The History Of The World’s Tallest Skyscrapers

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Burj Khalifa

While some of the loftiest skyscrapers to have earned the title of the “world’s tallest building” have held that distinction for decades, today the competition is much more fierce.

Modular technology is increasing the speed to market for some of the world’s tallest buildings, facilitating an abundance of soaring skyscraper projects either proposed or under construction.

Architects the world over have long pursued new heights in architecture – look at the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Tower of Babel or the romantic Eiffel Tower as examples – and now Emporis, the international provider of building data, has looked back over more than 100 years of skyscraper history to show the history of the coveted title of World’s Tallest Building.

History of The World's Tallest Skyscrapers

History of the world’s tallest skyscrapers

Emporis noted the two pioneering inventions in the second half of the 19th century that paved the way for the construction of the world’s first skyscraper: steel-frame construction and the elevator.

As far back as 1908, New York’s Singer building was deemed the world’s first claimant to the title of the world’s tallest skyscraper. The now-demolished building stood 187 metres tall and was the world’s tallest building from 1908 to 1909, when it was surpassed by another New York building, the 213-metre high Metropolitan Life Tower.

From there on, the “Big Apple” went on to become the “centre of state-of-the art skyscraper architecture” according to Emporis. “…It was in New York City that reinforced foundations originated – technology that aims to prevent skyscrapers from topping over even under the heaviest environmental stresses. The 241-metre-tall Woolworth Building of 1913 (world’s third tallest skyscraper of the 20th century) was the first building to profit from this invention.”

Woolworth Building/Singer Building

Woolworth Building/Singer Building

Emporis’ list reveals seven New York skyscrapers held the world’s tallest title from 1908 to 1974. This list includes Manhattan’s iconic Empire State building, which held the crown from 1931 to 1972.

The 381-metre building remained unchallenged until the city of Chicago took over with the completion of the 442-metre Willis Tower.

Empire State Building

Empire State Building

The United States continued its skyscraper reign until 1998, when Kuala Lumpur’s Petrona Towers reached 452 metres. According to the tower’s website, the façade features a modern multi-faceted walls of 33,000 stainless steel and 55,000 glass panels.

Following the Petrona Towers, Taipei 101 was completed in Taiwan and was the first building on earth to stretch over half a kilometre (509 metres) into the sky, according to Emporis.

In 2010, the Middle East made its debut with Dubai’s Burj Khalifa reaching an incredible 828 metres. It remains the tallest building ever constructed.

Petronas Towers Sander

Petronas Towers Sander

However, the Burj Khalifa now has two contenders vying for first place. One includes an ambitious prefabricated skyscraper by Broad Sustainable Building entitled Sky City which is expected to rise 838 metres in Changsa, China. While the height may be achievable, the skyscrapers estimated speed to market has the industry debating its realisation. According to the developers Sky City will be built over a mere 90-day construction period following the laying of the building’s foundation.

The Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, is slated to top the one kilometre mark. Foundation stone has already been laid with an estimated completion date in 2017.

“In the future too, the history of the world’s tallest buildings will be written in Asia,” Emporis said.

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Angela is a freelance architecture and design writer with an editorial focus on the commercial industry. Captivated by her travels and family history in urban construction, Angela is also a skyscraper enthusiast providing credible industry insight on the evolving vertical realm. At Sourceable, Angel...

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  1. Joan Linda says:

    It is remarkable the difference between the tallest building-the Burj Khalifa- and the second one. It reflects a significant growth and progress in construction systems and technologies, in a short period of time.

    Regardless of its height, my favorite will always be the Petronas Towers, designed by the Argentinian Architect Cesar Pelli !


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