Mankind seems to have had a desire to build tall structures since the earliest beginnings. “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower whose top will reach into heaven and let us make for ourselves a name” (Genesis 11:4) they said in the in the valley of Shinar in ancient Babel. At the time, rather than being fueled by high property prices, the construction of the tower was motivated by human pride. It is unknown what height the project reached before God intervened by confusing their language, but the height of any ancient structure, in any case pales compared to our modern buildings. The Giza Pyramid in Egypt, admittedley, reached a height of 147 m, but it offered very few living quarters and was based on a design definitely unsuitable to reach much further heights.
The construction of skyscrapers was only made possible by technological advances in building materials and the design of a steel structure. Further inventions like a steam powered lift by Elish Graves Otis in 1852 were also essential to make living in tall buildings viable. The modern era of tall buildings began in the late 19th century with the Home Insurance Building in Chicago (built 1884-85), which represented the first “tall” building according to a new steel-structure design. Although it reached only the modest height of 43 m it inaugurated an entire new era in construction. The first real skyscraper, on the other hand, is generally considered to be The Woolworth Building in New York from 1913. Contrary to the former, the beautiful 241 m tall structure can still be admired by visitors.
For long the competition for the tallest building in the world was contested between two cities: New York and Chicago. While New York dominated the skies with the Empire State Building from 1931 (and briefly the World Trade Center from 1971), Chicago gained the upper hand in 1974 with the completion of its Sears Tower (today Willow Tower). Then in 1997 the dominion past from the American to the Asian continent with the inauguration of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. From there only the sky seems to have marked the limit in an ever faster race for the tallest building, now contested between the Far East and the Arabian Peninsula. While the in auguration of the Burj Chalifa (Dubai) in 2009 seemed to have set an entire new standard with a breathtaking 828 m, a project for an even taller structure is already on the way: The Kingdom Tower.
The Kingdom Tower is supposed to become the tallest skyscraper in the world, breaching for the first time ever the 1000 m mark (the exact height is unknown). The landmark tower will raise near the port city of Jeddah, Saudia Arabia, overlooking the Red Sea. The supertall structure is already approved for construction, which is supposed to start in in December 2011. At an estimated overall cost of 1,3 billion USD the project is relatively efficient, compared to other constructions such as the Burj Chalifa. As with the latter, the Kingdom Tower is expected to further economic growth in the surrounding area, while hopefully becoming profitable itself. If everything goes according to plan, the construction would last about 5 years and inauguration take place in 2017. As the leader of the procjet is Saudi Arabian Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, chairman of the Kingdom Holding Company, the project will likely not been burdened by financial concerns. Once finished the building will be a spectacular landmark at the gateway into the Muslim Holy City of Makkah.
In the meantime China is already thinking of a 300 storey building with a height of over 1.200 m, to be built within 15 years time. Yet the project is at too early a stage, to tell whether it will ever go beyond the planning status in the current economic climate.
As of 2011, the primacy for the tallest building in the world seems to have, definitely, moved from America to Asia. Yet in a sense the former has not entirely lost its dominance: the main architect of the Kingdom Tower is a certain Adrian Smith whose company is based in … Chicago.
Below is a list of the tallest buildings in the world, including their respective location, height and year of inauguration – updated as of August, 2011 (height including antenna):
1. Burj Chalifa, Dubai (UAE) – 828 m (2009)
2. Willis (Sears) Tower, Chicago (USA) – 527 m (1974)
3. Taipei Financial Centre (Taipei 101), Taipei (Taiwan) – 508 m (2004)
4. Shanghai World Financial Centre, Shanghai (China) – 492 m (2008)
5. International Commerce Centre, Hongkong (China) – 484 m (2010)
6. John Hancock Center, Chicago (USA) – 457 m (1969)
7. Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) – 452 m (1999)
8. Empire State Building, New York (USA) – 443 m (1931)
9. Trump International Tower, Chicago (USA) – 423 m (2009)
10. Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai (China) – 421 m (1998)