Skyscrapers in Santiago: 300
meters of globalization agenda
Universidad del Norte, Barranquilla, Colombia
Purpose –The purpose of this paper is to assess alternative economic explanations of buildings’height in
Latin America and Chile, inductively producing a theory about skyscrapers’height in emerging countries.
In the quest for height, global exposure as advertising guides developers located in emerging economies,
while ego-building for investors.
Design/methodology/approach –This paper uses mixed methods triangulation (MMT). Findings with
small sample econometrics for 38 cities from 13 different countries are re-interpreted by linguistically
analyzing 11 semi-structured interviews with local experts in Santiago.
Findings –Globalization is the main determinant of skyscrapers height in the Latin American region, its
interaction with the need to portray management and technical skills of developer firms, determines a process
Research limitations/implications –Because of small sample bias, the quantitative results are not fully
reliable, but this is precisely why it makes sense to use MMT.
Practical implications –Santiago offers a valuable case study because, on the one hand, Chile was the
first Latin American country to undertake neoliberal type reforms, as early as 1973. On the other, the tallest
Latin American skyscraper is to be completed in this city by 2015. The theory developed, derived from the
evidence and the perceptions, has a Global South reach and can open-up an empirical research agenda.
Originality/value –This paper innovates in real estate research by using MMT, not just to confirm
quantitative findings, but as an inductive theory building tool. It also analyses Latin America, a region with
scarce presence in the literature.
Keywords Latin America, Mixed methods, Chile, Global cities, Inductivism, Skyscrapers
Paper type Research paper
High building construction has a symbolic value beyond its functional role as real estate,
challenging conventional economic analyses. However, and despite their evident presence in
cities’landscape, there is almost no economic research about skyscrapers. We consider this
lack of relevant examination a lost opportunity for urban research.
We analyze skyscrapers in Latin America, emphasizing the 2013 Torre Costanera in
Santiago de Chile, the tallest in the region. This case study has been selected not just for its
extreme height, but because Chile was the first Latin American country to undertake
neoliberal reforms (as early as the 1970s). Santiago and Torre Costanera offer an extreme
portrait of potential urban transformations in other Latin American cities, a place
where “architecture and the economy collide”(Cáceres, 2013).
We build upon theoretical and empirical contributions by Helsley and Strange (2008),
Barr et al. (2015), and Barr (2013, 2012). However, while following a purely formal economic
approach, none ofthese documents is about Latin America. Institutionalist interpretations by
Abadie and Dermisi(2008) and Titman and Twite(2013) are also conventional,in the sense of
providing a formal theoretical scheme and then proceeding to econometrically test it.
Our most immediate reference is Garza and Lizieri (2016) that uses a 12-year panel to find
determinants of buildings’height in 29 cities from ten different Latin American countries.
Our paper uses mixed methods triangulation (MMT) (Downward and Mearman, 2007),
including quantitative information from 38 cities in 13 countries, and 11 interviews with
local actors in Santiago. Depictions about the development process of real estate products
oriented to global markets by Lizieri (2009) and Fainstein (1994) are contrasted with our
qualitative search of explanations. We hypothesize that recent tall buildings are
Journal of Property Investment
Vol. 35 No. 5, 2017
© Emerald PublishingLimited
Received 19 May 2016
Revised 17 February 2017
Accepted 18 February 2017
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