What Is the Tallest Building in the World?

By: HowStuffWorks.com Contributors

One of the most competitive contests in construction, the "world's tallest" title passes regularly from skyscraper to skyscraper. Architects and engineers heartily embrace the challenges of building higher, and corporations and cities are always attracted to the glory of towering over the competition. So, which building is the highest?

There is some debate over which building holds the record. Not everybody agrees on which structures should be considered. Traditionally, the architectural community defines a building as an enclosed structure built primarily for occupancy. This excludes a lot of extremely tall freestanding structures, such as Toronto's 1,815-foot (553-m) CN Tower, from the running.


Even within "traditional buildings" there is some controversy. Conventionally, decorative structures count toward height, but antennas do not, giving the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, built in 1997, at 1,483 feet (452 m) each, the official lead. However, if rooftop antennas were included in the total height measure, the Sears Tower in Chicago would take first prize at 1,730 feet (527 m). Many Chicagoans also point out that their Sears Tower has the highest occupied floor, at 1,431 feet (436 m), and the highest traditional roof at 1,454 feet (443 m).

By all accounts, the skyscraper race is far from over. There are more than 50 proposed buildings that would break the current record. Some of the more conservative structures are already in construction. The more ambitious buildings in the group are only theoretical at this time. Are they possible? According to some engineering experts, the real limitation is money, not technology. Super-tall buildings require extremely sturdy materials and deep, fortified bases. Construction crews need elaborate cranes and pumping systems to get materials and concrete up to the top levels. All told, putting one of these buildings up could easily cost tens of billions of dollars.

Experts are divided about how high we can really go in the near future. Some say we could build a mile-high (5,280 ft / 1,609 m) building with existing technology, while others say we would need to develop lighter, stronger materials, faster elevators and advanced sway dampers before these buildings were feasible. Speaking only hypothetically, most engineers won't impose an upper limit. Future technology advances could conceivably lead to building that are sky-high cities, many experts say, housing a million people or more.

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