A skyscraper is defined as a multi-story building at least 100 meters tall, and sometimes it can be 150 meters. Of the 100 cities in the world with the most skyscrapers, only five European cities Moscow, Istanbul, London, Frankfurt, and Paris, made the list. Moscow being top in Europe, is not even in the top 15 globally. Eight out of ten highest buildings in the European continent. The second with the most skyscrapers in Istanbul.
Skyscrapers are a proxy for the country’s economic power and visual financial muscle. Moscow and Istanbul are not part of the economic powerhouse of the European continent. For example, London is considered the financial capital of Europe and is arguably sometimes referred to as the world’s financial capital.
Even the city of Honolulu on the island of Hawaii has more skyscrapers than London. The Lakhta Center in Saint Petersburg, Russia, is the tallest building in Europe. It stands 462 meters (1,516 feet) tall, surpassing the previous record-holder, Moscow’s Federation Tower. The Lakhta Center is not only the tallest building in Europe but also the northernmost skyscraper in the world. It serves as the headquarters of the Russian energy company Gazprom. Europe doesn’t like to build skyscrapers and learn the reasons.
Why Europe doesn’t build skyscrapers?
The major cities in Asia are Shanghai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Tokyo. Many other cities have similar skylines and urban planning. The major cities in the Middle East are Dubai, Doha, Kuwait, and others have forests of skyscrapers. Interestingly, if we go to Europe compared with major Asian, Middle Eastern, and North American cities, the Western part of Europe doesn’t build skyscrapers. Here are some reasons:
Historic and Cultural Preservation: Many European cities are centuries old and are deeply valued for their historical and architectural significance. This means there’s resistance to building projects that disrupt the traditional aesthetic or damage historic buildings.
Zoning Laws and Regulations: European cities tend to have strict zoning and building regulations, including height restrictions, making it challenging to build skyscrapers. This can be due to the desire to preserve historical cityscapes, concerns about the environmental impact, or to maintain a particular aesthetic.
Population Density: While Europe has some densely populated cities, many areas do not have the same population density as cities in Asia or North America. This reduced demand for living space can mean there’s less need for high-rise buildings.
Preference for Low-Rise Living: There’s a cultural preference in Europe for living closer to the ground. Many prefer living in houses or low-rise apartment buildings rather than high-rise apartments.
Economic Factors: Building skyscrapers is a significant investment. In some cases, European countries’ economic conditions or real estate markets may not support such large-scale projects.
Geographical and Geotechnical Conditions: Local geology can impact skyscrapers’ feasibility. For example, areas with high seismic activity or unfavorable soil conditions may not be suitable for skyscrapers.
Historically, most European cities were founded in the Middle Ages, some of them thousands of years ago. The churches were the highest and most important buildings, signifying the heritage and culture.
- The skyscrapers’ scale would often strongly influence and disturb the perception of historic cities because they dominate the skyline and overall view of the cities.
In 1940, even the fascist government of Italy was worried that bombings and invasions could destroy Italy’s churches and monuments. So they started to reinforce building walls around them. This is how Santa Croce Church in Liege was fortified. Not only churches are important in Europe, but also other historical buildings.
Also, they are often a subtle relationship to each other and the landscape of hills and lakes. Many people in European cities live in houses and apartments older than in the United States of America.
- So London and Paris have fairly strict laws on the height of the buildings to protect the cities’ aesthetics.
For example, London has no less than 50,000 protected buildings and counting. Rising each year was automatic age listing. The impact constructing a tall building next to them would have on the locality would easily ignite the local not in my backyard movement.
Additionally, in London, you have something called a protected view. There are 14 protected views, including the need to see St Paul’s Cathedral as far away as Alexandra Palace. Other protected views focus on the Palace of Westminster, Buckingham, etc. London is traversed by no less than 14 huge viewing corridors to famous viewpoints, often to see these five UNESCO World Heritage sites, five cathedrals, six palaces, and three castles.
The result is a complex three-dimensional grid above central London, which architects must not build. But the architects of the financial skyscrapers in the City of London have risen to the challenge and come up with some impressive workaround. The leading hall building has a distinctive cheese grater shape which allows it to lean out of the way of one of the protected views.
- The distinctive skyscrapers, especially in London, have drawbacks and create a huge problem.
The UK has a policy for metropolitan areas called a green belt. The green belt prevents urban sprawl and protects towns and villages from merging and losing their identity. As the population grows, more and more people get crammed into a small place.
Rent prices will go through the roof, and on average middle-class families, apartments get tinier and tinier. Eventually, it will become a little. So this is one of the reasons why London has the most expensive rental accommodation in Europe, followed by Zurich, Moscow, and Geneva.
According to the Accommodation Ranking Report by ECA International, the only way for London is to go up to build skyscrapers this way. Nice and spacious apartments become affordable. So keeping the visual impression of London and the view of its cultural sites has a massive downside for Londoners.
In Paris, there are even stricter laws too. All towers are banned within the city, allowing features like the Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides to stand out in the cityscape. The one power skyscraper in the town is Tour Montparnasse Tower, and it’s almost universally hated and is generally considered an eyesore. Parisians say the best view of Paris is from the top of the Tour Montparnasse because it’s the only place in Paris where you can see the Tour Montparnasse.
- Parisians quickly realized that skyscrapers were spoiling the spirit of the year city. They imposed strict zoning regulations that did not allow buildings over 37 meters tall to be built.
It preserved the city’s character and was enacted shortly after the tour. Montparnasse was built in 1977 and is 210 meters tall. The area of La de Fonds, outside the Paris city limits, is the location of Paris’s financial district and has its fair share of skyscrapers. But it’s considered far enough away not to ruin the view of Paris.
London has something similar to a secondary financial district in the Canary Wharf area. But unlike London, the government of France has allowed urban sprawl around the city, and rent prices are relatively lower than in London.
Why do Europeans hate skyscrapers?
Now let’s look at why Europeans hate skyscrapers, even though it makes life much easier. This disdain for skyscrapers in Europeans began in the 1960s when Brussels was hosting Expo. Expo was a huge event, so the Belgian government demolished huge blocks of historical buildings to give land for skyscrapers to be built.
Disregarding historical sites and buildings and this has been termed as Brussels realization. This label doesn’t solely apply to Brussels. Instead, it can denote any place where uncontrolled growth emerged from a lack of zoning regulations and a laissez-faire approach to urban development.
For example, New York City stands on firm granite, which doesn’t let the city sink. But in Berlin, the entire city is built on muddy ground up to 80 meters deep. All high-rise buildings are floating vessels.
Carving through the muddy ground and building the foundation first is a costly challenge urban sprawl is much cheaper for Berlin. At this point, you might think about Shanghai, made of muddy ground but filled with skyscrapers.
Shanghai has been sinking for decades, and 30% of its subsidence can be attributed to skyscrapers. China decided to go ahead anyway because the primary justification in Shanghai could be that the population density is such that land prices skyrocket and make it attractive to build, overcoming planning objections.
Zoning regulations are advertised as good, preserving the culture, heritage, and jazz. But often, it goes down to cronyism. There are the cronies who benefit from zoning regulations and lobby for them. If skyscrapers are allowed, far more apartments and office spaces will be available, reducing rent costs. Because there is more supply, it will depress the value of the existing properties.
What do you think? Should Europeans go ahead with skyscrapers to lower the runs, or should it stay as it is? If you are European, what is your personal opinion about skyscrapers in your city? Let me know your suggestions in the comment section below.
Learn more about Europe:
Capital Tower 1 – The Skyscraper Center.
DC Towers Facts and Figures. DC Towers. Wooden Workbench
Istanbul Tower 205. CTBUH Skyscraper Center.
Petruzzello, Melissa. “Skyscraper.” Encyclopædia Britannica.
Cities by Number of 150m+ Buildings – The Skyscraper Center.