Scrape the Skyscraper

by Kurt Yalcin

The memo is out: the age of the skyscraper is over. Only it seems like Beijing, among other industrial cities, has not received it.

The Business Week article “The Building Bubble in China”  is an outcry and a warning: oversized buildings are leaving oversized loses. In particular, Jack Rodman theorizes that the next real estate market to tumble will be in Beijing. The article analyzes the amount of money spent on skyscraper construction, the debt it causes, as well as the vacancy rates left behind.

And I agree with Rodman on the issue. Bigger is not always better. In fact, bigger is worse.

Take it from a real estate broker on the home turf. According to Ed Mermelstein of Mermelstein & Associates, the areas in New York City Manhattan that are suffering the worst are the areas that are closest to the sky. Mermelstein warns of areas like the financial district and midtown, where monolith buildings are becoming hard to fill.  Even the upper east side, in a flurry to meet previous demand, engaged in a little sky-scraping. These areas, as the Business Week article calls it, are becoming a “ghost town.”

And yet I still find myself hearing about the tallest building here, the tallest building there. Take Dubai and it’s recent release of the Burj Dubai Tower, currently the tallest building in the world. Last time I checked, Dubai was not in the best place financially.

Then there were the plans at ground zero. Rumors of halting the project as well as its current delay, simply so the building would be redrafted to reach further into the sky.

It reminds me of a time I read about as a child. Biblical times. That’s right: Babel and the city’s obsession with height. I don’t recall it ending well for them either.

So, all I’m saying is, I think it’s high time we start learning from the past, learning from the present, and stop reaching for the stars.


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