As technology continues to grow by leaps and bounds each year, so does our human urge to reach the sky. When the Empire State Building was finished in 1931, it stood as the tallest building in the world for over 40 years. The Sears Tower in Chicago took up its reign for the next 25 years, but as you’ll see from the list below, the fight for the tallest title has grown and all of the current top ten buildings have been built in the last 20 years. Even though the list is bound to change, let’s take the time to appreciate the works of art that have managed to defy gravity and a nasty fear of heights.
A disclaimer: All of the buildings on this list have been completed. There are several buildings under construction that could land on this list, so much so that by the time I submit this article it may already be outdated, but I can’t include them on this list until they have been stamped with “DONE.” Structures are measured to the top of their spires, not including antennas, and I have omitted towers and memorials. All of these structures are able to be inhabited.
10. Zifeng Tower — Nanjing, China — 1, 476 ft. — Completed: 2010
The Zifeng Tower, or Greenland Square Zifeng Tower, is one of the older buildings on our list, even though it was completed only four years ago. It sits in downtown Nanjing, only about two and a half hours away from Shanghai. Currently, Zifeng Tower functions as an office and hotel, complete with restaurants and retail shops, and even a public observatory.
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9. Petronas Tower 1/Petronas Tower 2 — Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — 1,483 ft. — Completed: 1998
On the second item and already a wrench has been thrown into the mix! Technically, 8th and 9th place belong to the twin Petronas Towers. (We’ll let you decide which one is designated as 8th and 9th accordingly.) For six years, the Petronas Towers held the title of the Tallest, taking the title from the Sears Tower in 1998. Built as a testament to Kuala Lumpur’s surge into the 21st century, the Petronas Towers were constructed using mostly reinforced concrete, instead of the usual (and more expensive) steel. Because of this, the Petronas Towers are heavier, but the concrete grants the building sway reduction. Throughout the design are several Islamic motifs, meant to connect the structures to Malaysia’s Muslim religion.
© Terri Meyer Boake
8. International Commerce Centre — Hong Kong, Hong Kong — 1,588 ft. — Completed: 2010
Had the architects been able to stick to the original plans, the International Commerce Centre would actually sit at 1,883 feet, putting it at 4th on our list. However, due to regulations that buildings in Hong Kong could not be taller than the surrounding mountains (I repeat, taller than mountains), the construction had to be scaled back. If judging solely on floors, the ICC is the world’s third tallest, but because the building doesn’t have a spire like most of the buildings in the top ten, it comes in a bit shorter.
© Leslie E. Roberston Associates / CTBUH
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7. Shanghai World Financial Center — Shanghai, China — 1,614 ft. — Completed: 2008
The Shanghai World Financial Center was designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox, the architect firm that was also responsible for the International Commerce Centre in Hong Kong. The most interesting feature of the SWFC is its trapezoidal peak, with some even likening it to a bottle opener. However, it does allow for a truly unique design which includes three separate observation decks.
© Taipei Financial Center Corporation / CTBUH
6. Taipei 101 — Taipei, Taiwan — 1,670 ft. — Completed: 2004
Taipei 101 held the Tallest title for six years, snatching it from the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. Even though it has since lost that title, Taipei 101 is still considered the largest green building in the world, being awarded LEED Platinum certification in 2011. It is the only LEED-certified building on our list. The 101 floors were chosen intentionally, as a sign of the constant renewal of time. 100 is considered a perfect number, so by going one better, Taipei 101 sets a higher standard for all buildings and its home country.
© John W. Cahill/CTBUH
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5. Chow Tai Fook Centre (Guangzhou East Tower) — Guangzhou, China — 1,740 ft. — Expected completion date: 2016
The Guangzhou East Tower is one of the newest skyscrapers that are being constructed in… you guessed it, Guangzhou. It will be overlooking the Pearl River and is the second half of the Guangzhou Twin Towers (the first twin was completed earlier). Expected to be completed in 2016, the final height of this mega building is 1,740 ft! That’s a whopping 111 floors!
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4. One World Trade Center — New York City, USA — 1,776 ft. — Completed: 2013
The One World Trade Center is the only western structure on our list, and is the second newest. Also known as the Freedom Tower, the One World Trade Center sits on the site of the original 6 World Trade Center, and is meant to memorialize the attacks of September 11, 2001. The spire tops the building at 1,776 feet, another symbolic gesture, referencing the year the United States signed the Declaration of Independence.
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3. Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel — Mecca, Saudi Arabia — 1,971 ft. — Completed: 2012
Also known as Abraj Al-Bait, the Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel holds several records, including being the world’s largest clock tower. It was built to modernize the city for the pilgrims who come to visit the Masjid al-Haram and Kaaba every year. The Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel complex is so large that it can house over 100,000 people at once.
© Gensler / CTBUH
Photo Credit: Basheer Olakara
2. Shanghai Tower — Shanghai, China — 2,073 ft. — Completed: 2014
The Shanghai Tower is part of three skyscrapers that are meant to showcase the Lujiazui Financial district in Shanghai. The other two buildings are the Jin Mao Tower and Shanghai World Financial Center. (It seems Shanghai is monopolizing all the tall buildings.) Shanghai Tower is one of the world’s most sustainable structures, using several green architecture constructs that allowed them to build with 25% less steel than most skyscrapers of a similar size.
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1. Burj Khalifa — Dubai, UAE — 2,717 ft. — Completed: 2010
And here we are at the end! Towering almost 700 feet taller than its competition, the Burj Kalifa is part of Dubai’s downtown renovation project, intended to bring a more modern look to the city. Like many of its predecessors on this list, the Burj Kalifa uses Islamic architecture (such as the spiral minaret) as a base for its sleek design. Being the tallest in the world, the Burj Khalifa is a go-to site for many experienced BASE jumpers. The building is so large that it takes 36 workers three to four months to clean the entire facade (not including the top 27 floors, which are cleaned by machine).
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