The 101 story skyscraper that was completed in Taiwan in 2004 had to sway but not too much. Called Taipei 101, it needed the sway if an earthquake struck but had to limit its flexibility during a typhoon because people would get seasick. The solution was a mass damper. Sort of like a 728 ton pendulum, a mass damper is a counterweight that “lags” the movement of the building.
In the diagram below you can see that they placed the mass damper close to the 87th floor. And then next, we have a 2007 photo of Taipei 101.
From convincing tenants the building would be safe to adjusting flight paths to finding investors, the logistics were daunting. But they were no different from other super tall building projects.
Where are we going? To the correlation between super tall building construction and business cycles.
A Sentiment Index
We could use super tall building projects in a sentiment index. Requiring huge funding, money has to be available from confident investors. Typically also, the sponsors want to make a statement about global power and success that corresponds to a prosperous era. Whether representing a corporation, a city or a nation, a super tall building can reflect the (inflated?) optimism that accompanies economic expansion.
A super tall building for its era, NYC’s Singer Building was completed in 1908. The world’s tallest building for only a year, the Chrysler Building opened on May 28, 1930. Meanwhile, we had the Sears Tower in 1974, Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Tower, 1997, the building of Taipei 101 spanning 1999-2004 and Burj Khalifa, the United Arab Emirates, 2010. All indicated a peak in optimistic economic sentiment.
The decline followed soon after.
We had a banking crisis in 1907, the great depression during the 1930s, stagflation from the 1970s-1982, an “Asian Contagion in 1997-1998, the tech bubble in 2000 and the great recession from the end of 2007 to June 2009.
Our Bottom Line: Business Cycles
For the buildings that I selected, each was completed when an economic boom collapsed. I know some of this is “cherry picking” statistics because not all super tall buildings were built during the end of an economic expansion. However, we can say that super tall building construction tends to occur when loanable funds are available and investors are willing and able to support capital expansion. And that optimism does coincide with the expansionary phase of the business cycle.
So, when not to build a super tall skyscraper? I guess we need a crystal ball.