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What Is the World's Tallest Building?

Keeping Up with an Ever-Changing List of Skyscrapers


The Burj Dubai in the United Arab Emirates

The Burj Dubai in the United Arab Emirates

Photo by Flickr Member Leandro's World Tour, license CC BY 2.0
The Taipei 101 Tower in Taipei, Taiwan

The Taipei 101 Tower in Taipei, Taiwan

Photo © Turner Construction
The Sears Tower or Willis Tower

The Sears Tower ("Willis Tower") in Chicago

Photo © Mary Ann Sullivan, Digital Imaging Project

Question: What Is the World's Tallest Building?


It depends on who does the measuring! Skyscraper buffs disagree on whether features like flagpoles, antennas, and spires should be included when measuring building height.

Also under dispute is the question of what, exactly, constitutes a building. Technically, observation towers and communications towers are considered structures, not buildings, because they are not habitable. They do not have residential or office space.

So, who are the contenders?

The Burj Dubai

Soaring 828 meters (2,717 feet) the Burj Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is now considered the world's tallest building. Keep in mind, however, that these statistics include the skyscraper's enormous spire.

Makkah Clock Royal Tower Hotel

The city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia jumped on the skyscraper bandwagon with the 2012 completion of the Fairmont Hotel in the Abraj Al Bait Complex. At 601 meter (1972 feet), this skyscraper is considered the second tallest building in the world. The 40 meter (130 feet) four-faced clock atop the tower announces daily prayers and can be seen 10 miles away from this holy city.

The Taipei 101 Tower

Measuring 509 meters (1,670 feet) tall, the Taipei 101 Tower in Taipei, Taiwan is widely considered the world's fourth tallest building. But, like the Burj Dubai, the Taipei 101 Tower gets much of its height from a huge spire.

One World Trade Center

For awhile it was thought that New York's One World Trade Center by David Childs ("Freedom Tower") would become the world's tallest building. But security concerns lead designers to scale down their plans. The skyscraper in Lower Manhattan will rise 541 meters (1,776 feet), but much of that height will be in its needle-like spire. The occupied height of One World Trade Center will be 386.6 meters (1,268 feet). Willis Tower in Chicago and the IFC in Hong Kong are taller when measured in occupied height. Yet, in 2013 the design architect argued that the 1WTC spire was a "permanent architectural feature," whose height should be included. The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) agreed and ruled that 1WTC will be the third tallest building in the world when it opens—if it opens before China's Sky City.

Petronas Twin Towers

At one time the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia were described as the tallest buildings in the world. In 2014 they are seventh tallest. Once again, the Petronas Towers get much of their height from spires and not from usable space.

Willis Tower

If you count only habitable space and measure from the sidewalk level of the main entrance to the structural top of building (excluding flagpoles and spires), then Chicago's Sears Tower ("Willis Tower"), built in 1974, still ranks among the tallest buildings in the world.

Tokyo Sky Tree

Now, supposing we included spires, flagpoles, and antennas when measuring building heights. In that case, it might not make sense to distinguish between buildings and towers when ranking building heights. If we rank all man-made structures, whether or not they contain habitable space, then we'd have to give high rankings to the Tokyo Sky Tree® in Japan, measuring 634 meters (2,080 feet). Next in running is China's Canton Tower, which measures 600 meters (1,968.5 ft). Finally, there's the famous CN Tower in Toronto, Canada. Measuring 553.33 meters (1,815 ft., 5 inches) tall, the CN Tower was the world's tallest tower for many years.

See the World's Tallest Buildings ranked >>

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How high can buildings go and how should we measure them? Tell us what you think!

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