One of the many cranes in booming Seattle.
One of the many cranes in booming Seattle. Charles Mudede

Not long after my post about the 101-story tower that a firm based in Miami, Crescent Heights, wants to be build in downtown Seattle, the scientist and writer Jonathan Golob sent me an email with a link to the Wikipedia entry for Skyscraper Index. This is a partly serious and partly humorous theory that connects the construction/completion of record-breaking skyscrapers with the end of a business cycle.

A business cycle in the terms of the great American and 20th century economist Hyman Minksy moves from Hedge (cautious borrowing), to Speculative (euphoric borrowing), and finally to Ponzi (criminal borrowing). It is in the third moment that the tallest skyscrapers in a city or the world make their appearance. While under construction, or not long after they are completed, or right before construction begins, a crash occurs.

There is some substance to this theory. For example, the Chrysler Building ("the tallest in the world from May 27, 1930 to April 30, 1931") was under construction when Wall Street crashed on October 24, 1929. The Sears Tower was completed during the stock market crash of 1973. Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia opened just over a year before the 1997 Asian financial crisis. As for the current tallest building in the world, Dubai's Burj Khalifa, it opened not long after the global crash of 2008.

We must not dismiss this link because there have been crashes that weren't accompanied by record-break towers, such as the dotcom crash of 2000. The link is sound because it shows how the eternal moment of a long boom naturally finds expression in architecture, the most visible of all public statements. These towers are the temples of a feeling that settles in the chest of investors when Minskyian euphoria achieves the aspect of the new normal—the sempiternal feeling. Three days before the crash of 1929, America's most celebrated economist Irving Fisher proclaimed: "Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau." These words were spoken only two days before the spire was set on the Chrysler Building.

We in Seattle find ourselves in the middle of a boom that started in 2013 and has radically transformed our city. And just as we are feeling there is no end to this boom, because it keeps going on and on, we learn of a plan to build the tallest building in the West Coast. Have we finally reached the rarefied air of a "permanently high plateau"?