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The history of the tallest buildings in the world

History of the World's Tallest Buildings

Tall structures have always fascinated mankind. There were buildings stretching well over 100 meters into the sky even before industrialization. But how has the history of the tallest buildings in the world developed? Which structures have played a role in this history? The essential details can be found here.
There are a few very early examples of architecture reaching far up into the sky. The Pyramid of Khufu for instance, from the 4th Dynasty (2620 to 2500 B.C.), at 139 meters the world's tallest pyramid, or the Pharos of Alexandria, which according to its legend was, at around 140 meters' height, the tallest lighthouse ever built up until the 20th century. And not to forget the Tower of Babel, which according to the Old Testament reached all the way up to Heaven. Since the 19th century, however, it has not just been sacred buildings that have been touching the clouds. Increasing numbers of high-rises with apartments, offices and hotel rooms have been built.
Skyscraper construction received its first significant impulse with the invention of the elevator by Elisha Grave Otis in 1852. While it would, from a technical point of view, already have been possible to build tall structures with more than six stories, one would have been unable to find many tenants for them. The invention of steel frame construction was the next important step on the road toward skyscraper architecture. The first building constructed in this way was the Home Insurance Building in Chicago, built in 1885. At a height of 55 meters and ten floors it was the world's first high-rise – and revolutionary for the development of skyscraper construction.

1901 - 1908

Philadelphia City Hall

Philadelphia City Hall From 1901 onward, Philadelphia City Hall in the American city of Philadelphia, already substantially taller at 167 meters, reached for the skies. In fact, the architecture of this skyscraper with a bell tower was not based on the recently-invented steel frame construction: to this day it is considered the tallest masonry structure in the world.

1908 - 1909

Singer Building

For seven years, Philadelphia City Hall was the world's tallest building until it was superseded in 1908 by the Singer Building in New York City, which was 20 meters taller. This particular skyscraper was only able to stay in pole position a short time, however. 1913, only four years later, saw the opening of the 213-meter-tall Metropolitan Life Tower, also located in New York City.

1909 - 1913

Metropolitan Life Tower

Metropolitan Life Tower The skyscrapers that followed the Met Life Tower were also located in New York City. After just four years, the Woolworth Building, built in the borough of Manhattan and 241 meters tall, forced the Met Life Tower from the top spot.

1913 - 1930

Woolworth Building

Woolworth Building Construction of the Woolworth Building was only possible thanks to the development of reinforced foundations, technology intended to prevent the skyscraper from leaning too heavily and toppling over in the case of earth movements. Until 1930, the Woolworth Building was the world's tallest skyscraper.

1930 - 1930

The Trump Building

The Trump Building The history of the skyscraper was increasingly concentrated in the decades that followed in the one city – New York City. 1930 saw the completion there, after less than a year's construction, of The Trump Building. At a height of 283 meters, it was briefly the world's tallest building.

1930 - 1931

Chrysler Building

Chrysler Building The Trump Building unfortunately had to cede its title after just a few weeks to the Chrysler Building, which, at 319 meters, exceeded it by far. The man who had it built, Walter Chrysler, was inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris – at that time the world's tallest structure – to want to build the world's tallest skyscraper in the Chrysler Building in New York City. To win the race, Chrysler and his architect William van Alen came up with a sophisticated trick: Van Alen had an additional 56-meter-long spire built, which was then delivered secretly in pieces, put together in the elevator shaft and finally placed on the top of the building after its completion in just 90 minutes.

1931 - 1972

Empire State Building

Empire State Building Around a year after it opened, the Chrysler Building was superseded by the 381-meter-tall Empire State Building. Built in a record time of 18 months, the tower was viewed as the "Eighth Wonder of the World". The weight of its presence in the media and its use as a setting for films such as "King Kong" or "Independence Day" have helped to make the Empire State Building one of the best-known skyscrapers from anywhere around the world. For 41 years it was the world's tallest building – longer than any other of the record-holders.

1972 - 1974

One World Trade Center

One World Trade Center Only in 1972 was this emblem of New York overtaken by an even-taller skyscraper in the shape of One World Trade Center, which – like so many of its predecessors as record-holder – was built in New York City. Following a construction period of seven years, the skyscraper and its 415-meter-tall twin tower became the two tallest buildings in the world. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, however, led to the World Trade Center being completely destroyed.

1974 - 1998

Willis Tower

Willis Tower In 1974, two years on from the completion of the World Trade Center, the towers were overtaken by Sears Tower in Chicago. For over twenty years, the skyscraper was the world's tallest. In 2009, Sears Tower was renamed Willis Tower after the Willis Group Holding acquired the naming rights to the skyscraper and rented a substantial portion of the office space.

1998 - 2004

Petronas Towers

Petronas Towers In 1998, with construction of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the title of the world's tallest building passed for the first time to a skyscraper outside America. A significant feature of the twin towers is the skybridge between the towers, which is intended to serve as an escape route in the case of emergency. The completion of the Petronas Towers finally made it necessary to set up rules for measuring skyscraper heights, as the towers were only awarded the title following a legal battle. The owner of Willis Tower in Chicago brought the action, since inclusion of the antenna would have meant Willis Tower would have exceeded the architectural height of the Petronas Towers. Since the judgment in favor of the Petronas Towers, television antennas are no longer recognized as an architectural component of buildings.

2004 - 2007

Taipei 101

Taipei 101 Until completion of Taipei 101 in Taiwan, the towers were considered the tallest skyscrapers in the world on account of the structural height of 452 meters. Taipei 101 took on this title in 2004 and thus became the first title-holder of the 21st century. The skyscraper claimed several records at once: the greatest architectural height, the greatest roof height and the highest occupied floor.

2007 - present

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa Even before Taipei 101 was completed, construction work had already begun on the next "supertall", Burj Dubai, today known under the name Burj Khalifa. In order to complete the tower, 2,400 workers were employed, working a three-shift system. On average it only took four days to add a new floor. The tower topped out at 828 meters in December 2008, but the structure had already passed the height of Taipei 101 in July 2007, making Burj Khalifa the world's tallest building – which it remains to this day. It was completed in 2010.

(As of: January 2014)
Here you see an overview of the tallest building in the world since the start of the 20th century. TV towers, masts, and other building types are not included.
Time Name City Floors Height
2007 - present
Burj Khalifa Dubai 163 2,717 ft
2004 - 2007
Taipei 101 Taipei 101 1,671 ft
1998 - 2004
Petronas Towers Kuala Lumpur 88 1,483 ft
1974 - 1998
Willis Tower Chicago 108 1,451 ft
1972 - 1974
One World Trade Center New York City 110 1,368 ft
1931 - 1972
Empire State Building New York City 102 1,250 ft
1930 - 1931
Chrysler Building New York City 77 1,046 ft
1930 - 1930
The Trump Building New York City 70 927 ft
1913 - 1930
Woolworth Building New York City 57 792 ft
1909 - 1913
Metropolitan Life Tower New York City 50 700 ft
1908 - 1909
Singer Building New York City 47 612 ft
1901 - 1908
Philadelphia City Hall Philadelphia 9 548 ft
existing
under construction
planned
unbuilt
demolished