History of the world's tallest buildings

The tallest building in the world, as of 2020, is Burj Khalifa. The title of "world's tallest building" has been borne by various buildings, such as the Rouen Cathedral and the Empire State Building.

The skyscraper was invented in Chicago in 1884 when the Home Insurance Building was constructed using a steel-frame with curtain walls instead of load-bearing walls. For the next hundred years, the world's tallest building was always in the United States with New York City accumulating 86 years, and Chicago accumulating 30 years. After just over a century (1885–1998), the distinction moved to the Eastern Hemisphere. Malaysia was the first country to break the United States' record of constructing the tallest buildings in the world when the Petronas Twin Towers were completed in 1998. Taiwan's Taipei 101 was the next building to hold the record, beginning in 2004.

Before the modern skyscraper era, many Christian churches and cathedrals, built mainly in England and Germanic territories between c. 1250–1894, comprised the tallest buildings in the world. Before the 13th century, the tallest buildings in the world cannot be conclusively determined. For instance, the Lighthouse of Alexandria (completed about 280 BC) has been estimated to be 100 m (330 ft) tall,[1] but its true height is not known. For thousands of years, the Great Pyramid in Egypt was the tallest structure in the world, but the Great Pyramid is not considered a building since it is not habitable. Similarly, the Eiffel Tower was the world tallest structure from 1889, when it was built, until 1930, when the Chrysler building was built. [2]

Definition of termsEdit

Meaning of "building"Edit

The earliest structures now known to be the tallest in the world were the Egyptian pyramids, with the Great Pyramid of Giza, at an original height of 146.5 metres (481 ft), being the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years, until the construction of Lincoln Cathedral in 1311. From then until the completion of the Washington Monument (capped in 1884) the world's tallest buildings were churches or cathedrals. Later, the Eiffel Tower and, still later, some radio masts and television towers were the world's tallest structures.

However, though all of these are structures, some are not buildings in the sense of being regularly inhabited or occupied. It is in this sense of being regularly inhabited or occupied that the term "building" is generally understood to mean when determining what is the world's tallest building. The non-profit international organization Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), which maintains a set of criteria for determining the height of tall buildings, defines a "building" as "(A) structure that is designed for residential, business or manufacturing purposes" and "has floors".[3]

Tall churches and cathedrals occupy a middle ground: their lower areas are regularly occupied, but much of their height is in bell towers and spires which are not. Whether a church or cathedral is a "building" or merely a "structure" for the purposes of determining the title of "world's tallest building" is a subjective matter of definition (this article treats churches and cathedrals as buildings).

Determination of heightEdit

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat based in Chicago uses three different criteria for determining the height of a tall building, each of which may give a different result. "Height of the highest floor" is one criterion, and "height to the top of any part of the building" is another, but the default criterion used by the CTBUH is "height of the architectural top of the building", which includes spires but not antennae, masts or flag poles.[3]

Tallest buildings (7th to 12th century)Edit

Hwangnyongsa, or Hwangnyong Temple (also spelled Hwangryongsa) is the name of a former Buddhist temple in the city of Gyeongju, South Korea. Completed in the 7th century, the enormous 9-storey structure was built entirely with wood with interlocking design with no iron nails. It had a standing total height of 68 m (223 ft) or 80 m (262 ft),[4] making it the tallest structure in East Asia and the tallest wooden structure in the world at the time of its construction.

The Brihadisvara Temple in Thanjavur, India was completed by 1010. It is a 16-storey tower measuring 66 metres (217 ft) in height.[5] It still stands to this day.

Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh, Morocco. The minaret, 77 metres (253 ft) in height, includes a spire and orbs. It was completed under the reign of the Berber Almohad Caliph Yaqub al-Mansur (1184 to 1199).

Tallest buildings (13th century–1908)Edit

Churches and cathedralsEdit

Tallest buildings diagram from 1850

From the 13th century until 1894, the world's tallest building was always a church or cathedral. Old St Paul's Cathedral with its spire was completed in the 13th century. The central spire of Lincoln Cathedral surpassed Old St Paul's in the early 14th century. The Lincoln Cathedral's spire collapsed in 1549, beginning a long interval where the status of world's tallest building was borne by shorter buildings. St. Mary's Church in Stralsund became the world's tallest building after the collapse of Lincoln Cathedral's spire. The 153 m (502 ft) central tower of St. Pierre's Cathedral in Beauvais was tallest from 1569 until it collapsed in 1573, making St. Mary's the tallest once again. In 1647, the bell tower of St. Mary's burned down, making the shorter Strasbourg Cathedral the world's tallest building.

It was not until the completion of the Ulm Minster in 1890 that the world's tallest building was again also the tallest building ever constructed, surpassing the original configuration of Lincoln Cathedral.

Years tallest Name Location Height Increase Notes
13th century–1300 Old St Paul's Cathedral* London 149 m (489 ft) 0%
1300–1549 Lincoln Cathedral Lincoln 159.7 m (524 ft) 7.2% Tallest ever building until 1890. Spire collapsed 1549.
1549–1569 St. Mary's Church Stralsund 151 m (495 ft) −5.4%
1569–1573 St. Pierre's Cathedral Beauvais 153 m (502 ft) 1.3% Tower collapsed 1573
1573–1647 St. Mary's Church Stralsund 151 m (495 ft) −1.3% Bell tower burned down in 1647
1647–1874 Strasbourg Cathedral Strasbourg 142 m (466 ft) −6% Not as tall as Great Pyramid of Giza
1874–1876 Church of St. Nicholas Hamburg 147 m (482 ft) 3.5%
1876–1880 Rouen Cathedral Rouen 151 m (495 ft) 2.7%
1880–1890 Cologne Cathedral Cologne 157.38 m (516.3 ft) 4.2% Tallest structure Washington Monument from 1884
1890–1894 Ulm Minster* Ulm 161.53 m (530.0 ft) 2.6% Tallest structure Eiffel Tower from 1889

The 159.7 m (524 ft) height of Lincoln Cathedral is disputed by some,[6] but accepted by most sources.[7][8][9][10][11][12] The completion date for the spire is given as 1311 rather than 1300 by some sources.[13] Also the 149 m (489 ft) height of the spire of Old St Paul's Cathedral, destroyed by lightning in 1561, is disputed, for example Christopher Wren (1632–1723) judged that an overestimate and gave a height of 140 m (460 ft).[14]

The spire of Mole Antonelliana in Turin, completed in 1889, is claimed to have been 167.5 m (550 ft) tall;[15] however, the upper part of the structure was destroyed by a 1953 tornado and rebuilt. If the original spire was as tall as is claimed, then the Mole Antonelliana was the world's tallest building from 1889 to 1908, surpassing Philadelphia City Hall by 0.5 m (2 ft).


The buildings that were the tallest secular skyscrapers, which excludes religious buildings, were:

Years tallest Name Location Height Increase
1797–1885 Ditherington Flax Mill Shrewsbury 16 m (52 ft) 0%
1885–1889 Home Insurance Building Chicago 42 m (138 ft) 162.5%
1889–1908 Mole Antonelliana Turin 167.5 m (550 ft) 300%

Tallest buildings (from 1908)Edit

Years tallest Name Location Height Increase
1908–1909 Singer Building New York City 186.57 m (612.1 ft) 11.7%
1909–1913 Metropolitan Life Tower 213.36 m (700.0 ft) 14.4%
1913–1930 Woolworth Building 241.4 m (792 ft) 13.1%
1930 Bank of Manhattan Trust Building 283 m (928 ft) 17.2%
1930–1931 Chrysler Building 318.8 m (1,046 ft) 12.65%
1931–1971 Empire State Building 381 m (1,250 ft) 19.5%
1971–1973 1 World Trade Center 417 m (1,368 ft) 9.45%
1973–1998 Sears Tower Chicago 442 m (1,450 ft) 6%
1998–2004 Petronas Towers Kuala Lumpur 451.9 m (1,483 ft) 2.24%
2004–2010 Taipei 101 Taipei 509.2 m (1,671 ft) 12.68%
2010–present Burj Khalifa Dubai 828 m (2,717 ft) 62.61%

The list of tallest buildings is based on the default metric of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), that of measuring to the highest architectural element. Other criteria would generate a different list. Shanghai World Financial Center is not on the above list, but it surpassed Taipei 101 in 2008 to become the building with the highest occupied floor. Using the criteria of highest tip (including antennae), the World Trade Center in New York City was the world's tallest building from 1972 to 2000, until the Sears Tower in Chicago (which already had a higher occupied floor than the World Trade Center) had its antenna extended to give that building the world's tallest tip; a title it held until the 2010 completion of Burj Khalifa. Petronas Towers and Taipei 101 were never the world's tallest buildings by the highest–tip criteria.

Since 2010, Burj Khalifa has been the tallest building by any criteria. It has the highest architectural element, tip and occupied floor, and is indeed the tallest structure of any kind ever built, surpassing the (now destroyed) 646.38 m (2,120.7 ft) Warsaw radio mast.

Since the completion of the Washington Monument in 1884, the world's tallest building has not usually also been the world's tallest structure. The exceptions are 1930–1954, when the Chrysler Building and then the Empire State building surpassed the Eiffel Tower (to be surpassed in turn by a succession of broadcast masts, starting with the Griffin Television Tower in Oklahoma), and from 2010 with the completion of Burj Khalifa.





In this chart, time progresses from right to left. Note the early buildings that lost the title as their spires collapsed.

Burj KhalifaTaipei 101Petronas TowersSears TowerWorld Trade CenterEmpire State BuildingChrysler BuildingBank of Manhattan Trust BuildingWoolworth BuildingMetropolitan Life TowerSinger BuildingPhiladelphia City HallUlm MinsterCologne CathedralRouen CathedralSt. Nicholas' Church, HamburgStrasbourg CathedralSt. Mary's Church, StralsundSt. Olaf's Church, TallinnLincoln CathedralGreat PyramidUnited Arab EmiratesRepublic of ChinaMalaysiaChicagoNew YorkPhiladelphiaFranceGermanyFranceStralsundDenmarkEnglandEgypt 

History of increment in height of skyscrapersEdit

After the construction of the Home Insurance Building in Chicago in the 19th century, the incrementation in the height of skyscrapers began with the construction of the Chrysler Building, followed by the Empire State Building, in New York City. The Chrysler Building was the first building in the world to break the 300 m (984 ft) barrier, and the Empire State Building was the first building to have more than 100 floors. It stands at 381 m (1,250 ft) and has 102 floors. The next tallest skyscraper was the World Trade Center, which was completed in 1971. The north tower was 417 m (1,368 ft) and the south 415 m (1,362 ft) tall. It surpassed the height of the Empire State Building by 36 m (118 ft). Two years later the Sears Tower was built in Chicago, standing at 442 m (1,450 ft) with 110 floors, surpassing the height of the World Trade Center by 25 m (82 ft). The Petronas Towers rose 10 meters above the Sears Tower, standing at a height of 452 m (1,483 ft) and each having 88 floors.

In 2004, the construction of Taipei 101 brought the height of skyscrapers to a new level, standing at 509 m (1,670 ft) with 101 floors. It is 59 m (194 ft) taller than the previous record holders, the Petronas Towers. Burj Khalifa surpassed the height of Taipei 101 by 319 m (1,047 ft) in 2009, making it 60% taller.[16] It has broken several skyscraper records, and it is almost twice as tall as the Empire State Building. Burj Khalifa has also broken the record of the world's tallest structure.

  • NOTE: The CTBUH defines a building as a supertall if it is 300 m (984 ft) or taller.[17]

History of supertall skyscrapers by locationEdit

Since the early skyscraper boom that took place in North America, the significant number of skyscrapers in North America have dominated the 100 tallest buildings in the world. In 1930, 99 of the 100 tallest buildings in the world were located in North America. In the future, this percentage is expected to decline to only 22 percent.[16] The predominance of skyscrapers in North America is decreasing due to skyscraper construction in other parts of the world, especially in Asia.

In Asia, there has been an increase in the number of supertall skyscrapers beginning with the construction of Petronas Twin Towers. There are currently sixty buildings in the world's 100 tallest that are located in Asia (including the Middle East).

Increment in usage of skyscrapersEdit

Since the skyscraper era began, the great majority of skyscrapers were used predominantly as office space. From 1930 to 2000, the percentage of office towers never fell below 86 percent, but in the future it is expected to be as low as 46 percent.[16] By 2010, less than half of the 100 tallest buildings in the world were office towers with the majority utilized as residential and mixed use.[16] Only four of the ten tallest buildings in the world, and twenty eight of the fifty tallest in the world, were used primarily as offices.[18]

A mixed-use tall building contains two or more functions (uses), where each of the functions occupies a significant proportion of the tower's total space.[A] Support areas such as car parks and mechanical plant space do not contribute towards mixed-use status.[17]

Skyscrapers used primarily or exclusively as hotels or residential space are generally shorter than office and mixed-use buildings, with only a few supertall buildings of the residential or hotel types among the 100 tallest skyscrapers. The tallest completed residential building (minimum 85% residential) is 432 Park Avenue in New York City, followed by the Princess Tower and 23 Marina, both in Dubai.[19] The tallest completed hotels (primarily hotel space) are the Gevora Hotel, the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai twin towers, the Rose Tower, and the Burj Al Arab, all located in Dubai.[20]

See alsoEdit


A. ^ This significant proportion can be judged as 15% or greater of either the total floor area, or the total building height in terms of number of floors occupied for the function. However, care should be taken in the case of supertall buildings. For example, a 20-story hotel function as part of a 150-story tower does not comply with the 15% rule, though this would clearly constitute mixed use.


  1. ^ Clayton, Peter A. (2013). "Chapter 7: The Pharos at Alexandria". In Peter A. Clayton; Martin J. Price (eds.). The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. London: Routledge. p. 147. ISBN 9781135629281.
  2. ^ "Paris facts". Paris Digest. 2019. Retrieved 4 September 2019.
  3. ^ a b Marshall Gerometta. "Height: The History of Measuring Tall Buildings". Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. Archived from the original on 29 January 2018. Retrieved 29 March 2011.
  4. ^ Lee, Soyoung; Leidy, Denise Patry (2013). Silla : Korea's golden kingdom. Lee, Soyoung, 1971-, Leidy, Denise Patry,, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.),, Samsŏng Chŏnja,, National Endowment for the Arts,, Han'guk Kukche Kyoryu Chaedan. New York. p. 22. ISBN 9781588395023. OCLC 862096677.
  5. ^ "Brihadeeswara Temple in Thanjavur – An Architectural Marvel of Ancient India". My India. 24 April 2013. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  6. ^ A.F.K. "The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Cathedral Church of LINCOLN, by A.F. KENDRICK, B.A". Gwydir.demon.co.uk. Archived from the original on 4 February 2012. Retrieved 28 November 2009.
  7. ^ Haughton, Brian(2007),Hidden History: Lost Civilizations, Secret Knowledge, and Ancient Mysteries,p.167
  8. ^ Michael Woods, Mary B. Woods(2009), Seven Wonders of the Ancient World,p.41
  9. ^ "Lincoln Cathedral".
  10. ^ Darwin Porter, Danforth Prince(2010), Frommer's England 2010,p.588
  11. ^ Mary Jane Taber(1905), The cathedrals of England: an account of some of their distinguishing characteristics,p.100
  12. ^ A Brief History of the World's Tallest Buildings Time magazine
  13. ^ "Cathedrals and the birth of freedom - Institute of Public Affairs Australia". Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 6 May 2011.
  14. ^ Benham, William (1902). Old St. Paul's Cathedral. London: Seeley & Co at Project Gutenberg
  15. ^ "Mole Antonelliana". Museo Nazionale del Cinema (Italian National Film Museum) website. Maria Adriana Prolo Foundation. Retrieved 18 March 2014. Construction was completed in 1889... At the time of its completion, at 167.5 meters in height, it was the tallest masonry building in all of Europe.
  16. ^ a b c d "The History of Measuring Tall Buildings". Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. 2008. Archived from the original on 11 June 2011. Retrieved 16 February 2010. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  17. ^ a b Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, CTBUH Criteria for Defining and Measuring Tall Buildings. 2009
  18. ^ "Tallest single-function office buildings in the world (as of December 2009)". ctbuh.org. Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. December 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 February 2010.
  19. ^ "Search results - tallest completed residential buildings (as of 2018)". skyscrapercenter.com. Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. Retrieved 19 November 2018.
  20. ^ "Search results - tallest completed hotels (as of 2018)". skyscrapercenter.com. Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. Retrieved 19 November 2018.

External linksEdit