A record demand for tall and supertall buildings appears to be alive and well. But the big question is whether it will stay that way.

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, in its 2018 CTBUH Tall Building Year in Review, found that 18 supertall buildings 300 meters or taller completed construction last year—a record number that beats 2017, but only by three. The number of completed buildings in 2018, at least 200 m and including at least 300-m-plus buildings, is 143. That is four fewer high-rises than in 2017.

The 10-page report, primarily authored by CTBUH's editor Daniel Safarik, is full of data on tall buildings completed and under way. For example, the group predicts between 120 and 150 buildings 200 m or taller to wrap up construction this year.

“This range takes into consideration the total number of projects currently underway, but it is common for a substantial percentage of projects anticipated for completion to be delayed into the next year or later,” says the report.

There are currently 99 buildings 300 m or taller under construction, according to the Skyscraper Center, CTBUH’s interactive database for tall building information. But the report and the Skyscraper Center, which also contains data on proposed buildings, contain no predictions for the number of 2019 construction starts for tall buildings.

“Sites push dirt around for often indeterminable amounts of time before a piece of structure goes into the ground,” which is when CTBUH considers a building under construction, “so our ability to predict true construction starts is hampered,” says Jason Gabel, a spokesman for the group.


Still, there are predictions. Gabel says only Europe and South America will likely not have a supertall building construction start this year. “I would anticipate a slowdown of supertall construction starts in China, but still, the number may outpace the rest of the world,” he says.

The 1-kilometer-tall Jeddah Tower is expected to finish up in 2021, according to the Skyscraper Center. If completed, the building would surpass the current height record holder, the 828-m Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which was completed in 2010. The projected completion of the 644-m Merdeka PNB118 in Kuala Lumpur also is 2021.

In April, the 462-m Lakhta Center is expected to open, making it officially Europe’s tallest. The building in St. Petersburg, Russia, was commissioned in October and its spire was erected a year ago in January. The 363-m Vista Tower, a mixed-use building in Chicago, is set to top out later this year.

There are 144 buildings 300 m or taller in the world; 1,477 towers 200 m or taller; and 4,634 high-rises 150 m or taller, according to the group, which has been keeping track of tall buildings since 1969. And by December, there likely will be 200 completed supertall buildings. There are currently 144, up from 126 in 2017. In 2000, there were only 26 supertall buildings.

Primary Structural Material

Concrete retains its lead as the primary structural material, claiming 90 of the 143 buildings 200 m or taller, or 62.9%. This represents an increase from 49.7% in 2017.

This month, the world’s tallest mass-timber building, the 88.8-m Mjøstårnet in Brumundal, a small town in Norway, is scheduled for completion.

CTBUH says the climate for tall timber is generally positive. In August, Oregon became the first jurisdiction to explicitly change its building code to allow taller hybrid mass timber framing. The International Code Council is likely to approve taller timber buildings in its 2021 update of the International Building Code. The provisions would allow mass-timber framing in residential and office buildings as tall as 270 ft.

One cloud for timber, according to the 2018 CTBUH review, is that beginning Dec. 21, the U.K. banned all combustible cladding on buildings taller than 18 m, which in the “current interpretation, includes timber.”

Dominance of Asia

The dominance of Asia as a region in terms of the proportion of the 100 tallest buildings continued to grow in 2018, rising to 59 buildings, from 54 in 2017, says the report.

The Middle East accounted for 23 of the 100 tallest, a decrease from 26 in 2017, and from 24 in 2016. North America has 14 of the 100 tallest, down from 15 in 2017. Europe’s figure changed to three, from four in 2017 and two in 2016. One of the tallest 100 is in Oceania – the 323-m Q1 Tower in Australia’s Gold Coast. Ranked 85th in the top 100, it was completed in 2005.

Mixed-use remained the dominant function in the 100 tallest in 2018. There were 47 mixed-use towers, an increase of two from 2017. The figure for office functions only was 38.

Referring to its predictions, the report concludes: “We must also acknowledge the increasing economic and political volatility in many places around the world. Our increasingly interconnected, global industry means that disruptions to planning, design and construction of tall building projects could occur unexpectedly.”