I was chatting at a party the other night with my old pal, Jay, who lives in Chicago, and he happened to remark that the building where he lives in Chicago was one of many that were built in 1929, just before the Wall Street Crash. That got me to thinking how many other buildings might have been constructed just before the crash. Turns out, there were a whole bunch.
After a little researching, I came upon the Skyscraper Index, which was an idea put forth in 1999 by a guy named Andrew Lawrence. His idea is that there is a negative correlation between the building of skyscrapers and subsequent financial crashes. The world’s tallest buildings have risen just before major economic downturns. His theory is that developers had little trouble getting financing for building tall buildings in the middle of financial bubbles, but in the time it took to build them, the bubble often burst.
An early example of this phenomenon is the world’s first skyscraper, the Equitable Life building in New York. It was completed in 1873, just at the beginning of a five-year recession. (It was demolished by fire in 1912.)
The Empire State Building is probably the most famous. It was completed in 1931, and remained mostly empty during the Depression. It was derisively referred to as the “Empty State Building,” and wasn’t profitable until the 1950s.
The latest example seems to be the Burj Khalifa, which was completed in 2009, just before the economic slump in Dubai. You can see pictures of it here.