Exciting, boring, and nonexistent skylines: Vertical building gaps in global perspective

Jason Barr, Remi Jedwab

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite the widespread prevalence and economic importance of tall buildings, little is known about how their patterns vary across space and time. We aim to quantify differences across major world regions over time (1950–2020). To do so, we exploit novel data on the location, height (above 55 m), and year of construction of nearly all tall buildings in the world. We propose a new methodology to estimate the extent to which some world regions build up more than others given similar economic and geographic conditions, city size distributions, and other features. Our analyses reveal that many skylines may visually appear more prominent than they really are once one includes all tall buildings and core controls, which alters how regions are ranked in terms of tall building stocks. Using results by city size, centrality, height of buildings, and building function, we classify world regions into different groups, finding that tall building stocks are likely driven by boring skylines of residential high-rises, and to a lesser extent exciting skylines of skyscrapers and office towers. Finally, land-use regulations and preferences, not historical preservation nor dispersed ownership, may account for most observed differences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalReal Estate Economics
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Accounting
  • Finance
  • Economics and Econometrics


  • buildings heights
  • global real estate
  • housing supply
  • skyscrapers


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