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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
@Evan Harper Those cities do not have real skyscrapers comparable to those of East Asia. And the argument that this is because of the land cost works in the opposite direction: there are many newly-built buildings in Europe but not scyscrapers. –  Anixx Jul 7 '12 at 9:00
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

9 Answers 9

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

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

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

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

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 Rizos 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 Rizos 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 Rizos Nov 14 '12 at 6:24

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 appreciate, 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

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

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
Europe also has good population density. India and Middle East also have places with greater population density than East Asia, but they have not such number of sscyscrapers. –  Anixx Jul 18 '12 at 15:19

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

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