When the Empire State Building in New York City was completed in 1931 it was the tallest building in the World at a height of 1,250 feet, and it kept that unique distinction as the tallest building in the World for the next four decades, until the North Tower of the World Trade Center was completed in 1971 a short distance away. The Empire State is America’s favorite building according to the American Institute of Architects, it was ranked first place in their list of America’s favorite architecture in 2010, and it’s iconic history and status epitomizes the United States as the early home of the biggest skyscrapers.
But the biggest skyscrapers of the 21st century are being built a long way from America, the middle-East and Asia is where the new generation of tallest buildings are reaching for the sky, and the race to build the tallest skyscraper of all has never been so hotly contested. The Empire State building is now only the 34th tallest building in the World, but it’s unlikely that any building being built today will be the tallest of all for four decades so fast is the development of new incredible designs. I hope you’ve got a good head for heights as we take a look at the ten tallest buildings in the World today.
#10 – International Commerce Centre – Hong Kong – 1,588 Feet
The International Commerce Centre, or ICC as it’s known was completed in 2010 and is the tallest building in Hong Kong. The 108 storey building boasts the World’s highest swimming pool on it’s top floor and it was originally planned to be 1,883 feet tall, which would have earned it fourth place on our list, but the quirky building codes of Hong Kong do not allow buildings to be higher than the surrounding mountains, so the design was downscaled. Interestingly tetraphobia, or the fear of the number 4 is common in Hong Kong so the building contains no floor 4, or 14, or 24 and so on, so the building is considered an 118 storey building in it’s official description. The ICC Light and Music show, held annually, holds the Guinness World Record for the largest light and sound show on a single building and draws thousands of tourists to the ICC every year.
#9 – Shanghai World Financial Center – China – 1,614 Feet
China loves tall buildings, the country has more entries in our top ten list of the World’s tallest buildings than any other and it has several more super-tall buildings under construction at the moment. Currently China tops the list of buildings over 1,000 feet with 64, although by 2020 that number should rise to over 80. By comparison the United Arab Emirates in second place have only 26 and the United States in third place have only 19. The Shanghai World Financial Center was completed in 2008 and was celebrated for it’s unique design featuring a trapezoid aperture at the top, although if you’re anything like me you might prefer the term ‘big gap’. Above the aperture, or gap there are three observation decks offering stunning and vertigo inducing views of the impressive Shanghai skyline, but even up there you’re still overshadowed by the nearby Shanghai Tower, which we’ll come to at number two on our list.
#8 – Taipei 101 – Taiwan – 1,667 Feet
Taipei 101 in Taiwan was the tallest building in the World upon completion in 2004 and it remained the tallest for the next five years. It was the first building over half a kilo-meter in height but it is one of the most technologically advanced skyscrapers on our list. Architecturally it combines a traditional Taiwanese pagoda-style with high-tech environmentally friendly design and has been awarded the highest certification in Energy and Environmental design. Despite it’s incredible height the building is also one of the strongest ever built. During construction in 2002 a 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck Taiwan causing a crane to topple from the top of the building. Five people died in the incident but the building, supported by hundreds of steel piles driven over 250 feet into the bedrock suffered no structural damage at all. Taipei 101 can also withstand typhoon winds of up to 135 mph and it’s flexible steel design, along with advanced tremor damping features enable it to withstand extremely strong earthquakes in this seismically active region.
#7 – CTF Finance Center – China – 1,739 Feet
It’s back to China for one of the newest buildings on our list, the CTF Finance Center in the Southern Chinese city of Guangzhou. The building was only completed in October 2016 and although it’s the seventh tallest building in the World, it’s only the third tallest in China overall. The 111 storey skyscraper shares it’s 5.4 million square feet between offices, shopping malls, hotels and residential apartments and it boasts some of the fastest elevators ever made. They’re able to reach speeds of up of 45 miles an hour and can take guests up to the 93rd floor in just over 40 seconds. The façade of the building is a mix of glass and white glazed terracotta due to local building codes forbidding the use of reflective glass, but with it’s unusual surface the CTF Finance Center manages to shine in the often cloudy skies of Guangzhou and it’s been celebrated for it’s simple yet iconic appearance.
#6 – One World Trade Center – United States – 1,776 Feet
One World Trade Center is the official name of America’s tallest building, but it’s come to be known almost universally by it’s colloquial handle of Freedom Tower. Built on the Northwest corner of the original World Trade Center site it stands where 6 World Trade Center stood until the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001. Reaching 1,776 feet into the sky, a deliberate reference to the date of the signing of the declaration of Independence, One World Trade Center is not only an architectural masterpiece, but also a symbol of democracy, and one that stands as a challenge to terrorism. The 104 storey building is the tallest building in not only America, but also the tallest in the Western Hemisphere. It was completed in May 2013 and boasts an observation deck on the 100th floor that offers an incredible view of over 50 miles on a clear day, an attraction that brings up to four million sightseers there every year.
#5 – Lotte World Tower – South Korea – 1,819 Feet
The Lotte World Tower in South Korea was only officially opened in April 2017 after thirteen years of site preparation and planning, but some people didn’t want to wait for the official opening before they got a chance to view the sights of Seoul from 1,800 feet up in the air. Youtube free-climbers ‘On The Roofs’ took advantage of the lax security at Korea’s new highest building back in April 2016 to take an unauthorized trip to the top, not only of the building, but of the crane on top of it, and they filmed the whole dangerous escapade for their Youtube channel. The ‘On The Roofs’ free-climbers are Russians, not unsurprisingly, and these particular danger seekers, called brave by some, stupid by others, and just plain insane by me, detailed their undoubtedly hazardous journey to the top in glorious high definition, and the video is one that I watched with one eye half-open while squirming in my seat. I don’t like heights personally, but their illegal activities certainly show the incredible height of the Lotte World Tower in far too much detail. The Russian free-climbers won’t be repeating the experience however, they’re now permanently banned from both the building as well as the rest of South Korea.
#4 – Ping An Finance Center – China – 1,965 Feet
Here are the Chinese again with another modern skyscraper, but it’s still not the tallest building in the country. The Ping An Finance Center was completed in 2015 and originally there were plans to add a 200 foot antenna to make it the countries highest building, but due to the commonly cloudy conditions in it’s home city of Shenzhen it was decided that such a spire would be too much of a threat to aircraft. On those rare days when the skies are clear, visitors can enjoy views from the observation decks on the top two floors of the 115 storey building, but the view from this building too has been admired by those seeking a more exciting experience. Not only did those crazy Russians from On The Roofs take an unauthorized trip to the top in 2015, but a Malaysian photographer took some snaps from the top the same year. In 2016 it was climbed by a team of Dutch free-climbers who described it, if Google translate can be taken as 100% accurate, as ‘Crazy Mad Sight Shit’.
#3 – Abraj Al-Bait Clock Tower – Saudi Arabia – 1,972 Feet
It’s fair to say that Mecca, the capital of the oil-rich nation of Saudi Arabia is somewhere where you can always be sure what time it is, mainly due to the presence of the third tallest building in the World, the Abraj Al Bait Clock Tower. The Tower is the center-piece of a complex of seven skyscraper luxury hotels in the center of the city and it’s four clock faces each measure over 140 feet in diameter, making them the biggest clock faces in the World. At 1,740 feet above the ground they are also the most elevated clock faces on Earth and the entire tower is the most expensive building ever constructed, costing in excess of $15 billion. The clock faces are illuminated by two million LED lights at night and can be seen from over 15 miles away on a clear night, which in Saudi Arabia is basically every night.
#2 – Shanghai Tower – China – 2,073 Feet
So What is China’s biggest building? Well it’s a 128 storey skyscraper completed in 2014 after six years of construction. The twisting outer facade of the tower surrounds nine distinct areas inside and the architecture in the interior can all be clearly seen from the outside. Usually skyscrapers use reflective or opaque glass to reduce heat absorption inside but the Shanghai Tower boasts a double layer of clear glass which eliminates the need for this, and as a result the Tower has a unique high-tech style that is visually magnificent. The building also features the fastest elevator in the World, able to reach a speed of 46 MPH, and a single elevator that travels further upwards than the first six buildings on our list. The twisting outer design is not only aesthetically pleasing, it also reduces wind loads on the building and the Shanghai tower is environmentally friendly too, with a considerable amount of it’s power needs met by 200 vertical-axis wind turbines near the top of the building.
#1 – Burj Khalifa – United Arab Emirates – 2,717 Feet
The re-invention of Dubai as the hyper-luxurious playground of the mega rich has seen the birth of construction projects bigger in scope than anything humankind has ever attempted before, and of course the unique status of the tallest building in the World was far too important for them to leave out. The Burj Khalifa, completed in 2010 is so tall that it became the tallest building in the World back in 2008, a full two years before construction was finally completed. It’s so tall that photographers looking for an iconic picture are forced to choose between taking a shot of the whole structure from miles away, or merely settling for a section of it up close. This list contains only those buildings that are permanently occupied, so structures such as radio masts and spires have been excluded, but the Burj Khalifa is hundreds of feet taller than the tallest of them too. It has the most floors ever, at 211 and if you’re not afflicted with my fear of heights, there’s the highest outdoor observation deck at just over 1,800 feet to enjoy. It boasts the World’s highest nightclub, the World’s highest restaurant and it’s the tallest structure ever built. Overall the Burj Khalifa is the tallest building of them all, but probably not for too much longer.
Saudi Arabia is currently constructing the Jeddah Tower, which was originally due for completion in 2016. It’s eventual height is planned to reach over 3,300 feet, or just over the one kilometer mark, but even that lofty ambition is a reduction of the originally planned height of over one mile high, or an incredible 5,300 feet. Problems with soft bedrock scaled back those plans and constructions delays have caused the completion date to be pushed back to 2020 as of now, but for the future of skyscrapers, the sky really is the limit.