Architectural Booms May Signal Economic Slowdowns

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Robison Wells
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While great economic times foster magnificent architecture—society builds few massive edifices during food shortages—two rising theories posit that booms in architecture could indicate a coming economic bust. More than that, one such theory blames architecture itself for the downturn.

The first theory blames restrictive zoning for housing. Most urban planners, architects, and economists agree on the need for more multi-family developments to accommodate urbanization. However, the housing market fails to corroborate this notion. Since 1995, the number of homes in the United States grew 25%; the population rose 24%.

While these numbers seem sound, they indicate a decline in affordable housing in major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. Increasing numbers of residents find themselves outpriced by skyrocketing rent. Kaley Overstreet at ArchDaily referred to the single-family zoning policy trend as: “a never-ending housing crisis that forces the global economy out of equilibrium on a cyclical basis.”

Andrew Lawrence poses a second theory: the Skyscraper Effect. His Skyscraper Index tracks massive towers to measure their impact on market economics direction. Lawrence theorizes that the construction of these towers, build during stable economic times, overburdens the economy and drains resources. He cites two examples: the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lampur and the Empire State Building in New York City. Booming financial times encouraged the construction of both buildings. But the economy took a downturn before residents could fill them.

Lawrence’s theory shows flaws, even by his admission. But these flaws don’t stop him from warning builders, investors, and architects to be more cautious before constructing the next World’s Tallest Building.

With two theories citing architectural booms as signs of economic slippage, some may feel that risk lies in super-structure construction.

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