This planned $1 billion tower in Dubai could be an omen of economic doom

Nothing suggests the height of human achievement and economic prowess quite like a skyscraper.

And the latest place to flex its skyscraper muscles is Dubai.

The city is planning to build a $1 billion tower that will dwarf the world’s current tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, which reaches 2,717 ft. The planned height of the new building is not yet disclosed.

But Dubai’s not alone. Saudi Arabia and Iraq also have ambitious projects planned: the former recently secured funds to build the 3,280 ft. tall Jeddah Tower, and the latter is planning the 3,780 ft tall tower called “The Bride.”

However, as “cool” as all of these buildings are, glitzy construction booms have historically coincided with the beginnings of economic downturns, according to Barclays’ “Skyscraper Index.” (For all you economics wonks out there, basically, skyscrapers can be considered a sentiment indicator.)

Using Barclays’ index, we pulled together 10 skyscrapers whose constructions overlapped with financial crises…

Equitable Life Building (1873)

The Long Depression, 1873 -- 1878

The Long Depression, a pervasive US economic recession with bank failures, coincided with the construction of the Equitable Life Building in New York City in 1873.

The 142-foot building was the world's first skyscraper. (You could stack 26 of these on top of one another, and they still wouldn't be taller than Iraq's planned 'The Bride' tower.)

Source: Barclays

New York World (1890) and Auditorium (1889)

New York World building on the left.

British banking crisis, 1890

Chicago's 269-foot-tall Auditorium, completed in 1889, and New York's 309-foot-tall New York World, completed in 1890, coincided with the British banking crisis of 1890 and a world recession.

Source: Barclays

Masonic Temple, Manhattan Life Building, and Milwaukee City Hall (1893)


US panic marked by the collapse of railroad overbuilding, 1893

Chicago's 302-foot-tall Masonic Temple, the 348-foot-tall Manhattan Life Building, and the 353-foot-tall Milwaukee City Hall coincided with the US panic of 1893 marked by the collapse of railroad overbuilding.

It also overlapped with a string of bank failures and a run on gold.

Source: Barclays

Philadelphia City Hall and Park Row Building (1901)

Philadelphia City Hall

First stock market crash on the NYSE, 1901

The construction of the 391-foot Park Row Building presaged the US stock-market crash and panic of 1901, as did the completion of Philadelphia City Hall, which stood at a height of 511 feet.

Source: Barclays

Singer Building and MetLife Building (1907)

Singer building

The Bankers' Panic and US economic crisis, 1907 -- 1910

The construction of New York's 612-foot Singer building and the 700-foot Metropolitan Life Building overlapped with the panic of 1907.

The Bankers' Panic was a financial crisis that occurred after the New York Stock Exchange fell nearly 50% from its peak. It reflected a monetary expansion brought about by the establishment of trust companies.

Source: Barclays

40 Wall Street (1929), Chrysler (1930), and Empire State Building (1931)

Empire State Building

The Great Depression, 1929 -- 1933

The construction of three record-breaking buildings coincided with the onset of the Great Depression.

40 Wall Street, which on completion in 1929 reached 927 feet, was followed by the 1,046-foot Chrysler building (1930) and the Empire State building (1931), which towered over the others at 1,250 feet.

Source: Barclays

World Trade Center (1972-1973) and Sears Tower (1974)

Sears Tower

US and worldwide economic crisis, 1973 -- 1975

1972's construction of One World Trade Center, the 1973's Two World Trade Center, and 1974's Sears Tower in Chicago coincided with a period of speculation in monetary expansion from foreign lending.

It also overlapped with the collapse of the Bretton Woods system, a rise in oil prices that caused a global economic crisis, and speculation in stocks, property, ships, and aircraft.

Source: Barclays

Taipei 101 (1999)

Taipei 101

Dot-com bubble, 2000 -- 2003

The construction of the 1,671-foot-tall Taipei 101 began in 1999 and was completed in 2004. This time period overlapped with the tech bubble and the recession in the early 2000s.

Source: Barclays

Burj Khalifa (2010)

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The Great Recession, 2007 -- 2010

The 2010 completion of the tallest building in the world, the 2,717-foot Burj Khalifa, coincided with the global financial crisis.

The building surpassed Taipei 101's height on July 21, 2007.

Source: Barclays

And now we're in the midst of a global construction boom...

The planned Jeddah Tower

The Jeddah Tower, The Bride, and Dubai's planned new building all come during a global construction boom. There are at least 27 other huge skyscraper projects being planned right around the world, including in New York, in Russia, and in China.

For what it's worth, these buildings all come amid worries about global growth.

That said, we won't know for several years whether all of these record-breaking skyscrapers are coinciding with an economic bust ...

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