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The European Union has virtually no skyscrapers except the newly built 'The Shard' in London. There are also a series of newly-built state-funded skyscrapers in Moscow.

On the other hand if you look at Hong-Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Taipei, and Tokyo you will see the whole skyline full of skyscrapers. Why is it so?

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Not posting an answer because I don't have a source, but I would guess that it has to do with the large density of historic buildings in the cores of European cities, which they don't want to bulldoze. Paris for instance has a large concentration of skyscrapers in La Défense on the outskirts. Note that Rotterdam and Warsaw, cities which were substantially destroyed in WW2, both have an unusually high density of skyscrapers by European standards. – Evan Harper Jul 7 '12 at 2:06
@EvanHarper - Again, no sources, but that was roughly my theory too. Also, I think skyscrapers are mostly "statement" architecture, so are more attractive to up-and-comming metropoli than to old established ones. – T.E.D. Jul 7 '12 at 2:47
I don't understand what you mean by "real skyscrapers." Both Rotterdam and Warsaw have ~20 buildings of more than 100m height. And I didn't mention land cost. – Evan Harper Jul 7 '12 at 19:05
Could some of this be related to geology, for example, London being built on clay vs parts of Manhattan being built on rock? – Steve Melnikoff Jul 11 '12 at 11:08
Question is intrinsically speculative and probably not amenable to historical sources and methods. – Mark C. Wallace Sep 30 '15 at 10:48

17 Answers 17

South East Asia (SEA) isn't totally full of sky-scrapers-- just the wealthy cities like Hong Kong, Singapore, or Shen Zhen. What all these cities have in common is fast, recent growth and limited space. England or France, or many other European states have been developing for hundreds of years. 200 years ago, there was no technology for sky scrapers; so, none were built. Today, SEA has many sky scrapers because there is a near future lack of space, and because sky scrapers are now possible to build.

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I was on the fence about this, but I think its good enough for an upvote. You might snag a few more votes though with links. The growth stats have to be online, and surely there's an article out there somewhere saying something roughly akin to this. – T.E.D. Jul 7 '12 at 16:13
@T.E.D. I'll keep looking in my spare time, thanks for the comment. – Russell Jul 8 '12 at 3:23
Do you mean that in multiple cities throughout East Asia there is lack of space and there is no lack of space in any European city? – Anixx Jul 8 '12 at 13:25
@Anixx, SEA and Europe both have cities with a lack of space, but, the cities in Europe tent to have developed for a longer time a long time ago, using up all the space available with non sky scraper buildings. SEA on the other hand, has new cities who've experienced huge population growth in a short period of time, forcing these cities to build sky scrapers. It is not the lack of current space that forces the building of sky scrapers, but the near future lack of space. Thanks for the critique, I've edited my answer. – Russell Jul 9 '12 at 8:03
also, many European cities have laws and regulations restricting the size of new buildings in order to preserve historic skylines. This automatically limits the height of new buildings. – jwenting Feb 20 '13 at 7:05

Technically, Tokyo, Hong-Kong, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Taipei, are NOT in South East Asia.

They are in Asia, which hosts 60% of the world's current human population.

Having 60% of the world's population seems like a valid reason to have a good proportion of the skyscrapers.

That being said, the small number of skyscrapers in Europe can not be denied. In many European cities (like Paris), construction of skyscrapers is forbidden or limited to particular places in the city periphery, in an attempt to preserve landscape.

Wikipedia says the Tour Montparnasse has been "often criticised for being out of place in Paris's urban landscape and, as a result, two years after its completion, the construction of skyscrapers in the city centre was banned."

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This isn't Europe, but I understand Philidelphia for a long time had an unwritten prohibition against building anything taller than the City Hall's tower. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philadelphia_City_Hall – T.E.D. Jul 10 '12 at 13:23
The construction of One Liberty Place (1984–1987) ended the informal gentlemen's agreement that limited the height of tall buildings in the city; it is currently the 16th-tallest building in Pennsylvania. – American Luke Jul 11 '12 at 14:17
+1, good point. Someone might wonder why North America contains a disproportionate amount of skyscrapers. (Does it? I was just making an assumption.) – Adam Mosheh Jul 11 '12 at 21:47
@T.E.D. Munich had a rule until the 80ies (Yes 1980ies) against building anything taller than a church (de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skyline#M.C3.BCnchen) – user45891 Dec 30 '14 at 20:33
Washington, DC also has a fairly strict height limit for buildings — though contrary to popular belief, it has very little to do with making sure that buildings don't get taller than the US Capitol. – Michael Seifert Jul 25 at 13:57

In Germany employees have the right to daylight at their workplace. This is not easy in a skyscraper, which often has a huge core of rooms without any daylight. There might be some information in DIN EN 12464-1 Licht und Beleuchtung – Beleuchtung von Arbeitsstätten – Teil 1: Arbeitsstätten in Innenräume

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Interesting. Was this rule inspired with the film "Metropolis"? – Anixx Nov 18 '12 at 23:11
no, European labour law has included such clauses in response to 18th and 19th century work conditions in factories and mines. – jwenting Feb 20 '13 at 7:07

If I want to occupy space in a major city I have three choices.

  1. Build a new skyscraper (possibly by proxy in the sense that I occupy space in a skyscraper built by someone else who was prepared to erect the building only because he anticipated my and others' demand for it).
  2. Occupy existing space in low-rise structures.
  3. Build new low-rise structures on greenfield sites outside of the existing city centre.

In Europe option 1 is considerably more expensive because (i) the cities are already developed and so it is necessary to find or create brownfield space of sufficient size for the construction project, and (ii) planning laws are often more restrictive than in Asia/N. America. This naturally compels people do do more of 2 and 3.

By contrast, many of the great skyscraper cities such as New York, Tokyo, and Shanghai only commenced there phase of rapid development whilst/after skyscraper construction techniques had been introduced. As such, builders in those places were faced with a relative abundance of un(der)-developed space on which to build. Also, many of the world's biggest skyscraper cities (New york, Tokyo, Hong Kong) are naturally bounded (e.g. by the shores of Manhattan Island) which limits the possibility of choosing option 3.

More recently, cities like London have seen a renewed interest in the construction of tall buildings. This has come about as a consequence of a ~2000-2007 property boom that has made land space more expensive. As land prices increase, option 1 from the list becomes more attractive relative to the others because a skysraper creates more space per unit of land occupied.

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Many European cities were rebuilt after WWII and WWI. You cannot argue the places were already developed when skyscraper construction technology emerged. – Anixx Jul 27 '13 at 8:32
Thanks for your answer Ubitquitous. Some of what you say here makes a lot of sense. Can you give any historical sources/scholarship that suggests that any of these are reasons behind the historical urban development of the two regions? Otherwise it is just speculation. – kmlawson Jul 27 '13 at 10:27
@Anixx (i) the war freed up large tracts of inner city space so there was little shortage of supply creating economic pressure to 'build up', and (ii) the postwar rebuilding of European cities took place under particularly challenging economic conditions. Large portions of the continent's physical and human capital had been depleted in the war and everyone was (barely) surviving on loans from the US under the Marshall Plan. There simply weren't resources for widespread skyscraper building at the time. – Ubiquitous Jul 29 '13 at 12:30
@kmlawson I have no scholarly sources; I am an economics professor (but not an urban economist) and the above is a fairly standard application of economic reasoning. – Ubiquitous Jul 29 '13 at 12:32
This is the best answer. – axsvl77 2 days ago

To expand on NewAlexandria's answer:

Europe has a well developed planning and zoning regime. Obtaining planning approval for a building that is not in keeping with the existing stock is a long process that will usually meet with either failure or limitations on the design/ profile.

On of the reasons the shard is the shape it is was to prevent existing landmarks being overshadowed/ obscured on the skyline.

In Asia money talks.

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As I already said, Europe has large areas filled with block housings which are built in series. London: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/1e/… Tallin: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:EE-TLN-MUS-Tammsaare_tee.JPG Minsk: nemiga.info/biblioteka/sever-8.jpg – Anixx Oct 22 '12 at 6:14
Not to be egoic about my answer, but it's better to make 'answer expansions' as edits to the answer. It works, and your name is listed on the answer, too. If the answer gets enough edits, it no longer belongs to the original person. I've done this, too. – New Alexandria Sep 30 '15 at 22:45

Pragmatically, because:

  1. Europe has a long history of great architecture, which is preserved even in the face of modern developments.
  2. the density of existing metro spaces makes it difficult to site a major project where it will get the appropriate attention. If there is space for it, it may be too far away from the metro centers
  3. skyscrapers aint all that, baby (architectural appreciation, for many Europeans, does not have the skyscraper as its sole effigy.)
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"Europe has a long history of great architecture" - East Asia also has. And it is also preserved. – Anixx Oct 22 '12 at 5:58
"he density of existing metro spaces makes it difficult to site a major project" - You are assuming that Europe has no young cities which in wrong. Also many old cities were rebuilt completely after WWII. – Anixx Oct 22 '12 at 6:00
"skyscrapers aint all that, baby (architectural appreciate, for many Europeans, does not have the skyscraper as its sole effigy.)" - but many European cities do HAVE block housings which have no architectural value and built in series (unlike skyscrapers). – Anixx Oct 22 '12 at 6:01
@Anixx are you suggesting that brownstones, and maybe other row housing, have no architectural value? – New Alexandria Dec 30 '14 at 15:04

Legally in England, there is the law of "Right to Light" In short this means that existing buildings have an expectation that their natural light will be preserved by later developmnts, ie putting up a skyscraper next to my house would be a criminal act.

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I think each country has sanitary norms on minimal distance between buildings allowed. – Anixx Nov 15 '12 at 11:21

There are a couple of factors here I haven't seen mentioned:

  • Skyscrapers are generally office buildings, often owned by a single company. Asian skyscrapers often mean to represent economical success of a company.

  • Buildings in countries like Japan are generally built for short term, couple of decades, no more. Also, centralized policy on architecture is rather weak. If you have a land somewhere, you can build there prety much whatever you want, and you do it every 30-40 years, so naturally many building will be ultramodern. European countries have strict regulations on what you can built, and major architectural projects esp in downtown are not one company shows.

  • Many of the said cities are dynamically growing both in economy and in population. HKG, Singapore, Shanghai, Tokyo are big cities with much more money to spend and much more need for office space and sometimes living spaces. Tokyo itself has larger population than half of the EU countries, and land prices rivaling London's. Shanghai has far bigger economic growth than anything in Europe in the last couple of decades.

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Emporis defines "skyscraper" as:

A skyscraper is defined on Emporis as a multi-story building whose architectural height is at least 100 meters. This definition falls midway between many common definitions worldwide, and is intended as a metric compromise which can be applied across the board worldwide. The 100-meter cutoff for a skyscraper coincides with the cutoff for the Emporis Skyscraper Award.

By that definition, Europe currently has 361 skyscrapers, and quite a few are being build. Not that many, but certainly not few. However, as the other answerers have pointed out, most European capitals and major cities are very old, traditionally made of low rise buildings and with already distinct skylines. Would you really want to see a skyscraper next to the Acropolis, the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum?

Interestingly, most US cities with early skyscrapers now have very strict regulations and limits for maximum building heights.

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There are MANY boroughs and cities with typical buildings built in series in Europe. Look at my comment above. upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/1e/… nemiga.info/biblioteka/sever-8.jpg – Anixx Nov 14 '12 at 4:42
@Anixx I don't have to look at your comment, or your links, because... I live in a European city with typical buildings build in series ;) What's your point exactly? – Yannis Nov 14 '12 at 4:46
my point is that the skyscrapers hardly can harm the skyline more that the typical living blocks. There are also many places where there no height regulations, still there are no skyscrapers either. – Anixx Nov 14 '12 at 4:50
@Anixx Hm, both Paris and Athens banned skyscrapers exactly because they harmed the skyline. Regardless, even on cities where skyscrapers wouldn't harm the skyline (and there aren't other factors at play, like soil), what's the point? People don't go around building skyscrapers just for the fun of it, if there isn't a population density problem (for example), why build skyscrapers? – Yannis Nov 14 '12 at 4:54
@Anixx No, my point is that people don't go around building skyscrapers just for the fun of it. There are quite a few factors to consider, not just population density (soil, availability of materials, cultural aesthetics etc). But, in the context of History.SE, I think the most important factor is that skyscrapers would alter the historically and architecturally significant skylines of European cities, without adding much value to them, as most major European cities already have quite a few historical landmarks that define their skylines. Why hide them behind steel monstrosities? – Yannis Nov 14 '12 at 6:24

Generally skyscrapers are build near the centre of the city. In many cities, the centre is merely historical and since some time, people prefer to conserve historical buildings. In Europe, if the city centres' buildings survived the history, they are preserved and there is not much space for anything else. So in Europe, skyscrapers are sometimes outside the actual centre (Paris, Prague...) - and so just few of them as they are not enough efficient too far from the centre. But e.g. in cities heavily damaged in WWII, skyscrapers are often also in the centre (often limited by some regulations): London, Berlin, Warsaw... as there was plenty of space for new development in/near the core of the city.

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I agree with TylerDurden, but just to elaborate a little on the politics of the matter.

One, most European countries are vibrant democracies. Thus, nimby-ists, sentimentalists, incumbent property owners, environmentalists, and the like have greater opportunity to veto any new developments. So, like TylerDurden says, these guys don't really have much of a say.

Two, Europe has a much greater share of nimby-ists, sentimentalists, incumbent property owners, environmentalists, and the like.

So for example, even if China were a vibrant democracy, there are far fewer sentimentalists who would protest against the construction of a skyscraper next to say the Forbidden Palace. Also, for obvious reasons, there are also far fewer incumbent property owners who have an interest in blocking the increase in the supply of office/housing space.

Three, even compared to the US, Europe has a much stronger anti-capitalist/sentimentalist spirit. And in Asia the pro-capitalist/pragmatist spirit is probably even stronger than in the US. If a tall building means everyone will be richer, people in Asia will support it, while Europeans will think of all sorts of reasons to oppose it.

Based on the above arguments, it is perhaps not surprising that the European city with the most skyscrapers is Moscow (31). (Wikipedia) Second is Istanbul (28).

A distant third is Paris (18) and fourth is London (15) where property prices are ridiculously high and, if run by Chinese/Singaporean technocrats or HK free-marketeers, would have far more skyscrapers.

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Asia has stronger pro-capitalist bias than the US? Are u joking? – Anixx Jan 2 '15 at 20:53
Perhaps not North Korea, but certainly in Singapore, Hong Kong, and China. – Kenny LJ Jan 4 '15 at 14:39
@Anixx no, he isn't joking. The business acumen of the Chinese (for example) as a people, has been a byword for centuries. – KorvinStarmast Jul 25 at 13:45

Just to correct a couple of mistakes:

(1) East Asia doesn't represent 60% of the world's population, more like 20%...


(3) Europe doesn't have a skyscraper culture. United States was a bold brand new capitalist state back in the 20th century, now it's China, that is extremely bold and liberal (in terms of capitalism), I'm not saying China is a free democratic country, it's not, it's authoritarian, like Singapore, BUT, IT'S EXTREMELY LIBERAL CAPITALIST.

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This is a list of all high-rise buildings (100m) in Europe (including the Asian part of Russia and Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia)

Skyscrapercity - Number of 100m skyscrapers in Europe by country (complete, T / O, U / C)

High-rise buildings 100m in Europe

complete = 947 topped out = 85 under construction = 262

Complete list of all skyscraper (150m +) in Europe (complete, T/O, U/C)

150m+ (complete,T/O) = 199 200m+ (complete,T/O) = 50 300m+ (complete,T/O) = 6

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As it stands this doesn't really answer the question, as it only addresses the skyscrapers in Europe. – Steve Bird Apr 24 at 20:04

There is no general answer; each reason has its own answer.

Japan has a high population density and limited arable land, so the evolution of a mega-city like Tokyo with skyscrapers is a technical solution to a national challenge.

Singapore and Hong Kong have a limited amount of land; the only option for increasing space was to grow up.

China is undergoing urbanization right now; housing must be built for all the rural residents who are migrating to the cities. China also has central planning, and for several reasons, favors the construction of large, densely populated cities instead of suburban sprawl. It is interesting to travel from Beijing out of the city for example, just a moment passes and there are only farms and villages.

For Taipei and Kuala Lumpur, I am not so familiar with the real estate dynamics.

I think in Europe - Germany, for example - the growth of small towns was more prevalent when urbanization occurred. I don't know much about European Urbanization plans, but I think the distribution of political control was such that smaller cities were favored over large cities.

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It is because European cities have building height restrictions. For example, London has a 1000-foot absolute restriction and it is very rare for any building over 250 feet high to be permitted. Paris has similar laws that prevent the construction of any building over about 200 feet (12 stories).

The reasons given for these restrictions are given out as to "preserve historic skylines" and "improve the quality of life of workers". However, these reasons are just nonsense, because you can find the same restrictions in bombed out cities like Munich that have no longer have a "historic" skyline.

In all probability, it is probably just nimbi-ism ("not in my backyard"). Skyscrapers benefit the builder and tenants, but noone else, except indirectly. In the socialist mentality current in Europe such "selfish" business practices are not tolerated, especially by labor parties.

Basically, it is a result of the socialist/"worker"-oriented politics prevalent in Europe. In Asian cities like Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai, the rules are made by small groups of elites and workers do not have much influence over zoning policies.

Just as additional proof of my answer read dorf's answer above. What he says is a completely accurate picture of the European view: workers have a "right to daylight" according to him. That is the mentality that prevents skyscrapers from being built in the middle of big cities in Europe.

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Do u mean these restrictions exist an any European city? I have recenty bought a flat in a 25-storey building. – Anixx Dec 30 '14 at 23:35
@Anixx I am talking in generalities. Is your flat in the middle of London or Paris? – Tyler Durden Dec 30 '14 at 23:44
U see there are a lot of 25-storey buildings, 30-storey building, but there are few 100-storey buildings – Anixx Dec 30 '14 at 23:45
My flat is in a city whose name will tell u very little. – Anixx Dec 30 '14 at 23:47
There's nothing socialist about zoning laws, and conservatives have held more power more frequently in western Europe, than socialists. – gerrit Sep 30 '15 at 10:03

Agreeing or at least taking into consideration everything said here before me, I would like to give my answer to the question.

First, have you ever been impressed by the skyscraper? I suppose you did, like everybody else. This is because the thing is really impressive, it is huge, it goes to heaven, it has it's sort of beauty, technologically advanced beauty. From outside. But let us take a look inside the skyscraper, the first few stories are usually used to impress on purpose, interiors are extensively decorated in a modern way, luxury shops and ads are installed, most recognized brands are invited to put their world renowned logos everywhere.

Do we have an example of this kind of an impressive building in the past centuries? Does it remaind you something from the past? The history of architecture knows such example. This temple.

Everywhere, in Rome, India, Persia, Tibet, Russia, Greece, France or Germany, the king will build a temple when he wants to strengthen his influence in the area. Especially in the freshly conquered, annexed, colonized or by other means possessed territory, where current architecture is centuries behind what the king could build with his power, money and people.

The temple will dominate the lesser buildings and will convey the populist messages to both, the locals who will think the king is come not to war and rob but unite people under right and mighty God, as well as to king's settlers who will be attracted by the building and all associated infrastructure, culture and economy.

The view on skyscrapers as tall buildings is not complete, the skyscraper is a tall building that was made impressive on purpose. For instance Empire State Building is surrounded by other very high buildings, but you may think they are just tall buildings whereas ESB was definetly build and named to impress.

In colonies such as HK or Singapore the skyscraper will attract both local population and metropolian settlers. Locals will love to move in and learn English to be closer to civilized world that for them emotionally is a "skyscraper world" with technology, knowledge, power and gold. And settlers will love to come as they will feel in the West while being far from home. British colonizers noticed that it is much easier to attract settlers, especially noble and wealthy if you create a very dense town, this will help preserve a metropolitan culture as well as opposed to dissolving in local population.

Of course a decision to build impressive skyscrapers in the colony will not be made by public democratic procedures. Instead it will be made in private clubs in comfortable chairs surrounded by cigar smoke and expensive wine on the tables. Of course both press, the one oriented at metropolian settlers and the one oriented at native settlers (say Chinese in HK) will be told other things about land value, great symbol of our city success, a better place to work and trade for us all. Of course all those messagess will be true as well.

In Russia and China the governments are frustrated by the fact that local popularion sees the West as the more attractive place than the someone's own country, that is why Chinese government will support building impressive buildings. Someone mentioned 7000 skyscrapers build in China. Of course all economical reasons apply, and they have been discussed before me.

Russia did not built a single skyscraper for about twenty years, although the attempts to build impressive structures in Moscow and Saint-Petersburg were made all the time, but each time when the plan was made public, the western press will start the campaign against it, usually the arguments were historical city view, money comes from bad oligarchs, local people will oppose. And they will oppose, few days later when the same arguments will spread in local press. And photos of few protesters will circulate in Western press another few days later, and few other days later they will circulate in local press. I talk about it in such detail to support my claim that skyscrapers are built or not built not from solely natural economical reasons but on purpose. The purpose is populism, who has the right to build temples he is the King. In recent years Russian president Putin used his presidential power to remove the barrier and skyscrapers are finally being built in Moscow.

Not only empire builders and colony establishers would want to build impressive buildings, corporations will want to impress their higher staff, partners and customers. But they have limited power and will only build where allowed by city planners.

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Lots of opinions, very few citations. Is this a theory, or is there evidence to back it up? – Mark C. Wallace Sep 30 '15 at 10:39

In my opinion, three factors creating the skyscraper.

1.Steel. The skyscraper needed the steel as the skeleton to uphold the whole weight of the building, instead of the outer wall to support the weight. 2.Elevator. Transport the people to the upper stairs. 3. Bond, this factor which can be debated. Before you start to construct the skyscraper, you need to fund enough money for the whole project. 4. Heritage, because European cities have the heritage, it would be difficult to reform the city like America.

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This doesn't really answer the question. Europe and Asia both have equal access to steel, elevators and capitol. I'm not sure that Europe has more heritage than Asia. – Mark C. Wallace Feb 20 '13 at 10:10

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