Rising upward more than a century now, skyscrapers have emerged to become the symbol of urban style and might. And what started in the late 1800s continues dynamically into the 21st century as we build higher and higher.
Why do we do it? Professor Valery Augustin of the USC School of Architecture and principal at DNA Architecture + Design says it could come down to one word: “Ego.”
“Skyscrapers are aspirational,” Augustin told CNN. “Humans have always been fascinated by height. Whether it be Icarus or the Wright Brothers, we have always sought to escape the bonds of the gravity. Skyscrapers let us fly if only briefly.”
And then there are the less lofty reasons for going taller – such as maximizing land value and ever-improving technology and engineering capabilities, Augustin said.
But have we reached the limits of how high we can build? Augustin doesn’t think so.
“Engineers and architects are only now beginning to experiment with superlight, superstrong materials composites, graphene come to mind) that may allow us to keep pushing the envelope.”
While we wait for the next record-breaker to come along, these are the 10 tallest completed buildings in the world by height of their architectural tops, which includes spires but not structures such as antennae or flagpoles:
10. Taipei 101
Height: 508 meters (1,667 feet) | Floors: 101
Public observatory? Yes | Completed: 2004
Still the tallest building in Taiwan, it held the “tallest” title for the world from 2004 until 2010. While nine other skyscrapers since then have surpassed it, Taipei 101 remains a stunning spectacle.
“This building is notable because it essentially stands alone as there are no towers of similar size nearby,” Augustin said.
Evoking the image of a Chinese pagoda, it’s built to withstand the strong earthquakes and typhoons that can hit the island.
9. CITIC Tower
Height: 527.7 meters (1,731 feet) | Floors: 109
Public observatory? Yes | Completed: 2018
Also called China Zun, the No. 9 skyscraper has a memorable form with the top and bottom of the structure wider than the middle floors. The shape is patterned after an ancient Chinese ritual vessel (the “zun”).
It’s the tallest building in Beijing. Dedicated to office use, it has 101 elevators.
Augustin said it was “one of the more elegant towers” of the top 10 list. “The tapered middle section evokes the appearance of a slender vase rising into the sky.”
8. Tianjin CTF Finance Centre
Height: 530 meters (1,739 feet) | Floors: 96
Public observatory? No | Completed: 2019
Tianjin CTF Financial Centre outreaches its nearby capital city rival by a relatively small measure – just a couple of meters.
The facade of the mixed-use building (office, hotel and serviced apartments) has gently undulating curves that help minimize wind force on the structure.
Asia, and most particularly China, dominates this list, with cities and buildings many in the West may know little or nothing about.
“I would offer that skyscrapers are a symbol of economic power. And as such, they represent Asia’s ascendancy as a dominant force in the world economy,” Augustin said.
7. Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre
Height: 530 meters (1,739 feet) | Floors: 112
Public observatory? No | Completed: 2016
Yet another entry from dominant China, the Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre is in the bustling southern port city of Guangzhou.
Overlooking the Pearl River, the building’s distinctive features include four setbacks, which allow for green sky terraces and skylights. And for now, it claims the title of having the world’s fastest elevator.
Interestingly, the architectural height of the building matches its counterpart in Tianjin. But Guangzhou CTF has a higher occupied height at 495.5 meters while the CTF building in Tianjin has an occupied height of 439.4 meters.
6. One World Trade Center
Location: New York City
Height: 541.3 meters (1,776 feet) | Floors: 104
Public observatory? Yes | Completed: 2014
Once the skyscraper capital of the world, New York has the lone Western Hemisphere entry on the current top 10 list.
One World Trade Center replaced the Twin Towers destroyed in the 9/11 attacks, and the footprint of its cubic base is the same of the original two towers.
For Americans, it’s a soaring symbol of resilience and has sleeker design than its boxy predecessors. And its height – 1,776 feet for the year the Declaration of Independence was signed – is no coincidence.
5. Lotte World Tower
Height: 555 meters (1,821 feet) | Floors: 123
Public observatory? Yes | Completed: 2017
China doesn’t have a total lock on skyscraper superlatives in Asia, with South Korea’s Lotte World Tower coming in at No. 5.
Skyscrapercenter.com notes that Lotte’s design takes “inspiration from traditional Korean art forms.”
Industrious Seoul has put the skyscraper to good use with retail, luxury hotel, apartment and office space. It even has a concert hall and rooftop cafe.
It’s also served as the launching pad for a dramatic fireworks show.
4. Ping An Finance Center
Height: 599.1 meters (1,965 feet) | Floors: 115
Public observatory? Yes | Completed: 2017
Shenzhen, another economic powerhouse city in southern China near Hong Kong, makes its mark with the Ping An Finance Center.
It’s a very slender building (its width-to-height aspect ratio is 1:10) with a facade of stainless steel and glass, according to TheTowerInfo.com.
This is “one of the better of the bunch,” Augustin said. “The exterior provides notable structural expression as it rises from base to top.”
3. Makkah Royal Clock Tower
Height: 601 meters (1,972 feet) | Floors: 120
Public observatory? Yes | Completed: 2012
The Makkah Royal Clock Tower is the most distinctive structure in the Top 10, and it’s the first of two buildings from the Middle East in the round-up.
Built in the busy center of Mecca next to the Grand Mosque, the tower offers a place for devout Muslims that make the Hajj journey.
“True to its name, four colossal clock faces are mounted near the top of the tower. These clocks hold the record for both the largest and highest in the world,” according to Skyscrapercenter.com.
2. Shanghai Tower
Height: 632 meters (2,073 feet) | Floors: 126
Public observatory? Yes | Completed: 2015
While China dominates the list, no city in China itself has a monopoly. And it should probably come as no surprise that prosperous Shanghai has the tallest building in China and second tallest in the world.
The building is visually arresting with its twisting, spiral shape headed into the sky. And that look isn’t just for show – it helps the building better withstand winds than a traditional rectangular structure.
Shanghai Tower is host to retail shops, restaurants, offices and hotels.
“Architecturally, this one is the best of the bunch,” Augustin said. “Elegant and inventive.”
1. Burj Khalifa
Height: 828 meters (2,716 feet) | Floors: 163
Public observatory? Yes | Completed: 2010
Like Dubai itself, the Burj Khalifa is setting the pace in the early part of the 21st century.
Blending Islamic influences with modern, energy-saving features, Burj Khalifa “redefined what is possible in the design and engineering of supertall buildings,” according to Skyscraper.com. It also connects to Dubai’s mass transit system, making it both beautiful and practical.
Augustin called it “exhilarating yet frightening at the same time. Not significant architecturally but perhaps notable as a testament to the will and ingenuity of humankind.”
Towers to come
The top 10 skyscrapers might not be able to hold onto their statuses as tallest for too long.
New projects are already underway, including Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia, which aims for a height of 1,000 meters. Completed as planned, it would immediately claim the No. 1 spot.
And Goldin Finance 117 (another Tianjin, China, effort) is scheduled to be finished in 2020. At 596.6 meters, it would claim the No. 5 spot and knock Taipei 101 off the list.
The rankings for this story are from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat and can be found on Skyscrapercenter.com.