Skip to navigationSkip to content
ALTISSIMI? NON GRAZIE

If skyscrapers are a proxy for economic power, what happened to western Europe?

AP Photo/Andrew Medichini
Pretty buildings, but no tall ones.
Corinne Purtill
By Corinne Purtill

Reporter

This article is more than 2 years old.

On March 4, the London-based Financial Times ran a story (paywall) educating readers on skyscrapers, the multistory structures that have been part of most city skylines for the last 132 years.

Given that the first skyscraper appeared in Chicago in 1885, and the buildings were widespread across the globe by the late 20th century, the story seems puzzlingly late to the trend. That is, until you look at the data and realize how few skyscrapers Europe actually has.

Quartz

The real-estate data company Emporis defines a skyscraper as a multistory building at least 100 meters (about 330 feet) tall. In its list of the 100 cities in the world with the most skyscrapers, only five—Moscow (#17), Istanbul (#19), London (#58), Frankfurt (#92), and Paris (#98)—can be considered part of Europe. And the top two European cities on the list are in countries—Russia and Turkey, respectively—that are not part of the the economic powerhouse of western Europe.

The list is dominated by Asian cities, with Hong Kong outperforming second-place New York by far to lead the list with an astounding 1,302 skyscrapers. In fact, 62 of the world’s cities with the most skyscrapers are in Asia, which has embraced vertical development with gusto. Pyongyang and Birmingham, the UK’s second biggest city, each have about 2.5 million people, but the North Korean capital has 50% more skyscrapers (27 to Birmingham’s 18).

But North American cities tend to punch way above their weight. Honolulu, Hawaii (population 375,000) has more skyscrapers (66) than London (population 8.67 million, 59 skyscrapers). Minneapolis (population 400,000) is on the list at #99. Madrid (population 3.2 million) is not. Chicago (311 skyscrapers, 2.7 million people) and Toronto (255 skyscrapers, 2.6 million people) are two of the most sky-oriented cities on the planet. Rome has about as many people (2.9 million) but just four skyscrapers (plus seven palaces, eight temples, one castle, one pyramid, and 28 churches).

Some western European cities have zoning restrictions that cap buildings’ height; others were already thoroughly developed before the advent of mega-tall structures. Yet the dearth of skyscrapers in city centers doesn’t mean Europe is scared of heights. Places like Amsterdam and Barcelona have elected to cluster high-rises on city outskirts. And a 70-story building planned in Madrid would replace the Shard in London as the tallest building in western Europe.

Here’s the full list:

CityPopulation (city proper, in millions)Number of skyscrapers
Hong Kong7.061,302
New York City8.55722
Tokyo9.38483
Chicago2.72311
Shanghai17.84296
Dubai2.10285
Shenzhen3.54260
Toronto2.62255
Guangzhou6.56245
Singapore5.31230
Chongqing6.30218
Tianjin6.83168
Seoul10.58165
Wuhan6.43164
Bangkok8.28163
Osaka2.87160
Moscow11.50150
Beijing7.75144
Istanbul10.12143
Xiamen1.86140
Kuala Lumpur1.63137
Jakarta10.19135
Guiyang0.85129
Hefei5.70129
Hangzhou6.24127
Mumbai12.48121
Changsha3.62120
Busan3.53118
Chengdu7.68118
Shenyang8.11117
Panama City0.88116
Ningbo1.48115
Melbourne4.17115
Sydney4.63111
Mexico City8.86110
Miami0.43100
Dalian2.9894
Incheon2.7192
Houston2.3091
Jinan2.5488
São Paulo11.3284
Harbin3.4383
Suzhou1.5081
Nanjing8.1180
Hanoi2.6079
San Francisco0.8678
Qingdao2.6474
Nanning6.6673
Makati0.5372
Ho Chi Minh City7.4072
Zhuhai1.3071
Taiyuan4.2067
Honolulu0.3566
Sharjah0.8065
Buenos Aires2.8964
Tel Aviv-Yaffo0.4161
Los Angeles3.9761
Abu Dhabi0.9259
Calgary1.1059
London8.1759
Atlanta0.4258
Kunming3.5858
Brisbane2.1557
Vancouver0.6053
Philadelphia1.5753
Rio de Janeiro6.3253
Las Vegas0.6252
Goiânia1.4552
Kaohsiung City2.7752
Ankara4.3452
Macau0.5751
Seattle0.6851
Boston0.6749
Doha1.4548
Wuxi6.3748
Zhengzhou2.0046
Gold Coast City0.5342
Dallas1.3041
Shijiazhuang2.1041
Montréal1.7240
Cixi2.0439
Yokohama3.7339
Taipei2.7037
Kobe1.5435
Recife1.5635
Caracas2.7635
Taguig0.6434
Denver0.6834
Liuzhou1.4434
Nanchang5.0434
Mandaluyong0.3333
Frankfurt am Main0.6931
San Diego1.3931
Daegu2.4531
Cairo9.1230
Manila1.6529
Paris2.2328
Fuzhou4.4728
Minneapolis0.4127
Pyongyang2.7427

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.