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Skyscraper construction booming in Middle East, Asia

Story Highlights

• 434 new skyscrapers are expected to be built over the next ten years
• Dubai's Burj Dubai will be the world's tallest building upon completion in 2008
• New building materials and designs are enabling ever-taller skyscrapers
By Steve Hargreaves
Special to CNN
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- From Shanghai to Dubai, skyscraper construction is booming.

Over the next 10 years, 434 new buildings more than 50 stories are expected to be built around the world, according to Emporis Buildings, an international database of building information. That compares to the construction of 630 buildings of similarly lofty proportions during the past 100 years; 375 of those went up in the last decade, according to Emporis.

One of the leading boomtowns is Shanghai, China, said David Scott, chairman of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat and an engineer with the global design firm Arup.

"They are trying to stop the urban sprawl, and to do that they are building up rather than out," Scott said. "It's like the roaring '20s here."

Although the advent of steel beams and elevators allowed American cities like New York and Chicago, Illinois, to usher in the age of the skyscraper at the end of the 19th century, scanning list of the world's tallest buildings clearly shows the Near and Far East have taken the lead.

At 1,671 feet, Taiwan's Taipei 101 is currently the world's tallest building, according to Emporis, which measures the structural height and does not include TV towers, masts and other structures placed atop a skyscraper.

Taipei 101 took the top spot in 2004 from Malaysia's Petronas Towers, which were finished in 1998 and, at 1,483 feet, just nudged out the record-holder since 1974 -- the Sears Tower in Chicago.

But Taipei 101 is unlikely to hold on to its title.

Dubai's Burj Dubai, under construction, is rumored to be heading toward 2,500 feet, although its architect would not confirm its final planned height.

Three other skyscrapers approved for construction in South Korea also are expected to be taller than Taipei 101, as is the Freedom Tower in New York.

While height is always a dazzler, experts say skyscrapers of tomorrow will rely on cutting edge design for just as much of their wow power.

Rising computing speeds that allow for greater 3D modeling power and accuracy, along with greater collaboration between architects and engineers, is ushering in this age of aggressive architecture.

With its China Central Television building -- which basically looks like a box with the corners cut off -- China is on the leading edge of bold construction.

"You look at it and you wonder how it stays up," Martin Pedersen, executive editor at the architecture and design magazine Metropolis, said of the Central Television building, which is under construction.

"It's about structural engineering and architecture being melded together in one discipline."

The emergence of memory steel, which can bend and then reform its original shape, could play a key role in the design of buildings 20 to 30 years from now, according to Lee Polisano, president of the architecture firm Kohn, Pedersen Fox.

He said the memory steel, combined with self-tinting glass and other automatic features, allows a building to expand and contract, lightening or darkening, enabling buildings "to behave in their environment the way a reptile adapts to theirs."

Further afield, skyscrapers may actually be built with the ability to move.

There was recently a proposal for a building in the Middle East that turned on its axis so the sides with the most windows were always in the shade, according to Scott.

"They will be more like machines in the future," he said.

Another design phenomenon is China's Pearl River Tower. The building's plans call for giant wind scoops running the width of the building to channel air into wind turbines to produce electricity.

That's all part of another design trend in skyscrapers -- saving as much energy as possible.

"We really are at that point where green building is on everyone's agenda," said Carol Willis, director and founder of The Skyscraper Museum in New York and a lecturer at Columbia University.

Other ways buildings will create power: using rising hot air from heat-generating mechanics to turn turbines; capturing the energy lost in elevator breaking, much like a hybrid car; employing computers to electronically control shades and lighting, keeping the building cool while at the same time letting in as much natural light as possible.

As Carl Galioto, a partner at the architectural firm Skidmore, Owens & Merrill put it: "The synthesis between electronic advances and mechanical advances are not only making the building more efficient, but also more pleasant to work in."


The 1,674-foot Taipei 101 in Taiwan is the tallest building in the world, but will soon be passed by the Burj Dubai in the Middle East.


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