Asia's Quest For The Ultra-Skyscraper

Wealth, growth, and the desire to make a mark are spurring cities to build ever higher power-towers—and reshaping architectural design in the process.Scientists haven't isolated the "trophy tower" gene just yet.

But there is something almost primal about the century-plus quest by some mega-ambitious cities to build the ultimate, record-busting, flat-out tallest skyscraper on the planet. The old power-tower rivalry early last century between New York and Chicago is legendary. Now the obsession to build mega-structures in nose-bleed territory has gripped much of Asia.

True, oil-rich countries in the Middle East have their living-large dreams, too, and there is one mind-blowing project now under way in Dubai. Still, the betting is that Asian cities likely will transform 21st-century skyscraper architecture in the biggest way. Currently eight of the world's 10 tallest skyscrapers are in the region. And the present reigning champ among skyscrapers globally is Taiwan's Taipei 101, a structure that soars 509 meters, or 1,671 ft.

On top of that, there is the right combination of high-speed growth, accumulated wealth and power tower-obsessed politicians from Kuala Lumpur to Shanghai that will keep the boom going for many years to come. Even lesser-known regional cities that have a burning ambition to make their mark view big, gutsy, and distinctively designed skyscrapers as potential game-changers—and are willing to offer serious incentives to make them happen.

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