The human impulse to build into the skies has produced a planet full of modern skyscrapers. Yet, the allure of these man-made giants lies not in their staggering scale alone. Skyscrapers can also be symbolic and sculptural, or experimental and playful.
As architects smash the known limits of engineering and technology, new and astounding structures continue to rise from the ground. Whether you are an architecture aficionado or just love heights and incredible views, here’s our roundup of the coolest skyscrapers on the planet.
The Umeda Sky Building
WHERE: Osaka, Japan
HEIGHT: 568 feet
Topped by a floating garden observatory, the Umeda Sky Building is a twin tower skyscraper in Osaka’s Kita district. The observatory spans and connects the two towers. It is comprised of enclosed and open-air galleries and a Japanese garden with a circular void at its center. Sleek lighting design illuminates the structure at night. Although the building is predominantly used as office space, a surprise lurks underground—Takimi Koji is a basement-level reconstruction of a traditional Osaka village from the 1920s, with a quirky maze of alleyways lit by lanterns.
HEIGHT: 2,716 feet
Burj Khalifa is currently the world’s tallest building, but other superlatives to which it lays claim include the World’s Tallest Structure and the Highest Number of Stories in the World. Designed by architects Skidmore, Owings & Merill, this extravagant structure was inspired by Islamic architecture and its footprint is derived from the Hymenocallis flower. Part of the Downtown Dubai development, this soaring edifice houses offices, hotels, residential apartments, and an observation deck on the 148th floor.
Chang Building (A.K.A Elephant Tower)
WHERE: Bangkok, Thailand
HEIGHT: 335 feet tall, 560 feet long
Whilst Elephant Tower many not be one of the planet’s tallest skyscrapers, it is certainly among its most whimsical. This cubist construction was built in the shape of an elephant, Thailand’s national animal, with ears, eyes, legs and tusks. This jumbo-sized structure stands in the Chatuchak district of Bangkok and was designed by Ong-at Sattraphan.
One World Trade Center
WHERE: New York City, USA
HEIGHT: 1,776 feet
Conceived as a beacon of urban renewal, the footprint of One World Trade Center is identical in shape to the original Twin Towers. This New York landmark is topped by a 408 ft. tall spire and a beam of light is cast into the sky at night. The building was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. The dazzling glass-clad structure houses over 3,000,000 sq. ft. of rental space and the 100-102nd floor One World Observatory is open to the public and includes Sky Pod elevators, an audio-visual show, and a panoramic restaurant.
Petronas Twin Towers
WHERE: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
HEIGHT: 1,482 feet
These conjoined giants were once the tallest skyscraper in the world. Standing in the Malaysian capital, the Petronas Twin Towers have Islamic design motifs throughout, from the forms of the exterior to the interior patterns which recall traditional ‘songket’ weaving. Designed by Cesar Pelli, the twin towers’ footprint is based on interlocking geometric forms and the building has 88 stories and features over 55,000 glass panels.
WHERE: Chicago, USA
HEIGHT: 859 feet
Close to Lake Michigan, this 82-story sculptural edifice is wrapped in rippling balconies, giving this skyscraper a water-like appearance. Aesthetics have been cleverly blended with function to create a residential space that encourages a sense of community. Designed by architect Jeanne Gang, Aqua is the tallest building in the US designed by a woman-led firm. The white concrete balconies are inspired by Midwest limestone—each one has a unique form and size, and they are laid out to allow neighbors to interact with one another. The construction of the balconies also acts to minimize the effects of gusts and vortices in the Windy City. Eco-design additions include energy-efficient lighting and rainwater collection systems.
WHERE: London, England
HEIGHT: 1,016 feet
The Shard is part of the London Bridge Quarter financial district and was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. Created for living, working, and relaxing, The Shard houses office space, apartments, upmarket restaurants, and the luxurious Shangri-La hotel. Located between levels 69 and 72, The View from The Shard is the UK’s highest observation gallery.
The Koala Tree (The Lippo Centre)
WHERE: Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong
HEIGHT: 564 feet
This Brutalist twin tower has been nicknamed The Koala Tree due to the offset blocks that wrap around its façade; they are said to look like koala bears hugging the structure. The Lippo Centre stands on Queensway on Hong Kong Island and is home to Indonesia’s Lippo Bank. Designed by Australian architect Paul Rudolph, the towers have 46 and 42 stories respectively, and are connected via a podium at street level—where you can also see the columns that support the glass-clad building.
WHERE: Shanghai, China
HEIGHT: 2,073 feet
Elegantly twisted, Shanghai Tower is an enormous skyscraper in the Lujiazui Financial District of Shanghai. The structure dominates the city’s skyline as it gradually spirals up through 121 above-ground stories (and five more stories underground). Shanghai Tower is described as a mixed-use vertical city, and houses offices, event spaces, tourism facilities, and a deluxe hotel. The architects, Gensler, put a heavy emphasis on green building techniques and energy efficiency, and the building achieved LEED Platinum certification.
Gran Torre (Costanera Center Torre 2)
WHERE: Santiago, Chile
HEIGHT: 984 feet
Latin America’s tallest skyscraper, Gran Torre, dwarfs all the other buildings in the Chilean capital. Set against the snow-capped Andes, the glass-fronted tower glimmers in the sunlight. The 64-story high construction was designed by Argentine American firm César Pelli and Associates. Set in Santiago’s popular Providencia district, the structure is surrounded by shopping malls and restaurants. For 360° vistas of Santiago, take the elevator to the Sky Costanera observation deck.
WHERE: Abu Dhabi
HEIGHT: 370 feet
Boasting the title of the world’s first completely circular skyscraper, the Aldar headquarters is located by Al Raha Beach in Abu Dhabi. The building is inspired by the shape of a clam, a design concept intended to connect the structure to Abu Dhabi’s seafaring heritage. It’s made up of two vast convex discs connected by a band of glass. The circular form is also meant to evoke ideas of eternity and unity. Designed by Qatar-based MZ & Partners, this semi-spherical megalith is fully glazed from bottom to top, and the façade is adorned with bold lattice work.
WHERE: Moscow, Russia
HEIGHT: 807 feet
A delightful synergy of art and architecture, Evolution Tower draws inspiration from Auguste Rodin’s sculpture, The Kiss. Rodin’s two entwined lovers have been transformed into a spiraling ribbon of steel and concrete. What makes this skyscraper distinctive is that the design concept came from a partnership between architects (Kettle Collective) and a Scottish artist (Karen Forbes, a former head of drawing and painting at Edinburgh College of Art).
WHERE: Barcelona, Spain
HEIGHT: 472 feet
Towering over Barcelona’s trendy technological district, Torre Agbar is a bullet-shaped skyscraper inspired by nearby Montserrat mountain and the organic forms of the Sagrada Família. The glass-clad surface is multicolored and dramatically illuminated after dark. Torre Agbar is a collaboration between French architect Jean Nouvel and local practice b720. The building houses the offices of water company Grup Agbar, but the observation deck is open to the public.
Transamerica Pyramid Center
WHERE: San Francisco, USA
HEIGHT: 853 feet
Another architectural darling of the US, The Transamerica Pyramid is a San Francisco landmark, perhaps as globally recognizable as the Golden Gate Bridge. Designed by William Pereira & Associates, this refined skyscraper occupies an entire block in the city’s Financial District.