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Skylines Transformed

The B1M | 10:23

Skylines Transformed

Dan Cortese

20 June 2018

Video Views

Video hosted by Fred Mills.

THE construction industry shapes our world.

In no other place is this more pronounced than in our cities, where cultural and economic factors drive extreme development. Over centuries, our cities have grown, evolved, risen, and reformed to become the thriving hubs that billions of us call home today.

But some cities have been on more radical journeys than others. Here, we have travelled from East to West and brought you our picks of the world’s greatest skyline transformations.

Above: Many of our urban centres have changed dramatically over past Century. For example, the Chicago of today is unrecognisable from that of 1900.

Before we begin, it’s important to underline the fact that our choices here are purely subjective, and to explain that - as a common starting point - we have considered the transformation of each city since the construction of its first skyscraper up until the present day. Otherwise you could consider almost any city to have been considerably transformed since its original founding.


We are starting off in the Land Down Under with what is arguably now one of the most photogenic cities in the world.

Famed for its iconic opera house and arched bridge set upon the world’s deepest natural harbour, Sydney has transformed considerably since its first skyscraper was built in 1967.

Above: While Sydney's iconic Opera House was under construction, the city was building the nations first true skyscraper, Australia Square ( image courtesy of Royal Australian Historical Society). 

The 170 metre (557 foot) Australia Square was the first building in Australia to rise more than 150 metres in height and paved the way for further skyscraper construction across the country.

Since then, Sydney’s skyline has grown to become Australia’s densest with the 309 metre (1,014 foot) Sydney Tower rising at its centre.

Above: Surrounded by water on three sides, Sydney is the densest skyline in Australia and is today one of the most iconic in the world.

The city looks set to continue its transformation in the years ahead with a vast redevelopment of the disused Barangaroo docks district and construction of the 271 metre (889 foot) Crown Sydney which will become the city’s tallest building when it completes in 2021.


Despite being a key economic hub for the Asia-Pacific region since the early 20th century, Shanghai’s transformation only occurred relatively recently.

With economic restrictions between non-communist countries in place since the 1950’s, it wasn't until 1988 that Shanghai got its first true skyscraper, the 153 metre Jin Jiang Tower.

Above and Below: The Shanghai of the 1980's (above) is almost unrecognisable today (below, photographed in 2013) ( images courtesy of Carlos Barria). 

Following significant economic reforms in the early 1990s, Shanghai has been a driving force in China’s economy, attracting huge levels of investment that have transformed its skyline into one of the world’s most recognisable cityscapes. 


Up until the 1960s, Dubai was little more than a cluster of fishing and port towns on the coast of the Persian Gulf.

With the discovery of oil and the revenue that came with it, Dubai began to gradually develop, focusing on building up its infrastructure for shipping and oil extraction.

The city's first skyscraper, the 184 metre (604 foot) Dubai World Trade Centre was built in 1979.

Above: Before the building boom of the 1990's and 2000's Dubai's skyline was virtually non-existent.

By the early 1990’s, Dubai’s government realised they needed to overhaul the Emirates’ economy and diversify its key revenue streams before oil reserves ran dry.

This led to billions being invested into the tourism and services sectors and with the completion of the wave-shaped Jumeriah Beach Hotel in 1997 and the iconic 321 metre (1,053 foot) Burj Al Arab Hotel in 1999, the Dubai we all know today was born.

Above: Now home to the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, Dubai's skyline has literally risen up from the desert sand. 

With the construction boom that followed, Dubai’s population grew from just 670,000 people in 1995, to over 2.6 million in 2018.

Now, the city is home to the world’s current tallest building; the 828 metre (2,717 foot) Burj Khalifa.

With Dubai’s skyline barely 20 years old, the city is set to continue its evolution over the next decade. One particularly notable project in the pipeline is the expansive Dubai Creek Redevelopment - set to feature a 3,000 foot tower at its centre.


Watching over the city since 1931, Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue has witnessed the city’s transformation first hand.

Above: Brazil's former capital is set on the coast and surrounded by mountainous terrain (image courtesy of Marc Ferrez). Below: While the city does not feature as many tall buildings as others on our list, the transformation of Rio is still remarkable (image courtesy of Jens Hausherr).

With a population of just over 800,000 in 1900, Rio de Janeiro is now home to over 7.5 million people.

While not reaching the heights of other cities on our list, Brazil’s former capital has flourished into a sea of white high rises that occupy almost every bit of suitable terrain.


Since the completion of its first skyscraper in 1908 - the 186 metre (612 foot) Singer Building - New York City has been home to more of the world's tallest buildings than any other city; taking the title from itself six times between 1908 and 1974.

Above: The New York City skyline has come a long way since the dawn of the 20th century. Below: The building boom of the 1930's gave us some of the most iconic buildings in the world (images courtesy of IIP Photo Archives).

Among these historic giants, the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building dominated the skyline from the early 1930s, and were joined by the twin towers of the World Trade Centre between 1970 and 2001.

Since 2002, 44 skyscrapers have been built across the city, including New York City’s tallest building, the 541 metre (1,776 foot) One World Trade Center.

More recently, super-skinny high rise residential towers - such as 56 Leonard Street, 53W53 and 432 Park Avenue - have sought to maximise floor area and return on investment from some of the city’s smallest parcels of land.


Finally, at the most westerly edge of our journey, we have a city that redefines transformation.

Founded in 1905, Las Vegas has gone from a desert rest-stop alongside a railroad, to the entertainment capital of the world.

Above: The "El Rancho Vegas" on Highway 91, known today as the Las Vegas Strip (image courtesy of The Las Vegas Sun Archives).

With an influx of workers from the construction of the Hoover Dam in 1930’s, Vegas became infamous for its drinking, gambling and adult entertainment, earning it the nickname “Sin City”.

By the 1950’s gaming had become big business and hotels and casinos began competing for attention along the emerging Las Vegas Strip.

Perhaps as famous for its demolitions as it is for its reputation, Las Vegas has seen several hotels levelled and replaced with larger and ever more lavish resorts.

Ironically the city’s first true skyscraper to break the 150 metre threshold was the New York, New York Hotel and Casino in 1997 standing 161 metres (or 529 feet) tall.

Above: The first building to reach above 150m on the Las Vegas skyline was ironically the New York City skyline, part of the New York, New York Hotel and Casino (image courtesy of Tony Jin).

Of the cities 40 tallest buildings, 39 have built since 1997, including the Bellagio, Wynn Resort, Trump International and the Cosmopolitan.

Above: Las Vegas has transformed itself from a desert rest-stop into the entertainment capital of the world. 

Together with the 350 metre (1,150 foot) Stratosphere, a half-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower and the world's tallest observation wheel, the High Roller, Las Vegas’ skyline is truly a never-ending story of transformation.

Images courtesy of Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, The New York Observer, Royal Australian Historical Society, Adam J.W.C, Raminus Falcon, Wilkinson Eyre, The Shanghai Jin Jian Hotel, Carlos Barria, Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, Dubai Radisson Blu, Hermann Leustik, Emaar Properties, Marc Ferrez, Jens Hausherr, Rafael Rabello de Barros, Detroit Publishing Co. IIP Photo Archives, Samuel H Gottscho, Bob Krist, The Las Vegas Sun Archive, Thomas Wolf, Dallas News, Edward N. Edstrom, Tony Jin, Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz, Stephen Hassler, Tony Webster.

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