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Getting Nasty in Dubai

December 4, 2009

The ‘Skyscraper Curse’ strikes again

There is often a correlation between financial bubbles bursting and attempts to construct the world’s tallest building, says William Pesek on Bloomberg.com. In 1931, for instance, the Empire State building, designed in the exuberant 1920s, finally opened, “presaging years of gloom”.

The Sears Tower was the world’s tallest building when it opened in 1973, coinciding with the advent of stagflation. In the late 1990s, Malaysia’s Petronas Towers, conceived during the ‘go-go’ days of the mid-1990s, opened in 1998 as the Asian crisis struck. And the “Skyscraper Curse” has struck again in Dubai. The Burj Dubai (pictured, right) is the latest tallest building in the world at almost 820 metres, constructed by property group Emaar. The $1bn tower is due to open in January.

The link between all these buildings is easy credit, fueling confidence, ambition, exuberance and hubris, says Pesek. “Architectural overreach” thus tends to mark the height of the boom. Commenting on the construction boom in Dubai in 2006, Claudia Zeisberger of the Asia Pacific Institute of Finance at—Insead in Singapore said: “all the building going on made me feel like I was experiencing the last days of ancient Rome”. Skyscrapers, says Mark Thornton of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, have become a “marker of the 20th-century business cycle.”

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