The essence of an era or culture is often captured by the human imagination concisely in the form of architecture. As a century progresses, architecture increasing carries the burden of cultural expectation as a potent symbol of place – be it a neighbourhood, city or even a whole country to the future world. Here is a look at urban skylines of the century that distinctly portrays the technologic prowess; capitalistic and social values of the modern world.

New York, USA

Empire State Building at Sunset, New York
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photo credit: S J Pinkney

New York City has come to become the one of grandest and the most recognizable symbols of the  new world order. Its skyline is made out of a number of distinct skyscrapers with a variety of architectural styles in extremely dense clusters. Surrounded mostly by water, New York’s urban density and extremely high real estate values hold the record of having a set of 44 skyscrapers within the span of just 200 meters- the highest in the world. The Manhattan skyline is the famous for the now destroyed World Trade Center Towers, the Empire State building, The Chrysler building , Rockefeller Center,  the Statue of Liberty and the United Nations Tower. The proposed “Freedom Tower” (to be built on the old site of the World Trade Centers) with its revolutionary design concept is set to rewrite and add to the history books of contemporary world.

Shanghai, China

Pudong Skyline
Creative Commons License photo credit: nicolasrollier

The emerging economic powerhouse of the world illustrates the transfer of influence from west to the east. The Chinese city has become a play ground of the big name star architects of the world, ensuring that the city is at the forefront of progressive architecture and innovation. Its skyline is especially distinctive because of the Pearl TV Tower which seems like a Skyrocket topped with giant ball or perhaps a Space needle with satellite dish.

London, UK

Skyline Sunset
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London city has a fantastic mix of the old and the new. The lofty dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the giant chimney of the Tate Modern and the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s quaint Globe Theatre and The British Museum are some major highlights. London’s fundamental low-rise nature makes skyscrapers like One Canada Square and its neighbours at Canary Wharf and the BT Tower seem very prominent. The Millennium Bridge, the striking Millennium Dome next to the Thames ,the Swiss Re Headquarters are the newer landmarks has reinvented part of the London skyline.

Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo Tower from Mori
Creative Commons License photo credit: -ratamahatta-

The world most populated city has the eminence of being home to some 15 structures that are over 200 meters tall. Due to the incredible density and vast size of the city, every bend seems to have its individual skyline. The city’s height restrictions and the required red lights that flash atop all mid to tall-sized buildings make the city look spectacular at night. One of the city’s most famous landmarks is the Tokyo Tower which changes colors every night

Chicago ,USA

millennium park I
Creative Commons License photo credit: n3m01983

The origins of the modern skyscraper can be traced back to Chicago. The first skyscraper ever built was created here in the late 1880’s. Chicago has 17 buildings over 200 meters tall. The windy city also has some of the finest mid-century architecture and examples of modern skyscrapers including the likes of Sears Tower, the Aon Center, and the John Hancock Center.

Hong Kong, China

The Hong Kong nightshow
Creative Commons License photo credit: Michael Malz

Hong Kong has whopping 39 buildings over 200 meters tall. It also boasts four of the 15 tallest buildings in the world. The city has a stunning set of spiralling skyscrapers in an assortment of revolutionary architecture. The mountain backdrop makes its skyline more awe inspiring.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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photo credit: attawayjl

The city’s patrons commission some of the most flamboyant modern architecture in the world. The Dubai skyline boasts of the world’s tallest all-hotel building and the tallest all-residential building in the world. Burj Khalifa , the tallest building in the world is the magnificent centerpiece of Downtown Dubai

Sydney, Australia

Creative Commons License photo credit: bernardoh

The city’s world-famous harbour is adorned with the monumental Harbour Bridge, and the iconic Opera House. It has hundreds of skyscrapers (including has 8 buildings over 200 meters tall) in the central business district and many more high-rise buildings in the outlying neighbourhoods.


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photo credit: axa!

Singapore has one the most meticulously planned urban forms. Its regular building height and space pattern makes this skyline unique seeming almost artificial. The buildings are mostly light-coloured and there is a large expanse of greenery dotted around the city core.

Toronto, Canada
Toronto Skyline from Fort York (4)
Creative Commons License photo credit: jbcurio

Toronto has 7 structures in its skyline that stand at over 200 metres, including the amazingly tall 553 metres, CN Tower, which is often referred to as the tallest freestanding structure in the world. The CN Tower possesses the world’s highest observation deck, making the city’s skyline distinctive.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Petronas Twin Towers
Creative Commons License photo credit: mroach

Kuala Lumpur has three of the 25 tallest buildings worldwide. The city is home to a marvellous collection of modern skyscrapers and the twin Petronas Towers are its most identifiable landmark.

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About the Author

Prathima Manohar Prathima Manohar is the Founder of the Urbanism think do-tank “The Urban Vision . Prathima holds a bachelors degree in Architecture. She was awarded Stanford University’s prestigious Draper Hills Fellowship bestowed to rising international stars who work on issues related to Democracy and Development in 2011. She has been a Harvard Kennedy School Ash Center Fellow where she studied ICT for Good Governance, Gov 2.0 as well as entrepreneurship, Adaptive Leadership and Strategic Planning. She consults on urban design & urban policy related subjects with architecture and large development firms. As an urbanist, she has worked on projects and researched on issues such as placemaking , affordable housing, participatory planning and green cities. She has been a contributing columnist on architecture, urban development and design with India’s Leading News daily – The Times of India. She has been a contributing TV Journalist with France24 and TF1 where she did news reports and several documentaries on Indian economy, Developmental and Cultural issues. She has also written for the opinion pages of the International Herald Tribune , The Wall Street Journal and has reviewed for the Architecture Record. In 2017 , She was listed as top 50 Most Impactful Global Social Innovators at World CSR Day. She was awarded by the iGen Design Forum 2016 as the top 50 Next Generation Architects driving innovations in Indian Urbanscape . She was among Global Honourees of 2009 CONSIUSA’s “Young Leaders Program” which reconizes emerging leaders under the age of 40, who have distinguished themselves and have demonstrated leadership qualities and potential in various careers