Coming soon: the tallest residential building in your time zone!

That may be a stretch, but these days it seems every new building is also billed as the tallest in town—a claim that doesn't always match reality. The skyscrapers that previously defined tall tower architecture—Taipei 101 in Taiwan, Petronas Towers in Malaysia, Sears Tower in Chicago—are being eclipsed by taller buildings in cities that have never been known for super-tall structures.

From Nashville, Tenn., to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, city leaders and developers are building towers at heights never seen before, according to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, an international group based at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.

A new breed of record-breaking high-rises—such as The Chicago Spire—stands to change the skylines of cities in the States and abroad.

A new breed of record-breaking high-rises—such as The Chicago Spire—stands to change the skylines of cities in the States and abroad.

While the scarcity and rising cost of land are the most obvious reasons why tall buildings are rising across the globe, there are others that are even more important. “Ultimately, the purpose of a tall building is to mark a place,” says George Efstathiou, managing partner for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, a Chicago-based design firm, adding that tall buildings like the Empire State Building in New York become symbolic of the cities in which they're located and eventually become synonymous with those cities.

“It's inevitable that exceptionally tall buildings become iconic,” says Sahba Abedian, managing director of The Sunland Group, the Sydney, Australia-based real estate developer that built Q1, one of the world's tallest residential towers—really. The Sunland Group is in the midst of developing D1, a tower in Dubai that mirrors Q1. “When you create a tall structure, it captures the imagination of all the residents of the city and the tourists who come and visit,” he notes.

Abedian predicts the current crop of tall buildings will soon be overshadowed by even taller ones. “The stature of our buildings shows the progress of humanity and the human spirit's ability to reach new heights,” he contends.

With that in mind, MFE set out to find the tallest of the tall. The result? A very international skyline.

Launch Slideshow

Sky High: Tall Residential Towers

SKY HIGH

SKY HIGH

  • Sky High: Tall Residential Towers

    Sky High: Tall Residential Towers

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    Sky High: Tall Residential Towers

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    Buildings get taller as humans think bigger.
  • Magnificent Milestone: Chicago Spire

    Magnificent Milestone: Chicago Spire

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    Magnificent Milestone: Chicago Spire

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    The Chicago Spire sets a new standard.
  • Economic Engine:Burj Dubai

    Economic Engine:Burj Dubai

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    Economic Engine:Burj Dubai

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    Burj Dubai revs up the Gulf region.
  • Two for One: Q1

    Two for One: Q1

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    Two for One: Q1

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    Q1 stacks two buildings to maximize views.
  • Outside the Norm: Signature Tower

    Outside the Norm: Signature Tower

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    Outside the Norm: Signature Tower

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    Nashville joins Chicago and New York with its super-tall Signature Tower.
  • City Icon: One Rincon Hill

    City Icon: One Rincon Hill

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    City Icon: One Rincon Hill

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    One Rincon Hill raises a neighborhood's image.