Bangkok has the world's 15th highest total of buildings of 150 meters or taller, with 69 complete and 23 more under construction, according to the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.
The tallest is MahaNakhon, 314 meters high with 75 stories, but the Magnolias Waterfront Residences at IconSiam will pip that by 1 meter next year. The 615-meter-tall Grand Rama 9 Tower will dwarf both when it tops out with 125 stories in 2021.
Only in 1978, with the opening of the 26-story Chokchai Tower, did the hotel lose its crown. Chokchai succumbed in 1981, with the opening of the 33-story Bangkok Bank headquarters on Silom Road.
This is a common story in Asia, which is home to 12 of the top 15 cities on the CTBUH index. Hong Kong heads the list, with another six in China. Only New York, at number two, Dubai at three and Chicago at seven are outside Asia.
In Hong Kong, land availability has propelled the city upward, but elsewhere in China prestige is the driver: Companies like to have their offices in high towers, and the lack of significant opposition to building proposals has allowed tall buildings to flourish.
In Bangkok, demand for quality office, hotel, retail and residential space is high, and the city center's lively character makes it by far the most popular location, fueling demand for yet more building. But there is growing awareness of a serious structural problem: Bangkok is sinking under the weight of concrete.
Ever since the city started its eastward sprawl after World War II, residences and commercial buildings have been drawing water supplies from an aquifer beneath the urban area, which lies on a river delta.
Bangkok is only about 1.5 meters above sea level, and sits on a layer of soft clay that is highly compressible. If water is drawn out of the clay, it dries out, and downward pressure increases the subsidence.
Two concentric moats -- later joined by a third -- were dug around the original city for drainage as well as defense. These, combined with canals added to bring in agricultural produce.
But some of the canals have been filled in recent decades, without adequate replacement drainage. Together with subsidence this has led to severe rainy season floods.
The latest estimates suggest that parts of Bangkok are sinking by as much as 2 cm a year, and a recent study by Thailand's National Reform Council warned that much of the city could be under water within a generation unless urgent action is taken, such as extensive drainage and wetland creation.
Credit : Ken Barrett
Bangkok-based writer of NIKKEI