It happened quietly, on the other side of the world. Creeping ever upward, a skyscraper under construction in United Arab Emirates neared, tied, and recently surpassed Toronto's CN Tower as the tallest structure ever built. When completed, Burj Dubai will be somewhere between 2,300 and 2,700 feet tall (I love the varying estimates-- it's as though its architects and engineers have poured solution on Magic Rocks, but won't know the results until morning!)
The CN Tower's website had not, as of 10/08/2007, removed the phrase World's Tallest, and you can hardly blame them... the title had been theirs since 1976. As outgoing presidents can attest, it's rough being a lame duck: the ridiculously-huge Queen Mary 2 may only enjoy leading her particular field until the Fall of 2009, when an as-yet-unnamed 'Genesis-class' cruise ship being built by Royal Caribbean will become the largest passenger vessel on the seas.
As far as skyscraper records go, Burj Dubai barely broke a sweat dethroning the former champ, called Taipei 101. The 1,667 ft tall building in Taiwan had itself easily beaten 1,483ft twins in Kuala Lumpur (the Petronas Towers) not long before. So depending on how you score it (for many, only completed buildings may vie for official height records), America's own 33-year old landmark Sears Tower has dropped to fifth, still watching over Lake Michigan with a respectable measurement of 1,451 feet.
Rounding out the Top Ten are four towers on mainland China, and the Empire State Building-- dead last despite its once thought unbelievable (and record setting) peak of 1,250ft. A new neighbor to the south will soon give the Art Deco beauty something to look up to, as a 1,776ft Freedom Tower rises from the ashes. Speaking of NYC skyscrapers such as Empire State and Chrysler... have you ever noticed that some of the seemingly mile-high structures in the Star Wars prequels resemble these earthly classics? Just a thought.
'Mile-high'. Why does that have such a cool ring to it? It's been ascribed with equal inaccuracy to both the elevation of Denver and to philandering at 29,000 feet... but can we build a skyscraper exactly 5,280 feet tall?
Frank Lloyd Wright designed a Chicago project in 1956 that would've fit the bill. It's debatable whether technology and materials would've been up to the task, especially when you factor in fierce Midwestern storms. Taipei 101's locale (earthquake and typhoon territory) necessitated that an ingenius, 662-metric ton steel pendular counterweight be built inside of the structure. The new generation of mega-towers are safer than ever, but try telling that to the skyscraper-phobes here in San Francisco (a 1,300ft tall office center is coming to the SOMA district). I smile and nod whenever armchair architects explain the 'dangers' of building skyscrapers here, conveniently forgetting that the Transamerica Pyramid and 555 California (both well over fifty stories tall) have been standing longer than many of these self-appointed safety experts have been alive... there was something resembling seismic-testing done in 1989, too, as I recall.
Back to Chicago: plans are underway for Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava's [Fordham, now 'Chicago'] Spire, which should top out an American-best 2,000 feet. Sorry, New York... but consider it a trade-off for not having the Cubs.
Is the sky the limit? Would proposed space elevators count as 'structures', measured not in feet, but in miles? For the time being, I relish my memories of the view from the top of the Empire State Building, and look forward to checking out Burj Dubai firsthand. Yet maybe the bar has already been set by Mother Earth herself.
She built Mauna Loa, rising over 33,000 feet from the Pacific's floor.
It has an elevator, but it's really hot inside....
by Eric Duby
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