The Salesforce Tower makes San Francisco one of a few cities with “supertall” skyscrapers

The Salesforce Tower looms above San Francisco. The skyscraper, which is expected to open in early 2018, will be by far the tallest building in the city. At 1,070 feet (326 meters) it will be more than 200 feet taller than the Transamerica Pyramid Center, which has been San Francisco’s tallest building since 1972. The Tower is a sign of San Francisco rise as a center of economic dynamism, and the financial might of the cloud computing company that bears its name.

Philadelphia’s 1,121 feet (342 meters) Comcast Technology Center will also likely be completed in 2018. The building, which will be the city’s tallest, is less a sign of Philadelphia’s economic health than Comcast’s rapid growth over the last decade—the company’s valuation has more than quadrupled since 2009.

Salesforce Tower and the Comcast Technology Center will be their city’s first “supertall” buildings—defined by the US-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat as buildings over 984 feet (300 meters). Only New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles will have taller buildings. Atlanta and Houston are the only other US cities with supertalls.

Yet internationally, the new buildings in Philadelphia and San Francisco are not all that impressive. In 2018, 19 other supertall buildings are likely to be completed. Of those buildings, 14 will be in China, seven of which are taller than the Comcast Technology Center. The tallest of these will be the 1,483 feet (452 meters) Changsha IFS Tower located in south-central Chinese city of Changsha.

Neither Philadelphia or San Francisco will enter the top 25 cities in terms of tallest buildings. Philadelphia will place 27th just behind Xiamen, China; and San Francisco will be 36th behind Jiangyin, China.

40 cities with the tallest buildings

Rank City Tallest building (feet)
1 Dubai 2,717
2 Shanghai 2,073
3 Mecca 1,972
4 Shenzhen 1,965
5 Seoul 1,819
6 New York City 1,776
7 Guangzhou 1,739
8 Tianjin 1,739
9 Taipei 1,667
10 Hong Kong 1,588
11 Changsha 1,483
12 Kuala Lumpur 1,483
13 Nanjing 1,476
14 Suzhou 1,476
15 Chicago 1,451
16 Wuhan 1,437
17 Kuwait City 1,354
18 Riyadh 1,263
19 Dalian 1,257
20 Abu Dhabi 1,251
21 Nanning 1,251
22 Moscow 1,226
23 Shenyang 1,150
24 Xi An 1,148
25 Kaohsiung 1,140
26 Xiamen 1,128
27 Philadelphia 1,121
28 Zhenjiang 1,120
29 Chongqing 1,112
30 Wuxi 1,112
31 Los Angeles 1,100
32 Guiyang 1,099
33 Beijing 1,083
34 Hanoi 1,078
35 Jiangyin 1,076
36 San Francisco 1,070
37 Yantai 1,060
38 Gold Coast 1,058
39 Wenzhou 1,056
40 Zhuhai 1,056

According to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, there are 120 future supertall buildings now under construction. Among these is the Jeddah Tower which, if all goes according to plan, will be the world’s tallest building at 3,281 feet (exactly one kilometer). It is expected to be opened for business in 2020. Of the supertalls currently under construction, 69 are in China. Only nine are in the US, all in New York and Chicago.

As my colleague Gwynn Guildford has pointed out, many of these future supertalls only make the grade by adding “vanity height” through features like spires above the top useable floor. For example, the world’s tallest building, Dubai’s 2,717 feet (828 meter) Burj Khalifa is 29% vanity height.

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