The Great Depression, 1929–1933

The construction of three record-breaking buildings coincided with the onset of the Great Depression.

40 Wall Street, which on completion in 1929 reached 927 feet, was followed by the 1,046-foot Chrysler building (1930) and the Empire State building (1931), which towered over the others at 1,250 feet.

Willis Tower in Chicago

Willis Tower in Chicago

World Trade Center (1972-1973) and Sears Tower (1974)

US and worldwide economic crisis, 1973–1975

The 1972 construction of One World Trade Center, the 1973 completion of Two World Trade Center, and the 1974 construction of the Sears Tower in Chicago coincided with a period of speculation in monetary expansion from foreign lending.

It also coincided with the collapse of the Bretton Woods system, a rise in oil prices that caused a global economic crisis, and speculation in stocks, property, ships, and aircraft.

Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur

Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur

Petronas Towers (1997)

Asian economic crisis, 1997–1998

The Asian economic crisis, currency devaluation, and speculation in stock and property coincided with the completion of the Petronas Towers in 1997.

At 1,483 feet, the Petronas Towers were the tallest buildings in the world and heralded a crisis in that region.

Taipei 101 in Taiwan

Taipei 101 in Taiwan

Taipei 101 (1999)

Dot-com bubble, 2000–2003

The construction of the 1,671-foot-tall Taipei 101 began in 1999 and was completed in 2004.

The duration coincided with the tech bubble and the recession in the early 2000s.

Burj Khalifa (2010)

The Great Recession, 2007–2010

The 2010 completion of the tallest building in the world, the 2,717-foot Burj Khalifa, coincided with the global financial crisis.

The building surpassed Taipei 101’s height on July 21, 2007.

Rendering of Sky City near Changsha, China

Rendering of Sky City near Changsha, China


Construction on Sky City in China is underway

Sky City, outside Changsha, China, is expected to be around 2,749 feet tall. The 220-story building is expected to take seven months to build at a cost of $628 million. Its construction, however, has been halted by authorities.

This building’s (possible) construction comes amid uncertainty regarding China’s economic and political stability.

That said, we won’t know for several years whether this record-breaking skyscraper coincides with an economic bust…