The 50 most influential tall buildings of the last 50 years – first 25 buildings announced

The skyscraper has a history extending back more than 120 years, but it entered a new phase of innovation and acceleration in the late 1960s. The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat was founded in 1969 to embrace and interpret the rapid changes taking place in the field of high-rise design and engineering. Throughout its history, CTBUH has highlighted best practice examples of tall buildings that represented a significant change in thinking or technique, by means of Journal case studies, conference proceedings, and since 2002, the annual Awards program. The tall buildings captured here are selected on the same criteria, through the combined input of the CTBUH Research and Data team, CTBUH Leaders, and a call to the member constituency at large. Each represents a milestone in the development of the typology, tracking the development of the tall building from a predominantly commercial office tower with repetitive floor plates, to a “vertical city” with the mix of uses, variation in façade materials, and variety of interior and exterior spaces implied by the title. Across these examples, we see the arrival and departure of the distinct International and Post-Modern styles, as well as the overlapping parametricism and contextualism that dominates the contemporary scene. We see the transition from symbols of North American corporate power to broadcasting devices for the arrival of entire cities and countries on the global stage. The importance of environmental sustainability takes on as important a role as cultural and economic longevity. And, as some of these skyscrapers hit the half-century mark, we see them aging gracefully, into new functions, sometimes radically changing appearance and even height. From this, we learn that the development of the skyscraper typology is not a simple case of linear hand-offs from one generation to the next; rather, it is an interpolating dialogue that will continue to inform and inspire us for the next 50 years and beyond.

To coincide with its 20th anniversary celebration, Shanghai’s Jin Mao Tower was given an early opportunity to recognise its status as one of the 50 Most Influential Tall Buildings of the Last 50 Years.

The honor was formalized by the christening of an official CTBUH Signboard on the building site, and an honorary plaque handed over by CTBUH Chairman Steve Watts during a commemorative ceremony and symposium on 28 August.

This provides a sneak peak of the opportunities in store for buildings recognised on the complete list, which will be announced in the weeks leading up to the CTBUH 10th World Congress.

The full list will be revealed in the lead up to the CTBUH 10th World Congress in Chicago, where these buildings will receive formal recognition. The full spectrum of 50 influential tall buildings constructed over the past 50 years will be on view in the skyline graphic below. Each of the buildings receives a short profile, exemplifying critical milestones in the half-century dialogue between iconicity, contextualism, environmental consciousness and structural innovation. Stay tuned for the next 25 influential tall buildings announcement, soon to be released on 8 October.

1 Bligh Street, Sydney, 2011

In addition to providing a generous public plaza at its base, due to its elliptical shape and deft space planning, 1 Bligh Street was Sydney’s first CBD commercial office tower to incorporate blackwater recycling, reducing the demand on municipal potable water by 90 percent. It also contains Australia’s largest green wall on the ground floor level; it was the first tall building in Australia to feature a double-skin glass façade with external louvers.

333 Wacker Drive, Chicago, 1983

Considered to be the first “post-modern” skyscraper in Chicago, the elegant sweeping curve of its green glass façade follows the bend in the Chicago River, mirroring the shimmering waters at certain hours. It is notable the design considerations taken when addressing to the Chicago street grid, river, and the adjacent skyline.

601 Lexington (formerly Citigroup Center and Citicorp Center), New York City, 1977

With its distinctive 45-degree roofline and its support by four massive 35-meter columns at the base, the Citicorp Center emerged as an icon for its generation. It was the first building in the US to feature a tuned mass damper (TMD). However, post-design tunnel tests showed the building, constructed using economical bolted joints, could collapse. Crews worked at night for three months, after the building was constructed and clad, welding steel plates over the building’s 200 bolted joints.

Al Bahar Towers, Abu Dhabi, 2012

Among the most striking façades of any tall building, the operable, clamshell-like array enclosing the Al Bahar Towers represents a dramatic approach to resolving the issue of intense solar radiation in the desert climate. The façade’s moveable components are semi-transparent panels, which are combined in arrays much like umbrellas. Each array opens and closes in direct reaction to the sun’s position. While the system improves the comfort and light in the spaces inside, it also reduces the need for artificial lighting and overall cooling loads.

Aqua at Lakeshore East, Chicago, 2009

The Aqua Tower is designed to capture particular views that would otherwise be unattainable. A series of contours defined by outdoor terraces extends away from the face of the tower structure to provide views between neighboring buildings. The terraces inflect based on criteria such as the view, solar shading and size and type of dwelling. When viewed together, these unique terraces make the building appear to undulate, presenting a highly sculptural appearance that is rooted in function.

Bahrain World Trade Center, Manama, 2008

Two sail-shaped towers, connected by bridges supporting giant wind turbines, put the Bahraini capital on the world skyscraper map. This was the first large-scale integration of wind turbines with a tall building, making a strong, visible statement about the importance of incorporating natural sources of energy production into tall building design. The inspiration for the design came from regional vernacular “wind towers” and the vast sails of the traditional Arabian dhow.

Burj Al Arab, Dubai, 1999

The Burj Al Arab is regarded as one of the first key landmarks of modern Dubai. Inspired by the shape of a sailboat about to head into the Persian Gulf, the triangular building’s design began with an intent to create a recognizable landmark for the emerging city. Upon completion, Burj Al Arab was the world’s tallest hotel and included the world’s tallest atrium, which rises 182 meters through the interior of the building.

Doha Tower, Doha, 2012

The first skyscraper with internal reinforced-concrete diagrid columns, Doha Tower takes a cylindrical form for its efficiency in floor-to-window area and relative distances between offices and elevators, augmented by an off-center core. The cladding system is a reference to the traditional Islamic shading screen. The design for the system involved using a single geometric motif at several scales, overlaid at different densities along the façade. The overlays occur in response to the solar conditions of each elevation.

International Commerce Centre (ICC), Hong Kong, 2010

As Hong Kong’s tallest building, the International Commerce Centre (ICC) houses some of the most prominent financial institutions in the world. It is routinely recognized as a paragon of good management, from a commercial, environmental, and community standpoint. The level of energy efficiency achieved by the ICC is unusual for a tall building, and significant investments have been made in improving energy performance over the years, through more than 50 advanced energy-saving measures.

Jardine House, Hong Kong, 1973

When completed, this office tower became the tallest building in Asia, and held the title for seven years. The circular porthole-shaped windows are inspired by the nautical history of the city and the building’s site. It also formed a key node on the city’s growing skybridge network.

Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai, 1999

The Jin Mao Tower is an important building for Shanghai and China. Its setbacks and spire recall the skyscrapers of 1920s New York, while its stacked, stepping form resembles a pagoda, establishing it as a distinctly Chinese landmark. Its soaring interior atrium runs through the top third of the tower, providing a dramatic view from the hotel room corridor balconies.

Lotte World Tower, Seoul, 2017

Taking inspiration from traditional Korean art forms in the design of the various interior program spaces, the sleek tapered form of Lotte World Tower stands out from Seoul’s rocky, mountainous topography. The tower is programmed with a great variety of functions, including retail, offices, a luxury hotel, and “officetels”, common in South Korean real estate, which offer studio-apartment-style accommodations for people who work in the building. The top 10 stories contain public entertainment facilities, including an observation deck and rooftop café.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore, 2010

Part of a massive regeneration of the Singapore waterfront, the Marina Bay Sands is now an indelible icon of the city-state. With three hotel towers supporting a massive “skypark”, topped with public recreation functions and a spectacular infinity pool, the project offers a gateway-like public asset that is truly connected to the network of pedestrian promenades around its namesake marina. The success of the project has inspired similar, and even larger multi-tower, horizontally-connected “mini-cities” in other cities.

One Central Park, Sydney, 2014

One Central Park features vertical gardens and a heliostat affixed to a monumental cantilever extending 80 meters from the taller of the two constituent towers, delivering a distinctive and defining profile. The heliostat directs sunlight down into intermediate spaces between the towers that would otherwise be in shade. The plants’ shade reduces energy consumption for cooling, and their leaves trap carbon dioxide. In total, more than 5 kilometers of planters function like permanent shading shelves and reduce thermal impact in the apartments by up to 30 percent.

PARKROYAL on Pickering, Singapore, 2013

PARKROYAL on Pickering is a hotel with a contoured podium that responds to the street scale, drawing inspiration from terraformed landscapes, such as rice paddies, creating dramatic outdoor plazas and gardens that flow seamlessly into the interiors. Greenery from nearby Hong Lim Park is drawn up into the building in the form of planted valleys, gullies and waterfalls. The landscaping amounts to 215 percent of the site area, showing that, even as our cities become taller and denser, we do not have to lose our green spaces.

Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, 1998

The twin towers of Petronas held the crown of “world’s tallest building” for six years, raising the profile of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Asia itself as an innovative region for skyscraper development. Spanning the gap between the towers, at an elevation of some 170 meters, a two-level skybridge can also be used as a means of escape to the neighboring tower should one tower become unsafe in an emergency.

Post Turm, Bonn, 2002

The design of the Post Turm opened up new possibilities for the work environment. From the onset of planning, the client expressed a strong desire to give all office staff direct access to outside air and natural light. The tower’s form consists of two, offset elliptical segments, each with an operable twin-shell façade, separated from each other by an atrium, through which hot air is exhausted through operable windows. It consumes 79% less energy than a comparable air-conditioned building.

Salesforce Tower, San Francisco, 2018

Taking up the important mantle of becoming a San Francisco’s new tallest building, Salesforce Tower, interprets the role as a beacon. Its curtain walls rise past the top floor to form a transparent crown that appears to dissolve into the sky; at night it features 11,000 LED lights that project photographs of city life. It also features column-free bays and corners, which offer wide-open office spaces without any structural encumbrances. The tower is tightly integrated with a new neighboring transit center and park.

Shanghai World Financial Center, Shanghai, 2008

The Shanghai World Financial Center is a symbol of commerce and culture that speaks to the city’s emergence as a global capital. Shaped by the intersection of two sweeping arcs and a square prism—shapes representing ancient Chinese symbols of heaven and earth, respectively—the tower’s tapering form supports programmatic efficiencies, from large floor plates at its base for offices to rectilinear floors near the top for hotel rooms. Its boldest feature, the 50-meter-wide portal carved through its upper levels relieves the enormous wind pressures on the building.

The Leadenhall Building, London, 2014

The design strategy of the Leadenhall Building centers around its lobby’s elevation above the ground plane, creating a generous public plaza, and its offset steel “megaframe” core, affording column-free floor plates of varying depths. It is the world’s tallest building to have used this strategy. With its distinctive wedge-shaped profile, which allows key view corridors to be maintained, it has been affectionately nicknamed the “Cheesegrater.”

The Lloyd’s Building, London, 1986

One of the most-recognizable exemplars of the British High-Tech movement, the Lloyd’s Building is distinguished by its “inside-out” transposition of internal services – staircases, lifts, ductwork, electrical power conduits and water pipes – to the exterior, leaving an uncluttered space inside. Modular in plan, each floor can be altered by addition or removal of partitions and walls.

Torre Costanera, Santiago, 2014

Torre Costanera, the tallest building in South America, derived its design comes from its close proximity to the Andes, and the need to distinguish the tower against this dramatic backdrop. The glass-clad tower has a slightly tapered, slender form that culminates in a sculptural, latticed crown. Beyond aesthetics, it is a 21st-century building technologically, including a highly advanced outrigger system to account for Santiago’s high level of seismic activity. The cooling tower draws its entire water supply from the adjacent San Carlos canal.

Tour First, Courbevoie (Paris), 2011

Tour First is a complete refurbishment of one of France’s first skyscrapers. The design retains the integrity of the original tower, while vastly improving the environmental performance, internal conditions and circulation. It reorganizes the entry levels of the building, reinvigorates the entrance hall and improves circulation. Seven sky gardens are created in strategic positions, providing informal meeting and breakout spaces. The original tower was extended, adding approximately 12 percent additional floor space. The project’s success has inspired even larger renovation and extension projects around the globe.

Transamerica Pyramid Center, San Francisco, 1972

Upon completion, the distinctive Transamerica Pyramid became the tallest building in the US west of Chicago. It held the title of San Francisco’s tallest building for 46 years. In addition to recognizability, its tapering obelisk form was also selected for stability and as a means of curbing excessive shadows on the streets below.

Turning Torso, Malmo, 2005

The tallest building in Scandinavia, the Turning Torso was based on a sculpture by its architect, a white marble piece based on the form of a human in a twisting motion. It is widely considered the first “twisting” skyscraper, inspiring countless other designs. Its exoskeletal frame symbolically references the shipyard gantries of Malmo’s past, but points toward a progressive future, and has become a symbol of Sweden, featuring on a page of its citizens’ passports.