Skip to navigationSkip to content
The San Francisco skyline with the Salesforce Tower looming over it.
Reuters/Stephen Lam
Touch the sky.
GETTING HIGH

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

By Dan Kopf

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

RankCityTallest building (feet)
1Dubai2,717
2Shanghai2,073
3Mecca1,972
4Shenzhen1,965
5Seoul1,819
6New York City1,776
7Guangzhou1,739
8Tianjin1,739
9Taipei1,667
10Hong Kong1,588
11Changsha1,483
12Kuala Lumpur1,483
13Nanjing1,476
14Suzhou1,476
15Chicago1,451
16Wuhan1,437
17Kuwait City1,354
18Riyadh1,263
19Dalian1,257
20Abu Dhabi1,251
21Nanning1,251
22Moscow1,226
23Shenyang1,150
24Xi An1,148
25Kaohsiung1,140
26Xiamen1,128
27Philadelphia1,121
28Zhenjiang1,120
29Chongqing1,112
30Wuxi1,112
31Los Angeles1,100
32Guiyang1,099
33Beijing1,083
34Hanoi1,078
35Jiangyin1,076
36San Francisco1,070
37Yantai1,060
38Gold Coast1,058
39Wenzhou1,056
40Zhuhai1,056

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.