Why aren’t there many skyscrapers in Europe? Despite being one of the most developed, densely
populated and economically prosperous continents, Europe has surprisingly few skyscrapers, particularly
when compared to Asia and North America. Of the 218 skyscrapers constructed on the
continent to date, 66% of them are located in just five cities – London, Paris, Frankfurt,
Moscow and Istanbul. So why have other major European cities not
embraced the skyscraper? How do they thrive without the significant inner-urban space
and floor areas that these clever structures provide? And is everything about to change
in our increasingly urbanised world? When skyscrapers first rose to prominence
in the 19th Century – first in Chicago and later in New York – many European cities
were already firmly established with grand historic buildings and public spaces that
left little room for large new structures. Most of Europe’s cities around that time
were also more evenly zoned and were not facing the high demand for floor space in key districts
that typically drives high rise development. Additionally, as the power and influence of
North America began to grow, a cultural rivalry emerged between Americans who saw Europe’s
class system as outdated and Europeans who saw some American ideals as eroding traditions
and the European way of life. As a result each continent became wary of
adopting the others’ concepts. While North America aimed to become the model
for a new age, Europe sought to preserve its heritage. While this explains why skyscraper construction
didn’t initially catch on in Europe, it doesn’t explain what has held the continent back since. In the wake of the Second World War, many
thought European cities would modernise and replicate the skyscrapers that were rising
across North America. However, in western Europe – where many
cities lost landmark and historic structures – an overwhelming desire to restore what
had been destroyed took hold. In addition, the lower population of Europe
at that time meant that the demand for floor the area that principally drives skyscraper construction
wasn’t there. As a result, modest structures replaced buildings that could not be saved or restored. Meanwhile, in Eastern Europe, the expanding
Soviet Union’s re-build effort consisted largely of mid-rise, repetitive structures
that sought to rehouse much of the population. It was during this time that Europe saw its
first skyscrapers begin to rise, not in response to growth and prosperity, but in an effort
by the Soviets to indicate their power and influence. While Brussels has never constructed a true
skyscraper, it is partly responsible for the lack of skyscrapers across the continent. Without any significant zoning regulations
in place, the 1960s saw many buildings in the city demolished to make way for large,
modern structures that had little regard for architectural or cultural value. Recognising the damage this indiscriminate
redevelopment was doing to the city, many prominent figures and architects coined the
term “Brusselization” and lobbied to introduce new planning rules. These regulations significantly limited the
scale of new buildings and required historic facades to be restored and incorporated into
new developments, preserving the cultural fabric of the city. The row in Brussels led to a general dislike
for modern buildings across Europe with many seeing them as bland or soulless. In response, numerous cities adopted similar
regulations and set aside controlled districts – like Paris’ La Defence – to keep high-rise
development away from historic centres. By the start of the 21st Century, attitudes
around tall buildings were softening across the continent as architectural trends moved
away from box-like structures toward more unique designs and as the world became increasingly
globalised. Since the early 2000s, major financial centres
like London, Paris, Moscow, Istanbul and Frankfurt have seen several skyscrapers rise as demand
for commercial space in their centres has increased. By contrast, smaller European cities that
have experienced more modest growth have turned their focus to the environment and improving
living standards for citizens. In recent years, urban areas in Scandinavia
and Central Europe have consistently ranked among the highest in the world for sustainability,
happiness and well-being while maintaining importance within their national economies. However, skyscraper construction in the cities
of today is no longer driven purely by economic growth or the need for commercial office space. With 60% of the global human population set
to be living in urban areas by 2030, residential skyscrapers are now rising in prominence – particularly
across Asia and North America. As many traditional rural-based industries
become automated, millions are migrating into cities and major urban areas, driving significant
demand for residential space that is often met with high-rise structures. Europe is not immune to this phenomenon – particularly
in such a heavily globalised world and with the continent’s desire to keep up with the
progress and economic growth of China and the US. As such, Europe could witness a skyscraper
boom in the decades ahead. However, with entire urban centres now being
declared historically significant and with the desire to retain as much culture and architecture
as possible rightly holding strong up to the present day, the unique challenge facing future
skyscraper construction in Europe is all to do with the past. If you enjoyed this video and would like to
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