Out of curiosity, you may have wondered why major cities across Europe, like London, Paris, Rome, Brussels, and Berlin, don’t have skyscrapers. In contrast, tall buildings dominate small towns in other parts of the world. For example, Chinese cities like Chengdu and Tianjin both have more skyscrapers than London, Paris, and Berlin, despite the latter three being major world cities.
Europe is also one of the most highly developed and densely populated regions, but have few tall buildings in their cities compared to other regions of the same stature like North America and China.
Of all the skyscrapers built in Europe in 2018, 66% of them are in London, Frankfurt, Paris, Istanbul, and Moscow. Frankfurt is one of the few cities in continental Europe with a modern skyline, something that has earned the city a nickname “Manhattan of Europe.”
The few skyscrapers in Europe defy the logic that high-rise buildings are a proxy for economic dominance since Europe is perhaps the most economically powerful continent on the planet.
So why are Europeans not that enthusiastic about tall buildings?
How are they surviving without the significant office spaces that skyscrapers provide?
Will they eventually begin to embrace the skyscraper life?
To answer those and many other questions, we must first examine the origin of the skyscrapers. The first-ever tall building to be categorized as a skyscraper was built in the 19th century in the city of Chicago, United States, by that time, many European cities were already bustling and established with numerous signature historic structures and squares and gardens that left very little space for any additional large structures.
At the time, most of these European cities were evenly zoned and did not face any floor space inadequacy, especially in areas that usually plays a key role in economic development, such as the central business district.
So, as it turns out, North America was the pioneer of the skyscrapers, and other regions had to imitate them. While some like Africa, South America, and Asia did follow the lead and started building high rise buildings in their cities, Europe didn’t.
The reason for this is well-documented. As North America began to rise economically, a cultural rivalry erupted between the Americans and the Europeans. The Americans were very much against the class system spearheaded by the Europeans, terming it as an outdated system. On the other hand, the Europeans were against the American influence and ideas as they saw them as eroding the European culture and way of living. Therefore, each continent shunned away from adopting the ideas of the other.
Europeans sort of preserving their heritage while the Americans aimed to become the leading proponents of the new age way of life.
But even with this old-age rivalry aside, Europe, for some reason, are remained behind as far as skyscrapers are concerned.
Another reason that can explain why Europe doesn’t have too many skyscrapers compared to North America and Asia can be tied down to development. You see, Europe was the first continent to fully develop, and that is more than 200 years ago. Most of the European cities such as London, Paris, and Cologne were already established, but a city like Shenzhen, which is known for their mammoth skyscraper, was not around until the 1980s.
During the time when the European cities were being constructed, there was no technology for building skyscrapers. Thus not many were constructed, and by the time the technology arrived, the cities were already packed with historical buildings that governments would not give rid.
Perhaps the most logical reason as to why cities in Europe don’t have skyscrapers is population. Most cities, especially in Asia, are constructed to accommodate the large urban population. Asia is home to almost 60% of the world’s current population, and cities like Shenzhen, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei, and Tokyo have numerous residential high rise buildings. It is interesting to think about how the European cities will deal with continued urban population growth, driven by the new technology and startup businesses.
In a city like Paris, construction of skyscrapers is limited only to a certain place in the periphery of the city, in a bid to preserve the city’s historical landscape. For instance, La Defence is kept far from the historical center of Paris.
For the large parts, it comes down to the rules. For instance, London, though its skyline has been drastically changing in the last few decades, has a rule that allows keeping the view of St. Paul’s unbarred from specific points.
Washington DC, despite being the capital of the United States, does not have tall buildings. The city, according to the 1910 Height of Buildings Act, takes the height of the buildings from the width of the street on which it is constructed, so the wider the street, the taller the building can be built in D.C.
But the stance on high rise buildings seems to be changing in Europe, as since the turn of the 21st century, major global financial centers in Europe like London, Moscow, Paris, Frankfurt, and Istanbul have seen numerous skyscrapers constructed due to the high demand for office space in their city centers.