Who’s the tallest?
When New York City’s World Trade Center (412-meters) fell on September 11, 2001 it robbed America of some of the tallest edifices in the world. America still has the Empire State Building (381-meters) in New York and Chicago’s 442-meter Sears Tower, but all the tallest buildings in the world are now elsewhere - places like the Middle East and the Far East. In today’s urban world there is a certain national pride riding on and associated with the height of one’s urban architecture, so the heights being reached by engineers and architects today have a little to do with politics, ideology and social mythology as well as with business and communication.
The World Trade Center is set to be replaced by the so-called Freedom Tower, at 541-meters projected to be a sufficiently tall and proud target - pardon me, I mean monument. But it is not erected yet. The centerpiece of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s skyline, the 452-meter Petronas Tower, was the tallest in the world when it was finished in 1998. The current title-holder for world’s tallest building is the 509-meter Taipei 101 in Taipei, Taiwan. But that will change if proposed future constructions go ahead.
In late-July I read of a proposed new 610-meter project for the Chicago waterfront called the Fordham Spire, a 444-meter building topped with a 166–meter spire. But that might be eclipsed by the possibly 700-meter tall Burj Dubai tower proposed in the United Arab Emirates. In Japan, the 333-meter tall Tokyo Tower is now 47-years-old and already out-of-date as a communications facility. Proposals for a 700-meter New Tokyo Tower elsewhere in the metropolis have been floated, but there are difficulties - funding, property zoning, urban bylaws, real estate prices, complaints from local residents, etc.
As a Canadian I am always irked when I hear news of new buildings hailed as the world’s newest tallest tower title-holder, because the plain fact of the matter is that the tallest man-made structure ever erected is the 553-meter tall CN Tower in Toronto, Canada, finished in 1975. True, proposals for a New Tokyo Tower, for the Fordham Spire, and for the Burj Dubai exceed and even dwarf the CN Tower. But they aren’t built yet. Furthermore, Chicago’s Sears Tower, Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Tower, and Taipei’s Taipei 101 are not, technically speaking, towers. They are buildings.
Here is an important point. Too often these days the word “tower” is included in the name of a building as an adjective to highlight or describe its soaring stature, not as a noun to properly identify the kind of structure that it is. A building and a tower are not the same things. All towers are buildings - things that are built. But not all buildings are towers. Except for Tokyo Tower and the CN Tower every one of those other edifices I named above - even though some carry the word“tower” in their names - are buildings, not towersproperly speaking. So, I wish journalists would report the facts correctly. In fact, what I wish for is that every time a new record-breaking tall building is completed and hailed as the world’s tallest that a side note would be written stating that the tallest man-made object ever remains the 553-meter CN Tower in Toronto. That would make me happy.
A certain poetic or figurative element has crept into the modern use of the word “tower.”I suppose that, properly speaking, any building can truly be called a tower so long as it is relatively high for its length and width. Conversely, any tower can be called a building because it is a thing that is built, consisting of properly assembled materials. But I am more conservative in my use of the word and I limit my model of a building to those fixed constructions incorporating walls and roofs (rooms). That definition mostly excluded towers, I think, in which the notions of walls and roofs - and rooms as well - do not apply as they do in other buildings, and for which the notion of “fixed” is quite different.