The world’s tallest building

All of this talk about tall buildings (see earlier ‘Chicago’ post) reminded me of a piece I wrote on the old site in response to Lauren’s question “what’s the tallest building in the world?”. Being quite an interesting topic (well, depending on your tastes) I thought I’d resurrect it and update it.

At the time of writing the original text, the answer was not as simple as you’d think, but we’ll come back to that. In just over a year from now the answer will be very simple… the Burj Dubai (far left in the image below) will reach 818 m (2,684 ft) at it’s highest point (i.e. the top of it’s antenna), the roof will reach 688 m (2,257 ft) and the top floor will sit at 636 m (2,087 ft). On all counts the Burj Dubai will be the tallest building, tower or structure. I say “will be”, actually it already is, but it won’t really count until it’s finished. Which brings us on to the current record holder, and this is where things get a bit more complicated…

Ignoring the Burj Dubai, the honour had gone to the Petronas Towers (in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – second from right) until Taipei 101 in Taiwan (third from left) was finished. The Petronas Towers peaked at 452 m at their highest points, but Taipei 101’s spire hits 508 m (some sources state 509 m). However, the tallest man-made structure (that’s structure, not building) on Earth was the KTHI TV-tower in Fargo, North Dakota. At 629 m there was no argument. But it’s not classed as a building as it has no accommodation for people and it’s primary use is for telecommunications – any building which takes the ‘highest building’ title must be built for residential, business, or manufacturing purposes.

So (ignoring the Burj Dubai) is that the end of the argument? Taipei 101 is the tallest building, KTHI TV-tower is the tallest structure. Well, not according to the good people of Toronto – if you go to the web site of the CN Tower (second from left) they proudly proclaim it to be “the world’s tallest building”. And standing at 553.33 m high I’d say they have a point (although not for much longer). So why doesn’t the CN Tower hold the official record? It’s all to do with the definition of the word ‘building’ – the CN Tower is, for the most part, an enormous concrete erection (snigger) with no individual floors and housing nothing but elevators. Mind you, the elevators do go up to an observation deck which can accommodate people.

Now, if the people of Toronto are a bit miffed by this, consider the inhabitants of Chicago. The highest point of the Sears Tower (far right) is 527 m. Hold on… that’s higher than Taipei 101, the Petronas Towers and the Shanghai World Financial Center (third from right – this nipped into second place in 2008). Indeed, but the Sears Tower is currently the official fourth highest building on Earth. Confused? Let me explain – it now comes down to the rules and regulations of the World Council on Tall Buildings. The Council put in place four criteria – absolute top, structural height, the highest occupied floor and the height at the roof – criteria #2, structural height, is the clincher. The Sears Tower is the highest only because of it’s antennae – it’s main structure rises to only (only?) 442 m. But if you look at the image here, it appears that the main structure of the Sears Tower (on the right) is higher than the main structure of the Petronas Towers. Prior to Taipei 101 being completed, the Council gave the award to the Petronas Towers because the masts are an integral part of the structure, rather than just being bolted on. Bit of a swizz if you ask me. Taipei 101’s mast is also considered ‘integral’ and it’s 449 m at it’s roof.

So there you go… the world’s tallest building, according to the rules and regulations, is currently Taipei 101. But this record won’t last much longer as the Burj Dubai will be completed in 2009. By the end of 2013, going by official height, it’s likely that Taipei 101 will be shoved down to seventh place (possibly lower) behind the Burj Dubai, the Chicago Spire (609.6 m at the roof), Abraj Al Bait Towers in Mecca (595 m at the top of it’s spire), China 117 in Tianjin, the Dohar Convention Centre Tower in Qatar, and New York’s Freedom Tower (with a roof at just 417 m but a spire height of 541.3 m). Arguments will of course continue – if you go by pinnacle height the Guangzhou TV & Sightseeing Tower in China with it’s spire reaching 610 m would sneak into second place.

However, all of these buildings could be dwarfed by the proposed Al Burj in Dubai. Plans are not yet finalised and reports of the height vary – the roof could top 820 m and the spire could reach over 1 km. There have been reports that the spire will reach 1.4 km. Any volunteers to polish the top? Whatever, Steve McQueen’s fire chief character from ‘The Towering Inferno’ wouldn’t approve.


  1. Jim, I agree with your sentiment about such a distinguished building, I went up it a couple of years ago, and to me it’s a very striking and historical landmark. Photos I took of the Empire State and the Chrysler building hang on walls around our house. However, this wasn’t meant to be an essay on the history of the world’s tallest buildings so it didn’t get a mention.

    According to ( New York held the tallest building record from 1890 to 1974, and the Empire State held the record for 41 years from 1931 to 1972. I guess to many people New York would be synonymous with skyscrapers, but now you have to think of China and Dubai.

  2. Interesting post. To me it seems like we need a much simplified definition of tallest. I propose the following:

    The highest point at which a person can reach without climbing equipment and stand unsupported for a reasonable amount of time.

    To my eyes that would probably make the Shanghai WFC first, with Taipei 101 coming in second.

    The rationale being that it will automatically discount all this mast nonsense, structural or otherwise, as you can’t perch on top without safety gear. All this mast stuff goes back to Empire State vs Chrysler bulding anyway.

    Given the heights and winds involved I might concede that you can hold onto a railing with one hand or something.

  3. @3 – I agree, masts are like cheating. It should be something like the roof of the highest inhabitable floor. At least when the Burj Dubai is completed it’ll be undisputed on all fronts, but there’ll still be arguments about the tallest building in North America.

  4. Towers (in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – second from right) until Taipei 101 in Taiwan (third from left) was finished. The Petronas Towers peaked at 452 m at their highest points, but Taipei 101?s spire hits 508 m

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *