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Vanity and violence: On the politics of skyscrapers

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Stephen Graham



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Taylor and Francis, 2016.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


In this fourth and final paper in a series for City addressing the vertical politics of cities, Stephen Graham explores the politics of contemporary skyscrapers. Emphasising the changing geo-economics, geopolitics and political symbolism of skyscrapers, the paper critically interrogates their increasingly central contemporary role as purported signifiers and logos of ‘global’ cityness and seeks to underline the essential violence involved in their construction—and their demise. The discussion falls into three parts. The first contrasts the proliferation of elite-driven ‘super-tall’ skyscrapers as anchors of huge real-estate projects in the Gulf, Middle East and Asia with the historical ‘race’ between real estate, urban and corporate elites in North American downtowns to build skyscrapers which embodied highly masculinised notions of vertical corporate power. The second deconstructs the current construction of skyscrapers as ‘gigantic logos’ signifying wannabe or actual ‘global’ city status—promissory towers camouflaged behind specious greenwash, which anchor major nodes within intensely globalised circuits of leisure, tourism, finance, business and real-estate investment. The discussion turns, finally, to the role of the skyscraper as the detested symbol par excellence of the aggressively centripetal pull of the modern, secular, alpha-level global or world city. Exploring the central role of Western skyscraper architecture in motivating Al-Qaeda’s attacks on New York’s World Trade Center in 2011, the paper finishes by speculating on the connections linking the violence inherent in skyscraper construction with that which targets skyscrapers in terrorist violence.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Graham S

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: City: Analysts of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action

Year: 2016

Volume: 20

Issue: 5

Pages: 755-771

Online publication date: 21/12/2016

Acceptance date: 05/01/2016

Date deposited: 25/05/2018

ISSN (print): 1360-4813

ISSN (electronic): 1470-3629

Publisher: Taylor and Francis


DOI: 10.1080/13604813.2016.1224503


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