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April 29, 2017

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Beijing, Taipei, New York: a building challenge

HONG KONG -- "When they go low, we go high." So declared then-U.S. first lady Michelle Obama at the 2016 Democratic Party convention in Philadelphia. That memorable turn of phrase reminds me today less of the ugliness of past political campaigns, and more of the beauty of Hong Kong's striking skyline. In Asia, the march of ever-higher skyscrapers goes on, with developers in big and small cities in China in particular embracing that American dream to build high.

Indeed, those same words from the former First Lady have relevance — in a different, economic context in both the United States and China — as a new Administration in Washington focuses on rebuilding America.

U.S. President Donald Trump is certainly no stranger to skyscrapers. Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York is arguably one of the most famous addresses in the world. In Chicago — site of the world's first skyscraper — the Trump International Hotel & Tower, completed in 2009, is the second tallest completed building in that city, and the fourth tallest in the United States.

The United States long ago ceded the title of world's tallest building to Asia and the Middle East. Seven of the top 10 tallest completed buildings in the world are now in Asia, according to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. This Chicago-headquartered not-for-profit organization founded in 1969 maintains The Skyscraper Center, a database on the world's tallest buildings.

As of March 2017, the world's tallest buildings are the Burj Khalifa in Dubai at 828 meters, the Shanghai Tower in China at 631 meters and the Makkah Royal Clock Tower in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, at 601 meters, according to the Skyscraper Center. Coming in at number four is 1 World Trade Center in New York at 541 meters.

Taipei 101 is the world's sixth tallest building, and Hong Kong boasts the eighth tallest building — the International Commerce Center. In Southeast Asia, the tallest buildings are Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Twin Towers; the Keangnam Hanoi Landmark Tower, in Vietnam; and Bangkok's recently completed MahaNakhon tower — all at more than 300 meters tall.

Cities in China and across Asia are growing outwards and upwards at breakneck speed. This construction boom is likely to continue. The World Bank forecasts decades of urban growth to come despite almost 200 million people already having moved to Asia's cities in the first decade of the 21st century. The region's ongoing urbanization is likely only to intensify as populations grow.

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