It seems like most of the architectural zeitgeist in the U.S. is dominated by news of supertalls sprouting in Manhattan. But that has not been the case in many American cities. Even with widespread housing shortages and proof that density is better for residents, most American cities have had a fear of heights—until now.

Thanks to a stronger economy and better understanding about the benefits of tall buildings, many U.S. cities which have been historically short or architecturally stagnant are now looking up, with new towers rising high above their skylines. Over in DC, there’s even talk of repealing the 1910 Height of Buildings Act, which currently limits structures to a squat 130 feet (that’s like 12 stories, which is really, really short).

The Iceberg, a concept for DC by Marie Hunnell, Azita Soltani Far, and Nina Tatic, has unique angles that ensure the structure does not create excessive shadows on nearby landmarks

The exhibition TALL DC: New Monumentalism recently proposed some ideas for ways that the city could sensitively build skyward without dramatically altering the historic fabric of the city. These are just ideas, of course, but they’re provocative enough to move the conversation forward in a way that might help the city to eradicate this antiquated law.

As many cities literally have nowhere else to go but up, it seems that they’re finally getting the memo. Here’s how a few American cities are growing.

San Francisco

The city by the Bay has a few issues that have historically held it back from sky-piercing structures. An early fear of earthquakes (and the fires they produce) was well-founded when cities were built of wood, but thanks to better engineering methods, tall buildings can be seismically sound. Now San Francisco needs to battle crippling height restrictions which limit skyscrapers to a very small area of the city, as well as a culture that’s known for fighting against any new development.

Salesforce Tower | Pelli Clarke Pelli

The 1,070-foot supertall by Cesar Pelli is part of the massive Transbay Terminal development that will transform the city’s SoMa neighborhood. This was the skyscraper that sparked a new wave of tall buildings, and created a new district that’s luring other new developments. The Salesforce Tower should be finished in 2017.

First and Mission Towers | Foster + Partners

Just adjacent to the Salesforce Tower are the First and Mission Towers, recently announced by Norman Foster’s office and Heller Manus Architects. Also part of the Transbay Plan, the project includes one 605-foot residential tower and one (rather wide) 850-foot tower with a hotel, residences, and offices. You can see how they’d be situated next to the Salesforce Tower, which rises in the middle of this rendering.

181 Fremont | Heller Manus Architects

Also part of the same Transbay development, and seen to the right in the First and Mission rendering, is this 802-foot office tower topped with 15 floors of residential units.

Residential Tower | Studio Gang

Chicago architect Jeanne Gang made a splash in the city last month when she revealed a twisty-turny tower near the Embarcadero waterfront that’s meant to evoke the region’s signature bay windows. At 400 feet it’s not exceptionally tall, but it will change the skyline: the tower is 100 feet taller than current restrictions allow in its neighborhood, which means the building will have to get special approval to reach its full height.


Another city with similar challenges to San Francisco, Boston is a place where it’s notoriously difficult to get anything new built. Worries about protecting historic neighborhoods or shading famous structures will always be part of the city’s ethos. Still, there have been calls in recent years for a new, signature skyscraper for Boston. Maybe it will be one of these.

Four Seasons | Pei Cobb Freed

At 699 feet, a new hotel and residential combo (the shiny one in the center) announced for the Back Bay will be the tallest residential tower in Boston and third tallest overall. For comparison, the city’s tallest building is the 1976 Hancock Tower at 790 feet—also designed by Henry Cobb.

Millennium Tower | Handel Architects

Currently under construction in the city’s Downtown Crossing development, the 625-foot tower will offer residential and retail when it opens in 2016. This building will also give heft to the Downtown Crossing’s hope to become an innovation center for the city.

Harbor Garage | Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates

This pair of towers proposed for the Boston waterfront (on the site of a parking garage) would rise 600 and 537 feet, respectively. The office and hotel-condo complex is currently being battled by the residents of a nearby 400-foot residential tower who say it’s too tall (of course).


Another history-heavy city that’s also been hit with real estate troubles recently, Philly is finally seeing a building boom. Although many mid-size skyscrapers are being built around town, one exciting development on the horizon is the city’s first supertall.

Comcast Innovation and Technology Center | Foster + Partners

Philly’s tallest building, Comcast Center, has proved too small for the cable giant’s needs, so they’ve decided to build an even taller building next door. At 1,121 feet, the building will not only be the tallest in Philadelphia, but also the tallest in the country that’s not in New York or Chicago.


No stranger to development, Miami has always been known for its flashy structures and luxury high-rises. But especially due to real estate woes, it has not necessarily been a place for skyscrapers, until now. With several buildings over 1000 feet jostling for approval, the the city is embarking upon its own skyscraper race.

Panorama Tower | Moshe Cosicher

This tower has been in the works for over a decade: It was approved and then shelved due to economic problems. At 822 feet, it will definitely be the tallest in Miami when it’s completed in 2017, however, there are a few other proposed towers breathing down its neck...

One Bayfront Plaza | TERRA Architecture this project, which is planned for the same Brickell neighborhood, and would be a bonafide supertall at 1005 feet. There are many buildings bidding to break Panorama’s record, but they all have to contend with a challenge: Due to the flight paths for Miami’s airport, downtown buildings have to be approved by the FAA. This one has been.

Los Angeles

A similar story to San Francisco in some ways, L.A. has its own share of earthquake fears (which actually continue to plague developers, more on that below) and NIMBYs fighting against shade. But L.A.’s transit revolution is also making the city denser, and certain neighborhoods are sprouting with taller towers.

Wilshire Grand Tower | A.C. Martin

At 1099 feet, the Wilshire Grand Tower will be the tallest building west of Chicago when it’s finished in 2017 (that’s just barely taller than SF’s Salesforce Tower). The downtown tower will also have a fancy observation deck and will be one of the only non-flat-topped towers in the city (due to new emergency regulations). This was also the site of the largest continuous concrete pour in the world.

Millennium Hollywood | Handel Architects and Roschen Van Cleve Architects

While this project is not one of L.A.’s tallest, it would be the tallest in Hollywood, and it’s definitely one of the most controversial. The towers have already been chopped down to about 400 feet due to outrage that the buildings would dwarf the circular tower of the Capitol Records building. Now a neighborhood group is requiring the city to map a fault that runs near the property in another attempt to prevent the towers from going up.