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…

2 thoughts on “new tallest building in north america?

  1. What did the APTWGLC/CHSA symposium say on the matter of One World Trade vs. Sears/Willis? I remember reading a comment on the CTBUH website implying that if the “spire” on One World Trade could be accessed by the public (enclosed, but occupied), that would tip the scale in its favor; if not, then the “tallest” claim would be invalidated? Hmm?
    Everyone on our CAF river cruises are interested in the controversy and we want to “get it right,” at least for the moment. Thanks!


    • Let’s say we agreed to disagree…! I think you can safely say that Sears still 1) has the tallest occupied floor, 2) has the tallest observation deck, and 3) is the tallest “building,” if you discount the spire. All in the US, of course. The spire on One World Trade has a maintenance lift, but it is from what I understand not going to be open to the public…Hope that helps!


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