The Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics

, Volume 45, Issue 3, pp 723–753 | Cite as

Skyscraper Height

  • Jason Barr


This paper investigates the determinants of skyscraper height. First a simple model is provided where potential developers desire not only profits but also social status. In equilibrium, height is a function of both the costs and benefits of construction and the heights of surrounding buildings. Using data from New York City, I empirically estimate skyscraper height over the 20th century. Via spatial regressions, I find evidence for height competition, which increases during boom times. In addition, I provide estimates of which buildings are economically “too tall” and by how many floors.


Skyscrapers Building height Status New York City 

JEL Classification

D44 N62 R33 



I would like to thank Alexander Peterhansl, Howard Bodenhorn, Peter Loeb, Kusum Mundra and Sara Markowitz for their excellent comments. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2008 NBER Summer Institute on the Development of the American Economy, and seminars at Lafayette College, Hunter College, Queens College and Fordham University; I thank the participants for their helpful comments. I would like to acknowledge the New York City Hall Library, the New York City Department of City Planning and the Real Estate Board of New York for the provision of data. This work was partially funded from a Rutgers University, Newark Research Council Grant. Any errors are mine.


  1. Anselin, L., & Bera, A. (1998). Spatial Dependence in Linear Regression Models with an Introduction to Spatial Econometrics. In A. Ullah & D. E. Giles (Eds.), Handbook of applied economic statistics (pp. 237–289). New York: Marcel Dekker.Google Scholar
  2. Anselin, L., Bera, A., Florax, R. J., & Yoon, M. (1996). Simple diagnostic tests for spatial dependence. Regional Science and Urban Economics, 26,77–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bagli, C. V. (1998). Trump starts a new tower near the U.N. New York Times, October 16, A1.Google Scholar
  4. Ballard, R. F. R. (1978). Directory of Manhattan office buildings. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  5. Barr, J. (2010). Skyscrapers and the skyline: Manhattan, 1895–2004. Real Estate Economics, 38(3), 567—597.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bennett, C. G. (1960). New zoning law adopted by city. New York Times, Dec. 16 (p. 1).Google Scholar
  7. Brueckner, J. K. (2003). Strategic interaction among governments: An overview of empirical studies. International Regional Science Review, 26(2), 175–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Building Toward the Clouds (2009). Science Illustrated, March/April (pp. 36–43).Google Scholar
  9. Brueckner, J. K., & Saavedra, L. A. (2001). Do local governments engage in strategic property-tax competition? National Tax Journal, 54(2), 203–230.Google Scholar
  10. Chandler, A. D., Jr. (1977). The visible hand: The managerial revolution in American business. Cambridge: Belknap Press.Google Scholar
  11. Chau, K.-W., Wong, S. K., Yau, Y., & Yeung, A. K. C. (2007). Determining optimal building height. Urban Studies, 44, 591–607.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Clark, W. C., & Kingston, J. L. (1930). The Skyscraper: A study in the economic height of modern office buildings. New York: American Institute of Steel Construction.Google Scholar
  13. Colwell, P., & Ebrahim, M. S. (1997). A Note on the optimal design of an office building. Journal of Real Estate Research, 14(1/2), 169–174.Google Scholar
  14. DiPasquale D., & Wheaton, W. (1995). Urban economics and real estate markets. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  15. Doiron, J. C., Shilling, J. D., & Sirmans, C. F. (1992). Do market rents reflect the value of special building features? The case of office atriums. Journal of Real Estate Research, 7(2), 147–155.Google Scholar
  16. Gillespie, A. K. (1999). Twin Towers: The life of New York City’s World Trade Center. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Gluckman, R. (2003). How high will they build? Popular Science, 262(3), 60–70.Google Scholar
  18. Helsley, R. W., & Strange, W. C. (2008). A game-theoretical analysis of Skyscrapers. Journal of Urban Economics, 64(1), 49–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1970, Bicentennial Edition (1976). (Vols. 1 & 2). Washington DC: Bureau of the Census.Google Scholar
  20. Hopkins, E., & Kornienko, T. (2004). Running to keep in the same place: Consumer choice as a game of status. American Economic Review, 94(4), 1085–1107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Johnston, L. D., & Williamson, S. H. (2007) What was the U.S. GDP then?
  22. Kayden, J. S. (2000). Public owned space: The New York City experience. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  23. Krishna, V. (2002). Auction theory. San Diego: Academic.Google Scholar
  24. Landau, S. B., & Condit, C. W. (1996). Rise of the New York skyscraper: 1865–1913. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Land Book of the Borough of Manhattan, City of New York (1927). New York: G.W. Bromley.Google Scholar
  26. Land Book of the Borough of Manhattan, City of New York (1955). New York: G.W. Bromley.Google Scholar
  27. Land Book of the Borough of Manhattan, City of New York (Sanborn) (2002). Weehawken: TRW REDI Property Data.Google Scholar
  28. New York Times (1910). New Woolworth Building on Broadway Will Eclipse Singer Tower in Height. November 13, RE1.Google Scholar
  29. New York Times (1928). Huge Home Opened by New York Life. December 13, 16.Google Scholar
  30. Samuels, D. (1997). The Real-Estate Royals: End of the Line? New York Times, August 10, SM36.Google Scholar
  31. Strange, W. C. (1995). Information, holdouts, and land assembly. Journal of Urban Economics, 38, 317–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Tauranac, J. (1995). The Empire State Building: The making of a landmark. New York: Scribner.Google Scholar
  33. Vandell, K. D., & Lane, J. S. (1989). The economics of architecture and urban design: Some preliminary findings. Real Estate Economics, 17(2), 235–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Wallace, A. (2006). A height deemed appalling: Nineteenth-century New York newspaper buildings. Journalism History, 31(4), 178–189.Google Scholar
  35. Willis, C. (1992). Form follows finance: The Empire State Building. In D. Ward & O. Zunz (Eds.), The landscape of modernity: New York City, 1900–1940. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Willis, C. (1995). Form follows finance: Skyscrapers and Skylines in New York and Chicago. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsRutgers UniversityNewarkUSA

Personalised recommendations