Culture and Recreation


What is the world’s tallest building?

The honor belongs, at least for a time, to Taipei 101 (also known as Taipei Financial Center), in Taiwan. The soaring spire, which rises to a height of 1,670 feet and includes 101 stories, was completed in 2004, besting Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s twin Petronas Towers (completed in 1998), which measure 1,483 feet and 88 stories; for six years, the Petronas laid claim to the title of world’s tallest building. The next tallest is the Sears Tower (completed in 1974), which rises 1,450 feet and 110 stories above Chicago’s sidewalks; for a time, it, too, was the world’s tallest.

The skyscraper is a decidedly American contribution to world architecture. When Chicago rebuilt following the Great Fire of October 1871, a new brand of architecture emerged, which focused on commercial buildings. Architects of the so-called Chicago school used new building materials and the innovative elevator (first patented by Elisha Otis in 1861) to construct vertical office buildings, making the most of city real estate. Though many designers worked on the form, engineer/architect William Jenney (1832–1907) is called the “father of the skyscraper.” His Home Insurance Building, completed in 1885 (it was demolished in 1931), rose to 10 stories and used mass-produced steel beams, cast iron, and wrought iron with masonry walls. Soon Chicago’s and New York’s skylines were punctuated by rising towers. By the end of the nineteenth century, the race for tallest was on: New York’s Park Row Building (which still stands today in lower Manhattan) was completed in 1899 and rises to a height of 386 feet and 30 stories.

The twentieth century saw the skyscraper reach ever upward. For a short time, the title of world’s tallest building was held by Manhattan’s celebrated Chrysler Building (completed in 1930), considered the height of Art Deco design. The Chrysler’s 1,046 feet and 77 stories of glory were soon bettered by the Empire State Building (completed in 1931), which boasts a total height of 1,224 feet and 102 stories. That New York City landmark held onto its position for four decades, becoming second-tallest with the 1973 completion of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, which soared to 1,368 and 1,362 feet, and 110 stories each, before they fell in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Despite the fear that skyscrapers, bold symbols of capitalism, could become targets for other terrorist strikes, architects and developers continued to reach skyward, assuring that Taipei 101 would be surpassed.


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