1. Shanghai, China
Home to nearly 24 million people, Shanghai is the most populous city in the world. It’s gone through an enormous building boom since the early 1990s, with almost 7,000 buildings of more than 11 stories erected in the past 20 years. The tallest skyscraper is Shanghai World Financial Center at 101 stories, but perhaps the most distinctive structure is the Oriental Pearl Tower, a TV tower with LED-illuminated spheres.
2. New York City, USA
Considered the cultural capital of the world, New York sports a skyline easily recognized by almost anybody in the world. The crown jewel of this epic view is the Empire State Building, constructed in 1930 and towering 102 stories over midtown Manhattan. It was the tallest building in the world until 1972. The new One World Trade Center, located in the financial district, was completed just this year and is now the tallest building in the city at 104 stories.
3. London, England
Though London lacks the leviathans of most of the other cities on this list, its skyline is no less distinctive. The architecture in London spans centuries — from historical sites like Big Ben, the Palace of Westminster, and Tower Bridge, to more modern structures like the London Eye, the Gherkin, and the Shard — and is a fascinating way to trace the development of one of the Western world’s urban superpowers.
4. Dubai, UAE
When I think of Dubai, I think of numerous and often unusual skyscrapers. Huge, silver spires reaching high into the sky over the Persian Gulf. Dubai is home to more completed skyscrapers higher than 820ft than any other city in the world. The crowning achievement of Dubai’s towering reputation is the Burj Khalifa, the tallest manmade structure in the world. It has 163 floors topping out at 1,918ft, but the tip of its spire reaches 2,722ft (over a half mile).
5. Vancouver, Canada
Thanks to active and thoughtful urban planning, Vancouver’s been ranked one of the most livable cities in the world for over a decade. Its distinctive skyline is the result of an architectural preference for building upward instead of outward — high-rise apartments as an alternative to sprawl. The tallest building in the city is Living Shangri-La, a mixed-use building containing both a hotel and condos, standing 62 stories.
6. Hong Kong SAR, China
Debatably the best skyline in the world, Hong Kong is built on less than 50,000 acres, directly resulting in a dense high-rise environment and earning it the title of the “world’s most vertical city.” Hong Kong has more buildings taller than 500ft than any other city in the world. The International Commerce Center, at 118 stories, is the tallest building in the city and the third-tallest on the planet.
Its own island city-state, Singapore is the fourth-largest financial center in the world. Its largest buildings are located in the historic heart of the city, with Republic Plaza topping the list at 66 stories. However, even more impressive is Marina Bay Sands (developed by Las Vegas Sands), which is the most expensive building in the world at $5.7 billion.
8. San Francisco, USA
San Francisco is the second most densely populated city in the US, after New York. Its most distinctive piece of architecture is, of course, the Golden Gate Bridge, but the skyline proper is dominated by the Transamerica Pyramid — only 48 stories but with a very distinctive spire. Due to the infamous earthquakes, the buildings in SF tend to be of the shorter variety.
9. Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul has a skyline that combines old and new architecture, a diverse mix of mosque and metropolis. For example, the highest point in Istanbul is the 945ft Camlica Hill, which was recently declared the new site for the Camlica Mosque (soon to be the defining landmark on the evolving Istanbul skyline).
10. Shenzhen, China
A young city, Shenzhen has flourished as China’s economy has transitioned. Nothing more than a coastal village 40 years ago, Shenzhen now has 23 buildings over 656ft tall. The largest building in the city is Kingkey 100 (also called KK100) at a colossal 100 stories, but I personally prefer Shun Hing Square (with its two light-up antennas).
11. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur’s architecture has a variety of influences, ranging from Asian traditions, to Malay Islamic structures, to modern and postmodern architecture. The Petronas Twin Towers, at 88 floors a pop, are the tallest twin structures in the world.
12. Seattle, USA
Home of the 605ft Space Needle, Seattle has one of those skylines they print in silhouette on coffee mugs (which has nothing to do with the major java culture in Seattle, nor the fact that Seattle is home to Starbucks HQ). Seattle’s total area spans 53,718 acres, of which 6,189 acres are parks and open areas.
13. Paris, France
This list would be woefully incomplete without Paris, the skyline with one of the most well-known and well-recognized centerpieces. Looming high above the city, the Eiffel Tower stands at 1,063ft, a full 305ft above the current next-tallest building (though two 1,050ft buildings are currently under construction, expected to be completed in 2017).
14. Panama City, Panama
From high-rises to Spanish colonial buildings to French- and Antillean-influenced townhouses, Panama City has a wide variety of architecture to marvel at. The skyline, however, is rapidly changing and will soon no longer look as pictured, as there are over 100 highrise projects currently underway. The city’s current 127 completed projects make it 45th in the world based on highrise building count.
15. Philadelphia, USA
Philadelphia has some of the oldest architecture in the United States, as well as the most historically significant, including Independence Hall (birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution). A long-standing law ordained that no structure could be built taller than City Hall (erected in the late 1800s and standing only nine stories high), so Philly was skyscraper-free until 1987, when the ordinance was lifted and One Liberty Place was constructed. Since then, only the Comcast Center has been built taller, standing 57 stories high.
16. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro is a beautiful city situated in a mountainous harbor region, the whole of which has been designated a UNESCO “cultural landscape.” While the city may be more famous for the statue of Christ the Redeemer on the mountaintop, it also boasts some impressive architecture, with Rio Sul Center topping the list at 48 stories.
17. Beijing, China
Beijing has been the capital of China since the 1200s, but while its most famous architecture might be the historic Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven, it’s also a modern metropolis. Its tallest building is a massive 74 stories (the China World Trade Center Tower III), and it features some architectural marvels like the complex geometry of the CCTV Headquarters.
18. Busan, South Korea
With a metropolitan population of 3.6 million, Busan is the second-largest city in South Korea and the fifth-busiest global port. Currently, the Lotte Town Tower is under construction in Busan, which is expected to rise to 1,673ft upon completion in 2016, and will at that time be the 10th-tallest building in the world.
19. Toronto, Canada
Toronto is the biggest city in Canada, with a name that means “meeting place” in the native Huron language. It has 1,800 buildings over 100ft tall, though the tallest in the city have been around for at least 20 years. The absolute tallest, First Canadian Place, is 72 stories and was constructed in 1976.
20. Taipei, Taiwan
The skyline of Taiwan’s major metropolis is marked by the architecturally distinctive and until-recently-tallest-building-in-the-world Taipei 101. In the interior of the top of the building hangs a massive steel ball that serves as a damper to offset structural shifting caused by typhoon winds and mild earthquakes.
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