new tallest building in north america?


sears freedom towerNot so fast…

With the erection of the spire atop One World Trade, the press is abuzz that there’s a new “tallest building in the United States/North America, Western Hemisphere.”  And the implication is that Chicago has, after nearly forty years, relinquished the title back to its rightful owner…

This, of course, is a never ending discussion, and the Council for Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats will make the “official” ruling later this month.  CTBUH has a number of agreed upon criteria by which they judge such things, including a very fine distinction between “architectural top,” which is not supposed to include extraneous antennas, “highest occupied floor,” and “height to tip,” which includes things like “spires” that are intrinsic to the building’s structure.

For comparison, I’ve drawn up a fairly crude diagram to the left, there, showing the key heights of One World Trade and Sears.  One World Trade’s claim rests entirely on whether you call its pointy thing an antenna or a spire–if it’s the latter, then sure, we have a new winner and North American champion.  But here’s the thing:  all of this week’s press coverage focused on the craning in to place of the 408-foot “spire,” in other words, an element that was simply bolted on to the building’s structure.  The CTBUH criteria oddly say that it doesn’t count as a “spire” if it consists of “functional-technical equipment,” and as the Times points out, One World Trade’s “spire” may actually be an “antenna” anyway because of its lack of architectural cladding.  (Interestingly, no matter what it is, the structure was designed in part by Kenneth Snelson, who’s widely credited with inspiring Bucky Fuller to take up tensegrity as a project…)

No matter how the CTBUH rules, from the profile I’d say this doesn’t pass the squint test.  If you look at the architectural structures, and not the pointy things stuck onto them, any Chicagoan would agree that Sears is still #1.  And yes, it’s still called Sears by most of us.

No doubt this will come up in the APTWGLC/CHSA skyscraper symposium on 22 June…