The number of tall building completions has declined to its lowest level in five years, the latest report has found.

Releasing its Year in Review report, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) said 106 buildings of 200 meters in height or greater were completed during calendar 2020.

This represents the lowest level of tall building completions since 2014 and was down from 148 in 2018 and 133 in 2019.

The lower rate of completions can be partially attributed to work stoppages and other impacts associated with COVID-19, CTBUH said.

Leading the way was China, which completed 56 tall buildings (down from 57 in 2019 and 92 in 2018). This was followed by the United Arab Emirates (12) the United States (10) and the United Kingdom (5).

China’s lower rate of completion in 2019 and 2020 reflects not only COVID-19 but also efforts to curb debt and public policy statements against needless production of exceedingly tall buildings.

On individual cities, Dubai registered the highest number of completions (12) followed by Shenzhen (9), Shenyang (8) and New York (5).

This broke a four-year streak at the top for Shenzhen, and was the first time that Dubai has held this title since 2010.

In other findings:

  • Both of the two tallest individual buildings to be completed were in New York – Central Park Tower (pictured above) at 472 metres and One Vanderbilt at 427 meters.
  • In 2020, more than eight in ten buildings (81 percent) of 200 meters or greater which were completed were in Asia (61 percent) or the Middle East (20 percent). Only 14 percent were in North America and five percent were in Europe. As recently as 1990, more than eight in ten (81 percent) tall building completions were in North America.
  • By function, mixed-use (49 percent) and residential buildings (11 percent) accounted for six in ten tall buildings in 2020, with offices accounting for 36 percent and hotels only four percent. As recently as 2000, offices accounted for more than eight in ten tall buildings (83 percent) whilst mixed-use accounted for just 13 percent and pure residential was barely in the picture.
  • In terms of materials, composite materials using combinations of two or more materials such as concrete-filled steel tubes were the main structural element in 2020. This was followed by concrete (29 percent), all steel (8 percent) and mixed structures involving use of two distinct systems, one on top of the other such as steel frame extensions on top of a concrete core (4 percent). As recently as 1990, all-steel buildings accounted for 56 percent of tall buildings.

In its report, CTBUH says these trends reflect a desire from owners and developers to minimise project risk.

Using combinations of concrete and steel, for example, can enable project teams to capitalise on the strength of both materials whilst offsetting some of the weakness associated with each material.

Likewise, buildings which facilitate multiple uses help to reduce dependence upon a single asset use.

The importance of this can be seen as COVID-19 has raised questions about how much office space will be needed and has impacted travel and demand for hotel space, CTBUH said.

One Vanderbuilt, New York, © Raimund Koch

Going forward, CTBUH expects between 125 and 150 tall buildings to be completed this year.

Of these, it expects that between 14 and 30 will be ‘supertalls’ – 300 meters or greater in height.

Whilst it acknowledges that COVID will continue to weigh on activity, it says the tall building industry has shown resilience to the pandemic.

At any rate, availability of vaccines and other developments will restore confidence by the middle of the year, it says.

“It is reasonable to predict that COVID-19 will affect investment and construction for some time to come,” CTBUH said.

“It is already the case that some projects expected to have completed by the end of 2021 are being moved to 2022, including the 644-meter Merdeka PNB118 in Kuala Lumpur, a change that its developers have directly attributed to Malaysia’s Movement Control Order, which the country issued in response to the pandemic.”

“Having said this, it is notable that the two tallest buildings estimated to complete in 2021, Riverview Plaza A1, Wuhan (436 meters), and 111 West 57th Street, New York City (435 meters), are in the two cities that were, by many measures, hit hardest and earliest by the 2020 pandemic. This could be taken as a symbol of the resilience of cities and the tall building industry as well.

“It is also possible that the availability of vaccines and other positive developments in the battle against the pandemic will restore confidence by mid-year, which gives CTBUH additional confidence in the predicted range of 125 to 150 completions for 2021.”