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Old Posted Jun 6, 2007, 10:12 PM
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Originally Posted by BnaBreaker View Post
That's unfortunate, if true. It must be the most elaborate hoax in history though because there are all sorts of photos and videos (some that include the town in the background) of what appear to be excavated pathways and walls and whatnot. Hmmm. I'll have to check into this more.
no the excavations et al are real, its just that what theyre excavating aren't part of a huge manmade pyramid acc. to the scientists .

you can find both sides of the story here:

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Old Posted Jun 11, 2007, 2:39 AM
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My purpse in this thread is to grasp at time past, if possible, in a fleeting way. Corrections and addenda are welcome, as always.


It took only 45 years for skyscraper design to go from the humble Home Insurance Building to the Chrysler Building.

If the Chrysler Building is the Marilyn Monroe of skyscrapers, here is the Humphrey Bogart:

Empire State Building

Location: New York City

Completed: 1931

Height: 1,250 feet (102 storeys)

Claim to Fame: What can I say?

If you were to search the collective unconscious for the meme "skyscraper," this is likely the building that will be standing there, bathed in floodlights.

The very name of the structure speaks power. To look upon the Empire State Building is to forget about pyramids and pharaohs, cathedrals and choirs. The Parthenon becomes so many scattered blocks placed by a child. The Pantheon but a claustrophobic box for small, petty gods.

This building says 'Yes! Man can rule his domain and accomplish anything he sets his mind to.'

It's all the triumphalism that fascists spoke of, made real in stone, steel and concrete. But where those bastards smashed, crushed and destroyed, the triumph of the Empire State Building is that it attempts to gather the forces of all that is doable and thrust it skyward.

Work began on the Empire State building in March of 1930. The Depression was just beginning, so why not build an impossibly huge building? Why indeed not.

Empire State Building in 1933 as depicted in Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong

John Jacob Raskob (formerly a vice president of GM) decided to join in the skyscraper race after Chrysler announced in 1929 that it was constructing a monumental new headquarters, the height of which was being kept a secret until the building's completion. (It's amazing how lax city building codes were in NYC in the 1930s. A developer is told how many toilets his building must have today, and here they kept their designs secret!)

Not knowing exactly what height he had to beat, Raskob started planning his own building, and bought the land occupied by the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel at 34th Street and Fifth Avenue for $16 million. The hotel was demolished and ground was broken on the new tower in January 1930. Raskob hired Shreve, Lamb & Harmon to be the architects for his new building. It is said that Raskob pulled a thick pencil out of a drawer and held it up to William Lamb and asked, "Bill, how high can you make it so that it won't fall down?"

Raskob was not going to build anything but the tallest building in New York. The logic of the design was simple. Central shafts contain elevators and vertical circulation, mail chutes, toilets and public corridors. Surrounding these utility areas is a perimeter of office space 28 feet on each side. As the tower rises, the number of these central utility shafts is reduced. The Empire State Building is like a pyramid of utility space surrounded by a larger pyramid of office space. From the beginning, each "standard" storey was planned to be roughly 12 feet high, and the lobby on the ground floor would be three storeys tall. But how many storeys would it be altogether?

"We thought we would be the tallest at 80 stories. Then the Chrysler went higher, so we lifted the Empire State to 85 stories, but only four feet taller than the Chrysler. Raskob was worried that Walter Chrysler would pull a trick - like hiding a rod in the spire and then sticking it up at the last minute."

— Hamilton Weber, manager of the Empire State Building in 1931

At 80 storeys the Empire State would have been 990 feet tall. This would have beaten 40 Wall Street, but not the Chrysler Building, because history teaches us that Mr. Chrysler did have a trick up his sleeve.

At 85 storeys, the building would have stood 1,050 feet.

Not good enough. The cheese-eating surrender monkeys had a tower 1,063 feet tall (if you include the antenna), so why stop just 13 feet short of being the worlds tallest structure?

In the end, Raskob himself came up with the solution. After examining a scale model of the proposed building— the top of which (the 86th floor) was essentially a flat roof to accommodate an observation deck — Raskob said, "It needs a hat!"

Looking toward the future, Raskob imagined the Empire State Building could function as an airport for dirigibles. The tower was redesigned with a 17-storey airport terminal building complete with a "mooring mast," customs facilities, baggage claim areas and offices for airlines. This structure started at the 86th floor roof and extended the building to 102 storeys and 1,250 feet including the mooring mast. The idea was that passengers would disembark from airships and then take the elevator to the ground and be in Midtown Manhattan rather than landing out in New Jersey.

Construction of the Empire State Building began on St. Patrick's Day in 1930. Some 3,400 construction workers feverishly worked the site, sometimes adding several floors in one day. The Empire State Building was officially opened on May 1, 1931.

The Hindenberg flies past the Empie State Building on its way to Lakehurst, New Jersey on 1936

Status: The Empire State Building instantly became an icon of New York City, taking its place alongside the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty.

The Empire State Building was only two years old when it received its most famous visitor

As for the airport concept, only once did an airship dock at the mooring mast. In September 1931, a small dirigible made contact with the top of the Empire State Building. Dropping a long rope, a ground crew of three were able to catch the rope and hold onto it after struggling for half an hour. The dirigible was only able to stay moored for three minutes due to high winds created by the concrete canyons of Manhattan. The idea of having an airport at the top of the building was abandoned.

The sheer size of the Empire State Building compared to its closest rivals is apparent in the comparison chart I've prepared. It is just about as big as you can make a building while preserving the elegant lines of a classic facade. Raskob didn't just build the tallest building on Earth, he built the two tallest buildings on Earth and just 'forgot' to put a street between them. The Eiffel Tower suddenly doesn't look so massive anymore, does it?

The Big Five of 1931: Empire State Building, Eiffel Tower, Chrysler Building, Manhattan Trust Building (40 Wall Street) and the Woolworth Building

In fact, the building is larger than the Chrysler Building and 40 Wall Street combined. Being so huge, the Empire State Building had a hard time getting tenants in the Great Depression years, and earned the nickname "Empty State Building." The Building was not filled until the 1940s.

In July 1945 a B-25 bomber flying in thick fog accidentally crashed into the north side of the building between the 79th and 80th floors. One engine shot clear through the building opposite and another fell down an elevator shaft; 14 people were killed in the accident.

Manhattan at dusk, with the Empire State Building and the Chrysler building illuminated together
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Old Posted Jun 11, 2007, 2:49 AM
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The Lost Decades

It may seem odd that the most massive buildings ever created opened just in time for the Great Depression.

Thing is, few people in 1929 and 1930 thought that the Depression was going to go as deep, or last as long as it did. Many believed the worst had passed in 1930 and early 1931. Between 1930 and 1933, Cleveland built the 771-foot Terminal Tower (tallest building outside New York), and in New York City the 952-foot American International opened in 1932 and the 850-foot General Electric Building opened in 1933 — pushing the Woolworth Building from first place in NYC in early 1930 to sixth just three years later.

But it became clear in 1933 that the good times of the 1920s boom were not returning anytime soon. Office vacancy rates shot up as companies let go of workers or went bankrupt altogether. Architects and engineers planned new towers, some of which if they had been built would have rivaled or surpassed the Empire State Building.

Very few new buildings of any size where built in the Western World after 1933, and then World War II intervened as well.

The Woolworth Building held the title of World's tallest skyscraper for 17 years. The Empire State Building safely cruised the 30s, 40s and the 1950s without much risk of being surpassed.

Meanwhile, many of the great cathedrals of Europe were damaged (and some were destroyed) during the Second World War. So not only was construction of the "new" skyscrapers largely halted, but the historic tall buildings of the Middle Ages were in rough shape too.

The five tallest structures completed between 1932 and 1960.

The 1,092-foot Tokyo Tower was completed in 1958, the GE Building opened in 1933, the American International Building opened in 1932, the JP Morgan Chase Building opened in 1960 and the Bank of New York was finished in 1932.

If that list seems short, think how short it would be if I hadn't made the time period 28 years!
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Old Posted Jun 11, 2007, 2:22 PM
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Originally Posted by Nunavuter View Post

I'm rather new to posting to the Skyscraper Page, although I have been a visitor for about six years. Shame on me.
WOW.....now we know what you have been doing for six years. Do you have a publisher yet?
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Old Posted Jun 11, 2007, 7:44 PM
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"The Empire State Building was officially opened on May 1, 1931."

Yep, on May Day!

Fyi, the Terminal Tower is 708 feet; the 63-foot flagpole isn't usually included in the official height.
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Old Posted Jun 12, 2007, 5:33 AM
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Originally Posted by MayDay View Post
"The Empire State Building was officially opened on May 1, 1931."

Yep, on May Day!

Fyi, the Terminal Tower is 708 feet; the 63-foot flagpole isn't usually included in the official height.
Damn flag poles.
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Old Posted Jun 12, 2007, 5:34 AM
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The Coming of the Boxes

Toronto Dominion Centre, opened in 1967

The last post jumped 28 years so easily because not a hell of a lot happened in the world of tall buildings after the great burst of construction of the 1920s and early 1930s.

Mind you, it wasn't all dead time. In Midtown Manhattan literally dozens of major office buildings sprung up after the Second World War. In the post-war economic expansion, the older office buildings of downtown Manhattan filled up with tenants, and new office construction commenced again. Thing is, land values were steep downtown and with so many workers commuting into New York via bridges and the subway, Midtown Manhattan was actually a more "central" location for business expansion.

Today midtown Manhattan has more workers and office space than downtown Manhattan. New York City essentially has two "downtowns" in the sense of central business districts.

Other cities also began to build again, but most of this new construction was rather modest compared to the triumphalist constructions of the 1930s. There simply wasn't the need for buildings with a million square feet of office space in them...yet.

But the need eventually arrived, in part because the older buildings not only filled up but because they were designed for the needs of another time. The classic skyscrapers had floors divided into corridors and dozens of small offices rather than the larger, more "open concept" floor plans that were emerging as the standard in the 1950s.

Second, the old buildings often had utterly inadequate electrical systems for running air conditioners, florescent lighting, electric typewriters, copy machines, coffee makers, overhead projectors, radios, and big mainframe computers that were being installed in the "space age."

There just weren't enough goddamn plugs. In the 1930s, the boss and a few others had a phone, and messenger boys carried memos around between offices. Some buildings used pneumatic tubes to move internal mail. (Everything I know I learned from old Warner Bros. cartoons.)

By the 1960s people expected to have a phone on every desk. So begining in the later 1950s, many corporate executives began to mull over the situation and decided to build new buildings to house their modern operations. This was often cheaper than renovating the older buildings.

Mies van der Rohe

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, along with Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier changed everything again.

The post-war architects established a new architectural style that they felt could represent modern times just as classical and gothic did for their own eras. They really believed this, and their ideas were profound and influential.

Mies van der Rohe designed buildings using industrial steel and plate glass to create a minimalist framework allowing open spaces that could be subdivided according to the whim of tenants.

He called his buildings "skin and bones" architecture and is known for his use of the aphorisms “less is more” and "God is in the details". Few know that he coined these phrases.

The 731-foot (57-storey) Toronto Dominion bank tower pictured above is an example of his work. The ground floor consists of an exposed concrete core with enormous plate glass windows. The effect is austere, but strangely calm and elegant in its way. There is a kind of beauty in the modernist skyscraper if it is done right.

The sides of the TD Tower are sheer, black, made of steel and the windows are also very large, and tinted black not only to blend in with the steel structure, but to minimize heat loss through the windows in winter and keep in the A/C in summer. The windows cannot be opened. The ceilings are 13 1/2 feet high, to accommodate all the cables and wires a modern office needs. These are hidden above a styrofoam "drop ceiling" with florescent lights.

In other words, exactly what every modern office has today. Mies van der Rohe invented this stuff in the 1950s. He was a visionary.

Problem is, geniuses aren't the norm and less imaginative architects imitated Mies. Builders encouraged the form because it was cheaper to build shapeless boxes for workers than actually design something complicated or beautiul. Mies did everything for a reason, and it shows in the touches he included in his buildings, like the railings he placed under windows so window washers could connect safety lines. He thought of everything.

Those who imitated him... not so much.

Welcome to the era of the shapeless box. It wouldn't have been so terrible if it were not for the fact that many of the grand old dames — such as the Singer Building — were given the wrecking ball to clear the way for the boxes.

^Compared to the inactive 28-year period of 1932-1960, these five giants were completed in four years (1961-1965), and numerous structures of only slightly smaller stature were underway at the time.

Chase Manhattan Plaza, completed in 1961, was the first office building to surpass the amount of floor space contained in the GE Building since the GE building itself opened in 1933.
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Old Posted Jun 12, 2007, 5:40 AM
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The dirigible mooring mast of the Empire State Building serving a new purpose as a broadcast antenna

Spirit of Radio ... and TV, and cell phones....

The height of the Empire State Building that was noted in its entry a few posts above might have struck a few as being a tad short. Although 1,250 feet is tall, you might protest, how come books and websites list the Empire State Building as being 1,454 feet high?

The difference of 204 feet comes from the broadcast mast that was added in the 1950s.

Once the idea of using the Empire State Building as a midtown Manhattan airport had to be abandoned due to its impractiability, the mooring mast meant for airships did not go to waste.

For one, due to its design specifications that included provisions for passengers disembarking from dirigibles, there is an express elevator from the 102nd-storey "pod" to the 86th floor. If you've seen the recent remake of King Kong, you might remember the large two-storey observational area where Anne almost got shot to death by the airplanes buzzing around trying to get at Kong.

This observation deck was closed in 1989, but re-opened in 2005 in order to replace another observation deck in Manhattan — the one that no longer existed at the World Trade Center. Today it costs an extra $14 to go from the 86th floor outdoor observation deck to the 102nd floor enclosed deck.

The other use found for the mooring mast was providing an anchorage not for serving airships, but rather airwaves. Soon after the Empire State Building was completed, radio antennas were being attached to the mooring mast. Because of its height and its location in Midtown Manhattan, the Empire State Building is an excellent communications tower. Today, the 204-foot broadcast mast is encrusted with cell phone antennas, satellite dishes, microwave relays and other equipment such as aviation beacons and warning lights. The design of the antenna array is respectful of the tower's architecture, and indeed has only made the Empire State Building more impressive.

Like cathedrals often have, the Empire State Building got a new spire later in its history

As television expanded around the world in the 1950s, other cities had a similar need for a tall broadcast mast.

Unlike New York, a surprising number of cities didn't have a 1,250-foot-tall office building around on which to stick their antennas.

Tokyo, for example, was a huge city with millions of potential TV viewers. But in the 1950s, there were few buildings in that city taller than ten storeys. Tokyo instead had to start from scratch, and built the Tokyo Tower in 1958. This structure rivals the Eiffel Tower in size (and resembles it too, in a very 'engineering' sort of way), and includes an observation deck and a restaurant just as its Parisian counterpart does. Indeed, it was one of the few large structures built during the "Lost Decades" I mentioned in a prior post.

Tokyo Tower at Night

In the 1950s and 1960s, cities around the world followed Tokyo's lead and built broadcast towers of their own. Some of these are architecturally interesting, others are little more than functional antennas. Most of them, however, were the tallest structures in their home cities when they were built.

Which brings us to the next structure in the historic world's tallest list...

Ostankino Tower

AKA: Ostankino Tele-Tower

Location: Moscow

Height: 1,772 feet

Year completed: 1967 (constructed in stages starting in 1963)

Claim to Fame: Standing 1,772 feet tall, the Ostankino Tower was the first free-standing structure in the world to surpass the Empire State Building in height, and thus claimed the mantle of world's tallest.

The top of the Ostankino tower is 318 feet higher than the tip of the broadcast mast of the Empire State Building.

The tower was constructed principally of concrete, with the upper portions completed using steel and aluminum. The Ostankino Tower is located roughly 15 miles from downtown Moscow, on a site that was deliberately chosen to maximize its effectiveness as a broadcast tower while not dominating the historic center of the Russian capital.

^The Big Five in 1967.

Status: In August 2000, an electrical fire broke out above the observation deck and the "Seventh Heaven" restaurant located in the large pod. Three people died and parts of the antenna fell to the ground. As a consequence, the antenna mast had to be replaced and the Ostankino Tower briefly dropped in height to around 1,400 feet.

In 2003, media reports claimed a new antenna had been installed that had increased the Ostankino Tower's height to 1,893 feet. This proved to be a hoax, and the new antenna is the same height as the old one. The Ostankino Tower remains the tallest freestanding structure in the world outside of Toronto.

Meanwhile, as with the domestication of the dog, in the mid-1960s the march of the boxes continued unabated....

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Old Posted Jun 12, 2007, 5:53 AM
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Modernism had its up side.

We cannot live in the past, but the mistake too often made is destroying the old just because it is old.

This is just as bad as blindly imitating the old. Perhaps it is even worse, because destroying the old cuts us off from the opportunity to understand the forces that shape our present.

Some modernist architects and supportive builders knew what they were doing.

In this post we revisit the ancestral home of the skyscraper.

John Hancock Center

Location: Chicago, IL

Year Completed: 1969

Height: 1,127 feet (100 storeys, plus a rooftop observation deck)

Claim to Fame: Welcome back Chicago!!!!!

Chicago was the city where the steel-frame skyscraper was invented, and 84 years after the Home Insurance Building opened its doors, Chicago re-entered the game hitherto abandoned to New York City.

NYC was practically masterbating given the paltry competition it faced after the World Building opened in 1890. At one point more than half of all the tallest buildings on Earth were all within a few blocks of each other in Manhattan, and even the tenth tallest building in New York beat out the tallest in any other city. It's amazing what high land values and a relaxed building code allow.

The John Hancock Center was never the tallest building in the world.

But then neither were the Philadelphia City Hall (which has a spire taller than any cathedral), and 40 Wall Street technically has a higher top floor than the famous Chrysler Building. I doubt anybody goes to New York and shouts: "Honey, let's visit 40 Wall Street. It was the tallest building in the world for six weeks in 1930!"

But the John Hancock Center is important.

The John Hancock Center, like the Penobscot Building of Detroit in 1928 and the Terminal Tower of Cleveland in 1930, was the tallest building in the world outside New York City when it was completed in 1969.

At the time this still meant something, but that will be the subject of a later post.

The John Hancock Center missed the floor count of the Empire State Building by just two, and was only the third office building ever built to surpass 1,000 feet in total height . Considering that the other two were nearly 40 years old when this happened is the main reason why I mention this fact.

The John Hancock Center announced the "Come Back Tour" of the skyscraper.

This building was completed in the structural expressionist style. This style strives to achieve individualization of spaces once the technical aspects of the building have been met. It takes the concepts of Mies van der Rohe and says: "let's play a bit."

From the beginning, this structure was a "mixed use" building. The John Hancock Center is home to offices and restaurants, as well as 700 condominium units. Few people on Earth have apartments with the kind of views that tenants here have. This is a skyscraper that is also a home.

People might visit the Eiffel Tower. People might work at the Empire State Building.

But people shave, shower and shit and raise families a thousand feet above the sidewalk in the John Hancock Center. The first residential lease for the Hancock building was signed by Benjamin Gingiss, who lived in the building until his death. The most famous tenant was the late comedian Chris Farley.

The John Hancock Center's X-bracing exterior reveals that the structure is a "tube building." A tube building, ironically, reverses the concept of the curtain wall invented in Chicago in 1885 to a degree. In a tube building, the skeleton of the building is not in the centre, but rather is (as the name suggests) arranged as a tube, with the interior of the building filling the central part. The walls of the building don't hold it up, but the skelaton actually forms the outer wall.

This innovation offers greater strength and the ability to completely eliminate columns inside the building, and thus offer the most "open floor plan" and usable floor space possible.

Status: The John Hancock Center remains a landmark in Chicago, and has served as the inspiration for similar tall buildings worldwide. An annual stair climb race to the observation deck called "Hustle up the Hancock" is held on the last Sunday of February to raise money for charity. (The record time as of 2006 is 9 minutes, 39 seconds.)

The tallest structures built between 1968 and 1970 are a mix of office buildings and communications masts, with a hint of innovation starting to show in the designs of a few of them.
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Old Posted Jun 12, 2007, 6:01 AM
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Try to remember the love. Try to forget the hate.

This post hurts me, as it hurts many.


Twin shadows stretching across lower Manhattan late in the day

World Trade Center

AKA The Twin Towers, The WTC

Location: New York City

Year completed: 1972 (Tower 1), 1973 (Tower 2)

Height: 1,368 feet (Tower 1 or North Tower), 1,362 feet (Tower 2 or South Tower)

Claim to Fame: Why build just the tallest building in the world when you can build two?

The idea of a World Trade Center complex in New York City originated with billionaires Nelson and David Rockefeller in 1955, and became a formal plan with financing in 1960.

As mentioned in the “Coming of the Boxes” post, most of the new office development in New York City after the Second World War occurred in Midtown Manhattan due to a combination of the area offering greater convenience for commuters and lower land values for developers.

Midtown also offerred greater flexibility of site selection because new structures in midtown didn’t have to contend with the narrow streets and tiny blocks of lower Manhattan that dated back to when the Dutch controlled New Amsterdam. In Midtown, a developer could demolish a dozen five- and eight-storey buildings and construct a new 40-storey building on a landscaped plaza. This was much harder to do downtown.

As a result of these realities, Midtown Manhattan emerged as a second central business district in New York City, and by the late 1960s it actually surpassed downtown in the number of workers and square footage of office space. Meanwhile, the shift of the shipping industry towards container ships and away from old-style bulk-cargo freighters that required dozens of men to load and unload them was having a serious impact on the once busy docks that ringed Manhattan. As the 1950s progressed, more and more traffic was being redirected to the container ports that were opening on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River.

The WTC concept was initiated as an attempt to revitalize lower Manhattan by constructing modern "open concept" office space with adequate electrical and plumbing facilities, modern elevators and fire safety features and other amenities demanded by business (and the law, for that matter). The idea was to create a single complex that could house the scattered offices of import/export companies, law offices specializing in foreign trade, international banking and finance houses, insurance companies that dealt with ships and cargo and all sorts of commerce related to world trade — hence the name.

Lower West Side of Manhattan in the 1920s. Note the massive docks along the Hudson and the smaller Battery Park compared to today

The East-side Plan

Originally, the complex was to consist of six to eight 50-storey buildings on now-derelict dock lands along the East River south of the UN Building . These buildings would have stood between 600 and 700 feet tall, and only in Manhattan would that have made them undistinguished.

But a problem emerged. The chief public transit line on the East Side of Manhattan was, and still is, the Lexington Avenue Subway. Although there has been talk since 1929 of building a subway line under Second Avenue, to this day it remains only partially built and is not expected to open until after 2010. In addition, by the early 1960s, the idea of building expressways for cars in manhattan was a no-go, because of strong public opposition to demolishing neighbourhoods such as Little Italy, Chinatown and the Village in order to make way for on-ramps and such. (Crazy New Yorkers standing in the way of "progress"! )

Because the complex was expected to house tens of thousands of office workers, it was decided to move the site to the lower west side of Manhattan where there was already a convergence of subway lines, the Port Authority train from New Jersey (PATH), the Staten Island Ferry and the new West Side Highway being completed on what used to be land covered by warehouses. The actual site of the complex was then occupied by turn-of-the-century tenements that were in rather bad shape, and "Radio Row," a collection of dozens of stores specializing in the sale of electronic gear. The main site, however, had the added benefit of already being owned by the New York Port Authority, which given the recent decline in shipping activity was anxious to receive the rents a large office complex would bring in.

After a number of delays caused by the change in site and assembling the necessary properties, between 1964 and 1966 the wrecking ball was taken to 13 blocks of low-rise buildings, some of which dated to before the US Civil War. These 13 blocks were then combined by removing all the smaller streets within them, creating what is called a "superblock" bounded by major roads.

Radio Row was dominated by Heins and Bolet, which opened in 1920. Competitors came and went, but Heins and Bolet remained the best place in New York to buy radio gear and did not close until the entire neighborhood was bulldozed

Groundbreaking on the new complex began in 1966. The first step in construction was the creation of "the Bathtub", a 16-acre (6.5 hectare) excavation down to the bedrock of the island of Manhattan surrounded by reinforced concrete walls to serve as a dam against water intrusion from the nearby Hudson River. The Bathtub was seven storeys deep, and included an underground terminal for the PATH train.

Meanwhile, the blueprints for the towers themselves were being finalized by architect Minoru Yamasaki and engineer Antonio Brittiochi.

The Design

Because the new site was somewhat larger than the one suggested south of the UN building, it permitted the structures to have have a larger "footprint." This meant that the buildings constructed could be wider, and therefore also taller. Advances in "tube building" design being pioneered in Chicago (see the John Hancock Center post) also permitted a taller building to be considerably stronger, and thus the ratio of its footprint to its total height could be reduced. That is, a building could go even higher without getting all that much wider.

Combine larger site, a wider building and then reduce the ratio of the width to the height, and the possibilites for how high you can go get a whole lot grander. Thus, Yamasaki decided to combine the six or eight structures of "Phase I'" into just two buildings.

Yamasaki was known for his “gothic modernist” tendencies in design, and he intended to make the World Trade Center buildings the fullest expression of this style: using a combination of arches and massive fixtures with the spartan box-like constructions pioneered by Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier and employing the new “tube” design principle because this would allow massive open floors.

Like the cathedrals of the Middle Ages, the spaces between the bracing arches of the tube construction would be where the windows would be located.

The "gothic modernist" lobby of World Trade Center Tower 1.

When the project became focused on two central towers (around 1963), their original height was slated to be 80 storeys. With each floor having to be 12-14 feet in order to accommodate cables and utilities under drop ceilings, this translated into a total height of both towers of between 960 and 1,100 feet, give or take.

Engineer Antonio Brittiochi focused on the technical aspects, such as how to provide adequate water and elevator service to the structures. One of his innovations was the creation of the “sky lobby” concept.

This innovation was inspired by the system of express and local trains used by the New York subway system. Rather than have elevators travel the full height of the buildings, which would have resulted in most of the floor space being turned over to elevator shafts if adequate service was to be provided to the higher floors (due to the time delays of moving up so many floors) Brittiochi hit upon the idea of treating the buildings as several smaller buildings stacked on top of each other.

A series of express elevators would take people part-way up the building to another lobby equipped with elevators that would serve the next series of floors. These "sky lobbies" reduced the number of elevators needed by a factor of three.

Final height, and why they were different

Nobody is precisely sure who was responsible for the decision or when it happened exactly, but some time after excavation of the Bathtub began, it was decided that the towers would not be 80 storeys, but rather they would beat the floor record set by the Empire State Building (102 storeys) and rise a whopping 110 storeys above lower Manhattan. The most banale reason for this decision is that once multiple millions of dollars had been committed to the controversial project, they might as well build the tallest buildings in New York City (and the world) rather than build two huge buildings that would have tied for second or third place.

Ego does play a role in such decisions, to say the least.

The two buildings were thus divided into three sections, with the sky lobbies at the 44th and 78th floors. The difference in height of six feet between the two towers was the result of a Port Authority request to have the 43rd and the 67th storeys of Tower 1 raised three feet to accommodate ventilation for the kitchens of cafeterias for Port Authority employees.

The twin towers under construction in late 1969. Tower 2 was begun 14 months after Tower 1

Completing the Bathtub itself took almost 18 months, and it wasn't until the spring of 1968 that Tower 1 of the World Trade Center rose above ground level. The nine million cubic feet of earth that excavation of the Bathtub produced was sold to the City of New York (for a profit), and was used to extend the shoreline of the tip of Manhattan and create the larger Battery Park that exists today.

Because the sky lobby concept allowed the towers to be essentially treated as three buildings stacked on top of each other, this also allowed the completion of the lower sections of the towers so they could be occupied before the upper storeys were even completed. Although they had to put up with dust and noise, the first tenants of Tower 1 of the World Trade Center moved in during May 1970 even though work on the upper third of the building would not be "topped off" until the summer of 1971, and final installation of amenities was not completed until early 1972. The first tenants moved into Tower 2 in January 1972.

The actual official ribbon-cutting ceremony wasn't held until April 4, 1973 after five years of construction that was stopped serveral times due to strikes at different times by electricians and steelworkers (the labour disputes of the 1970s had arrived).

The tallest and second tallest buildings in the world, respectively, the twin towers lord over lower Manhattan

Sadly, unlike the grand opening ceremonies that were held when the Woolworth Building and Empire State Building opened earlier in the century (complete with the sitting president pushing the button that lit them up for the first time), no such fanfare accompanied the official opening of the new tallest and second-tallest buildings in the world on that rainy, cold day.

Nixon had his own problems in 1973, and the mayor of New York City was sick in bed. The City of New York was also on the verge of bankruptcy, and the economy was taking a downturn due to high oil prices caused by the grumblings of the OPEC cartel.

And besides, thousands of people were already working in both towers, so the official opening was really just a formality that almost anybody of importance skipped on that gray and rainy day.

Status: The first buildings to surpass the Empire State Building in height also opened just as an economic downturn began.

The World Trade Center had other problems. Although they were intended to be dedicated to companies involved in "world trade," most companies involved in such activity didn't feel the need to be located in the same building.

The main tenants of the World Trade Center in the early years were actually the declining Port Authority itself, and various government agencies of New York City that were forced to move there.

The public that had shunned the opening ceremonies in 1973 also expressed dislike of the buildings' aesthetics. They were described as "blank slabs," "tumors on the lung of Manhattan" and "symptoms of an obsession with gigantism."

To be fair, I'll give the last word to their architect, and leave their ultimate fate to another post:

"People ask me why I would build two 110-storey towers in Manhattan.

Well, I could have built a single 220-storey building, but I wanted this project to have a more human scale."

-Minoru Yamasaki, 1973
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Old Posted Jun 12, 2007, 7:02 AM
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May Day's mention of the Terminal Building reminded me that the historic structure it references, La Giralda tower in Seville, was possibly a WTB in it's time (not counting the pyramid).

Begun: 1184
Completed: 1198
Height: 320 ft

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Old Posted Jun 13, 2007, 4:39 AM
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San Jacinto Monument

The San Jacinto Monument is a 570 foot (173.7 m) high column topped with a 220 ton star that commemorates the site of the Battle of San Jacinto, the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution. The monument, dedicated on April 21, 1939, is the world's tallest monument tower and masonry tower, and is part of the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, located along the Houston Ship Channel near La Porte, Texas, twenty five miles east of Houston, Texas. The column is an octagonal shaft faced with Texas Cordova shellstone, topped with a 34 foot (10 m) Lone Star - the symbol of Texas. It is the second tallest monument in the United States; the tallest is the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri.

As part of the San Jacinto Battlefield, the monument was designated a National Historic Landmark on December 19, 1960, and therefore automatically listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was designated an Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1992.

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Old Posted Jun 28, 2007, 11:49 AM
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Skyscraper Cities

Lower Manhattan after construction of the World Trade Center, with enlarged Battery Park and far fewer piers

Skyscraper Cities

In the early part of the 20th Century, skyscrapers were exclusively an American phenomenon, and even then more accurately a New York phenomenon. In 1929, 19 of the 34 structures on Earth taller than 500 feet were in Manhattan.

(500 feet is the general cut-off for skyscrapers, while anything of 12 or more storeys is called a "high rise.")

By 1933, as the great boom of construction that began with 40 Wall Street and ended with the GE Building came to a close, the number of skyscrapers worldwide in the 14 cities that had them stood at 60, and New York City had only tightened its grip on the claim of skyscraper capital.

Cities with structures >500 feet in 1933

New York City: 38
Chicago: 10
Baltimore: 1
Cleveland,OH: 1 (Terminal Tower, highest office building outside New York)
Cincinnati, OH: 1
Cologne, Germany: 1 (Kolner Dom)
Columbus, OH: 1
Detroit: 1 (Penobscot Building, second tallest outside NYC)
Munster, Germany: 1 (Uler Munster Cathedral)
Turin, Italy: 1 (Mole Antionnelia museum)
Paris: 1 (Eiffel Tower)
Philadelphia: 1 (City Hall)
Pittsburgh: 1
Washington, DC: 1

In 1971, as the World Trade Center project neared completion, the number of skyscraper cities worldwide had grown to 34, and the total number of these tall structures stood at 158. Alas, in 1971 the lovely Singer Building was no longer among them, having been demolished in 1968 and thus joining a short list including the spires of Lincoln Cathedral and St. Olav Talinn as the only structures taller than 500 feet to have passed into history as of that date.

Cities with structures >500 feet in 1971

New York City: 81
Chicago: 20
Pittsburgh, PA: 5
San Francisco, CA: 5
Boston, MA: 4
Houston, TX: 4
Tokyo, Japan: 4
Dallas, TX: 3
Montreal, QC: 3
Los Angeles, CA: 2
Moscow: 2
Sao Paulo, Brazil: 2
Toronto, ON: 2

Cities with one: Atlanta; Baltimore; Bogata, Columbia; Buffalo, NY; Cape Canaveral, FL: 1 (NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building); Cleveland,OH; Cincinnati, OH; Cologne, Germany; Columbus, OH; Detroit; Indianapolis, IN; Medellin, Columbia; Munster, Germany; New Orleans; Oklahoma City; Paris (Eiffel Tower); Philadelphia; Seattle; Sydney, Australia, Turin, Italy (Mole Antionnelia museum); Warsaw; Washington, DC (Washington Monument)

As late as 1971, just over half of all skyscrapers in the world were still in New York City, and the twin towers weren't yet completed.

The overwhelming dominance of Gotham had endured for eight decades, and there seemed no end in sight.

^The Big Five buildings outside the USA in 1971 were a handful of office buildings in Toronto and Montreal, plus several giant Soviet-era constructions such as The Place of Science and Culture in Warsaw (the non-box above). Most office buildings worldwide remained rather modest affairs compared to those found in New York, Chicago and other US cities such as Pittsburgh, which boasted several rather surprisingly tall structures.

The spire, antenna and flag pole flap

Some of you (of the four peeps following this thread) might have noticed how a few buildings in the diagrams appear to be slightly shorter than a structure next to them, and yet they are listed as being taller. For example, in post 2 the diagram of Notre Dame de Rouen is listed as being 495 feet high, and in the diagram it is shown to be 518 feet, and this taller than the Kolner Dom's 516 feet.

The difference is a 23-foot gilded antenna that was added to Notre Dame de Rouen some time after the construction of the spire. This raised the cathedral's total height above that of the Kolner Dom, but since the Washington Monument and Eiffel Tower had both been built by then, the cathderal never regained top spot. The Kolner Dom was indeed the world's tallest structure for a time. Thus, I just briefly mentioned the addition that was later made to Notre Dame de Rouen.

If you look at the diagrams of the Tokyo Tower and the Eiffel Tower, you might notice that Tokyo Tower appears a bit taller. That is because it is...in a way.

The Eiffel Tower is 984 feet tall to the top of the observation deck, but there is an antenna that rises from that point to a height of 1,063 feet. The Tokyo Tower is 1,092 feet tall — if you include the flag pole at the top. If you look real close at the diagram, you'll see a tiny little Japanese flag flying from the top. If you exclude that pole, the Tokyo Tower is one foot shorter than the Eiffel Tower. Indeed, the Japanese engineers who designed Tokyo Tower in the 1950s purposely made their tower one foot shorter (1,062 feet) than the antenna of the Eiffel Tower.

In an example of traditional Japanese modesty, they contacted French authorities in order to ascertain the total height of the famous Eiffel Tower, and made sure theirs was a little shorter as an act of respect.

A later generation of Japanese extended the tower by adding a 30-foot flag pole and Japanese flag in the 1970s.

Welcome to one of the most heated debate among enthusiasts of tall buildings.

Just what counts towards the height of a structure?

The almost universal agreement is that flag poles do not count. A one-storey house could have a 100-foot flagpole on the roof, but that doesn't make it a 115-foot building.

Do antennas count? Some say yes, if they are not a divisible part of the structure. For example, the antennas of the CN Tower or Ostankino Tower are part of the towers themselves. When it comes to a broadcast tower, the whole structure is essentially an antenna. The antennas on the roof of most skyscrapers are removable add-ons, and not part of the "intrinsic" design. Others say no, and say all antennas must be discounted, and that height must be measured to the roof of the highest inhabitable part. Well, to be consistent, applying that rule to cathedrals would be a farce resulting in denying them any height at all, since most of them really have only one floor and maybe a few choir balconies.

Do spires count? The general consensus here is that they do, so long as they are an integral part of the structure (not just a glorified pole or antenna) that is not intended to ever be removed. The spires of cathedrals fall into this catagory. But does the spire of the Chrysler building do as well? One of the distinguishing characteristics of a spire versus an antenna is that there are often rooms inside them for maintenance workers (or bell ringers in the Middle Ages), and thus they are designed to be occupied by people.

The purists (or anal sticklers) who say spires don't count would have to demote the Chrysler Building from the historic tallest list. This is because the roof of the highest floor at 40 Wall Street is 927 feet above the ground, while the roof of the highest floor of the Chrysler Building is 925 feet up. To take the spires off cathedrals, or the bell towers and clock towers off city halls and parliament buildings would be ridiculous.

For communications and observation towers, there is debate about whether guy-wire-supported structures should be counted. Most say no, and I agree. a TV mast supported by wires that is not freestanding does not count. Otherwise, a balloon attached to the ground by wires counts as a structure. There is debate whether observation galleries on communication towers make them into habitable buildings, and whether only the habitable portion of a tower counts.

This debate may seem rather academic, but when claims are made regarding "world's tallest cathedral" or "tallest office building" or "tallest freestanding structure," these sorts of details can complicate matters.

^The "Big Five" of 1969: The Chrysler Building is nudged out after 39 years.
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Old Posted Jun 28, 2007, 11:52 AM
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They Might Be Giants

They Might be Giants

The "Coming of the Boxes" and the preceding "Skyscraper Cities" posts were to provide context for the 1960s skyscraper boom that resulted in the biggest boxes of all in the 1970s.

Other than the John Hancock Center, none of the dozens of large office towers built in the 1960s cracked the top five, and indeed only a few would have joined the top twenty due to the sheer number of tall buildings in New York City dating from the 1930s boom. (Yes, "1930s boom" sounds odd, but 1930-1933 indeed was a boomtime for tall buildings.)

A comparison of the "Big Five" diagram of 1931 and its counterpart in 1967 shows the addition of the Ostankino Tele Tower in Moscow that opened that year and the Tokyo Tower of 1958, neither of which are truly "buildings" in the sense of having many occupied floors running up their height.

In 1968, the tallest office buildings in the world were still the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, 40 Wall Street, the American International Building and the GE Building, all of which were in New York City and all of which were built in the 1930s.

^The "Big Five" in 1972: The Tokyo Tower is nudged out after 14 years, and take a long last look at the Eiffel Tower...

The John Hancock Center announced the comeback, not only of Chicago as a skyscraper capital, but also of the large skyscraper, period. Meanwhile, the Twin Towers were slowly rising above the banks of the Hudson River back in New York.

The John Hancock Center is not only taller, but considerably more massive than the Chrysler Building or 40 Wall Street, and this placed it alongside the Empire State Building itself in what the office-building industry calls the "super jumbo" catagory. A "jumbo" is any building with a million square feet of floor space in it. A "super jumbo" has twice that amount, such as the 1933 GE Building, and in 1969 there were exactly four of them in the world.

The massive World Trade Center towers each had more than six million square feet of floor space in them, making each of them larger than the Empire State and John Hancock Center combined. Further, there were other such structures under construction in the early 1970s.

Welcome to the Era of the Giants.

Aon Center

Location: Chicago, IL

Year Completed: 1972

Height: 1,136 feet (83 storeys)

Claim to Fame: The Aon Center beat the height of the John Hancock Building by nine feet, making it the tallest in Chicago, and the tallest building outside of New York City when it opened. Because it is strictly an office building with no residential component, it has the 13-foot-and-change ceilings typical of such buildings and thus a lower total floor count than its immediate rival in Chicago. The Aon Center is a superjumbo, and also a "tube building" like the John Hancock Center and other massive office buildings of its era.

Status: When the Aon Centre was originally built, it was the world's tallest marble-clad building. However, the Chicago climate played havoc with the marble cladding, which began to crack and fall from the building in later years. Between 1990 and 1992, the entire building was refaced in granite at roughly half the cost of the entire structure in the early 1970s.

Sears Tower

Location: Chicago, IL

Year Completed: 1973

Height: 1,451 feet (108 storeys)

Claim to Fame: Way to kick New York City when it is down.

Tower 1 of the World Trade Center was barely more than a year old, and uneaten h'ourderves from the ribbon-cutting ceremony ditched by everybody in New York when Tower 2 was completed was probably still sitting in an underpaid cleaning lady's fridge when the Sears Tower opened one month later, in May 1973.

Yes. It was 40 Wall Street all over again.

In 1969 Sears was by far the largest retailer in the world and the company decided to consolidate the tens of thousands of employees scattered in offices around Chicagoland into one building on the west side of The Loop.

Sears alone would need some three million square feet of office space to do this, and predicted that future growth would require even more space than that. Whatever they built would have to be the largest office building ever constructed excepting the World Trade Center itself. That much was a given.

In designing their new headquarters, the additional floor space needed for future growth of the company was intended to be rented out to lesser corporate powers until Sears & Roebuck could claim it for itself. These smaller companies would require smaller floor spaces.

While Sears could shove its own employees anywhere it wanted to, office space intended for tenants would need nearby windows and be reasonably attractive if it was going to be rented out.

Smaller floor sizes with access to windows required a taller rather than wider structure, and the architects thus designed huge 55,000-square-foot floors in the lower part of the building for the Sears employees, and stacked a series of smaller "cubes" intended to be rented out above them. The result of this arrangement is the distinct appearance of the Sears Tower, which resembles a collection of smaller office buildings stacked on top each other at funny angles to create as many "corner" offices as possible.

The final height of 108 storeys might have gone even higher had the Federal Aviation Administration not stepped in to protect the approach to Chicago's O'Hare Airport and cap the height below 1,500 feet, but even so the Sears Tower took the top spot among the world's tallest office buildings by a healthy margin.

Status: The boom-boom growth of the late 1960s and early 1970s came to a crashing halt with the OPEC embargo of 1973 and the subsequent Energy Crisis.

Note to self: Whenever the World's Tallest building opens, a huge recession is about to happen.

Sears' optimistic growth projections never came to pass, of course. In fact, gloomy economic times and competition from rivals like Kmart and later, Wal-Mart, sent Sears into a decline from its former heights as a retailer from which it has never recovered. And like the Empire State Building before it, the Sears Tower stood half-empty for ten years. Although it had been built entirely with the company's money like the Woolworth Building before it (history repeating again!) in the end, Sears was forced to take out a mortgage on their headquarters due to cash-flow problems in the early 1990s.

Sears began moving offices out of the Sears Tower in 1993 to a new office campus in suburban Hoffman Estates, Illinois. Today the building is occupied by more than 100 different companies, but not a single Sears employee works in the building bearing the company's name.

First Canadian Place

Location: Toronto, ON

Year Completed: 1975

Height: 978 feet (72 storeys)

Claim to Fame: From the day it opened, First Canadian Place has been Toronto's, and Canada's, tallest skyscraper and at the time was the tallest office building in the world outside of the United States.

Indeed, the 784-foot Commerce Court West that opened in 1972 and 731-foot Toronto Dominion Tower from 1967 each once held this distinction, and in 1975 these latter two still held the second and third non-US spots, respectively. All three of them are a block from each other on King Street in Toronto.

But this isn't just an honourable mention for a home-town building. First Canadian Place is a superjumbo with more than two million square feet of office space. In 1975 this class included just ten buildings worldwide, and six of them dated from 1969 onward (see diagram below).

Just a few years before, First Canadian Place would have ranked as the most significant new office building since the Empire State. But in 1975 it was the runt of the superjumbo litter.

Status: The logo of the Bank of Montreal (the building's main tenant) adorning the top of First Canadian Place was the highest corporate logo in the world for more than twenty years. The facade was altered for the first time in 2004, when the former blue bank logo was replaced with blue BMO lettering and a new white-and-red logo that remains one of the highest written advertisements in the world.

^The "Superjumbos" that opened between 1969 and 1975 testify that the early 1970s were indeed a repeat of the sudden surge in mega-construction of the early 1930s, and on an even larger scale.
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Old Posted Jun 28, 2007, 11:56 AM
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CN Tower

CN Tower

Location: Toronto, ON

Year Completed: 1976

Height: 1,815 feet

Claim to Fame: The tallest freestanding structure on Earth, supplanting the Ostankino Tower in Moscow.

As the TD Tower neared completion in Toronto in 1967, nay-sayers expressed doubts that the million-square-foot building could be filled with tenants given the number of new office buildings then under construction in the city, including the 600-foot Royal Trust Tower that was already slated to go up adjacent to the TD Tower as part of the same project.

And this was Toronto, a city whose population was watching Ed Sullivan and Hee Haw on Buffalo TV stations.

If Toronto was a hard sell when it came to skyscrapers, then the reluctance of London and Frankfurt to build them makes a lot more sense.

The mid-1960s business boom, however, was more than up to the task of filling the TD Centre, and the TD Tower was 90% occupied within 18 months of its completion while the Royal Trust Tower was pre-sold before it even opened in 1969.

Toronto skyline in 1970, dominated by the TD Tower and Royal Trust Tower

The year Apollo 11 landed on the moon, the sky no longer seemed the limit. Build it, and they will come.

That year, the Toronto Stock Exchange traded 2,000,000 shares in a single day for the first time — up from 1,000,000 just five years earlier, and business had never been better in Toronto. The old colonial finance system based in London had faded away, and indeed Toronto had supplanted Montreal as Canada’s chief financial centre and was now engaged to an ever-increasing degree with New York, Chicago and Tokyo.

The air was electric.

Well, except that broadcasting in the fast-rising city was becoming a problem.

TV and radio signals in the downtown where bouncing off the buildings. The bon mots exchanged on Gilligan's Island could barely be heard amongst the static and ghost images.

Ironically, mitigating the dileterious effects on broadcasting caused by tall buildings would result in the construction of the tallest structure of them all.

One solution would be to raise the broadcast antennas above the buildings, demanding a tower over 1,000 feet tall. At that time most data communications took place over point-to-point microwave links using dish antennas on the roofs of large buildings. As each new skyscraper was erected downtown, former line-of-sight links were being broken. The Canadian National Railway, which owned land on Toronto's lakefront, decided to build a series of communciations masts to serve as a ‘hub’ for microwave links on a tower visible from almost any building in Toronto.

In 1968, the plan called for three pillars linked at various heights by structural bridges, with the tallest TV antenna rising roughly 1,500 feet above the ground, and the other two standing 1,200 and 1,100 feet tall.

As the design proceeded, this concept evolved into a single hexagonal concrete shaft rising 1,465 feet, with three support legs joined to the shaft at the 1,100-foot level, forming a large Y-shaped footprint at the base. It was a spartan and industrial design — a bit too spartan to be accepted adjacent to downtown by Toronto City Hall.

The central concrete core of the CN Tower

So, in 1971 an open-air observation deck and an enclosed observation deck were added to the design. This two-storey structure was dubbed the "Sky Pod."

At this point it was suggested that the tourists visiting the observation decks could make use of a restaurant facility, and then CN brass added a licenced lounge and conference area where they envisioned board meetings held atop the city. This being the 1970s, the lounge actually became a disco for several years called "Sparkles." I'll let you imagine the polyesther leasure suits and mirror balls for yourself.

CN Tower under construction in 1974

After broadcast facilities and utility areas were added, the design of the SkyPod had grown to seven decks, weighing 318 tonnes. Unlike the Ostankino Tower, the decks of the CN Tower were not made of poured concrete, but rather more typical building materials fixed to a steel skeleton. During construction, this material had to be hoisted up the sides of the central concrete shaft using 45 hydraulic jacks and miles of steel cable.

The seven-storey SkyPod with white radon "donut" housing microwave antennas

At this juncture one of the engineers suggested that visitors would pay extra to visit the highest observation deck in the world, and the construction costs were not prohibitive to modify the maintenance shaft and elevator intended to reach the main antenna in order to accommodate tourists. Thus, the SpacePod was added to the design in early 1972.

As these modifications would prevent the main antenna from being fixed to the side of the central concrete hexagon without long struts that would be prone to high winds, it was decided that a sturdier antenna would be afixed on top, rather than from the sides of this podium at the 1,487-foot level.

The new configuration raised the height of the structure from 1,518 feet to 1,682 feet.

This was just ninety feet shorter than the Ostankino Tower in Moscow completed five years earlier.

At this point, the Feverish Flux question from an above post was answered with: Let's go for it!

With a few minor adjustments to the design— a few feet here and six feet there — the CN Tower could beat the Soviet tower with room to spare.

And thus the final design of the CN Tower adopted in late 1972 would make it the tallest freestanding structure in the world.

When completed in 1976, the CN Tower stood 1,815 feet... and five inches.

The CN Tower seen from the west near sundown

Status: Canadian National Railways sold the CN Tower in 1997 when the former crown corporation went public, and all operations not directly related to freight shipping were sold off.

The initials "CN" now stand for Canada's National in order to preserve the name regardless of current ownership. In 1995, the CN Tower was declared one of the modern Seven Wonders of the World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The other six structures on the list were the Channel Tunnel, Empire State Building, Golden Gate Bridge, the Itaipu Dam of Brazil, the Delta Works of the Netherlands and the Panama Canal.
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Old Posted Jun 28, 2007, 12:01 PM
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Towers around the world....

Japan's — and Asia's — first skyscraper, the Kasumigaseki Building

Skyscraper Cities Part II: the International Style

During the 1970s, New York and Chicago weren't the only cities with rising skylines, as a kind of skyscraper mania took hold around the world. For the next several years an average of 20 were completed annually around the world.

For the first time larger skyscrapers (jumbos, but not as of yet any super jumbos) would be added to the skylines of Los Angeles and San Francisco, most notably the distinctive Transamerica Pyramid in the latter city.

The Transamerica Pyramid is distinguished for being the tallest building on the west coast of the United States at the time, and for being — as its name suggests — not a box like virtually every building being completed in the decade. Indeed, at 853 feet in height, the 48-storey office tower was the tallest pyramid ever constructed, beating out the ancient 480-foot Great Pyramid of Khufu in Egypt and the 555-foot Washington Monument.

Thinking outside the box in San Francisco

In 1972, 19 skyscrapers were completed worldwide, including the first such buildings in Portland, Oregon (Wells Fargo Center) and Louisville, Kentucky (National City Center). As the 1970s progressed, it seemed every self-respecting city in North America had to have at least one: Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Calgary, Charlotte, NC, Jacksonville, FL, Tulsa, OK and even Albany, NY all joined the list of skyscraper cities in early 1970s.

Notably, skyscrapers were appearing outside of North America in significant numbers for the first time.

Japan built Asia's first office building taller than 500 feet in 1968 — Tokyo's Kasumigaseki Building — and was building about one skyscraper a year by the early 1970s, befitting a nation that had risen to become the World's sixth largest economy after the United States, USSR, Germany, the United Kingdom and France.

Beirut’s first skyscraper opened in 1974, with the 530-foot Beirut Trade Center becoming the tallest building in the Middle East. Metropolitan Paris saw the construction of half a dozen office towers, including the 689-foot (59-storey) Tour Montparnasse — Europe's tallest building when it opened in 1972. Johnanesberg, South Africa built a few, as did Melbourne, Australia.

Hong Kong gets 'around' to building a skyscraper

When completed in 1972, Hong Kong’s 586-foot Jardine House was the first office tower in Hong Kong higher than 500 feet, and the tallest building on the entire mainland of Asia. Construction of the fifty-two storey building took just sixteen months, a speedy rate of skyscraper construction not seen since the Empire State Building.

In some circles the building gained the nickname of “the house of a thousand arseholes.” This name referred not only to the shape of the windows of the building but also to the presumed character of the many bankers and stockbrokers who worked there.

The Jardine House would prove to be only the first of several (generally modest) skyscrapers completed in Hong Kong and Singapore during the decade. Singapore, despite building its first skyscraper in 1974, would have six of them just two years later.

^The "Big Five" of Asia in 1972.

The main action, however, remained in North America. A flurry of construction in Toronto beginning in 1967 with the TD Centre and which came to a climax in 1976 with the CN Tower had made Toronto along with Tokyo the skyscraper capital outside the United States, with seven structures greater than 500 feet in height including a 51-storey residential building (44 Charles Street, not pictured in diagram) — something that had previously existed only in New York and Chicago. Tokyo was up on Toronto by one building, but Tokyo's first skyscrapers tended to be somewhat smaller.*

Toronto's tallest in 1976

Tokyo's and Toronto's placement were very distant behind American cities, however, and New York City and Chicago remained a league unto themselves in both the number and sheer size of the structures. However, by the mid-1970s there were more than 250 skyscrapers worldwide even if one excluded all observation and communications towers (such as the CN Tower, Eiffel Tower, Space Needle and all their cousins). Clearly, the skyscraper was going international.

Cities with structures >500 feet in 1976

New York City: 107
Chicago: 32
San Francisco, CA: 9
Boston, MA: 8
Houston, TX: 8
Los Angeles, CA: 8
Tokyo, Japan: 8
Toronto, ON: 7
Singapore: 6
Dallas, TX: 5
Paris: 5
Pittsburgh, PA: 5
Johannesburg, SA: 3
Montreal, QC: 3
Seattle: 3
Atlanta: 2
Baltimore: 2
Calgary: 2
Cleveland, OH: 2
Columbus, OH: 2
Moscow: 2
Medellin, Columbia: 2
New Orleans: 2
Philadelphia: 2
Sao Paulo, Brazil: 2
Sydney, Australia: 2
Tulsa, OK: 2

(Cities with only one skyscraper are excluded, as the list would be much too long. Subsequent lists will require even more structures in a city for it to be included.)

Chicago's tallest in 1976

Notably, Chicago's skyline of the mid-1970s was dominated entirely by new structures, whereas New York's heritage as the world's premier skyscraper city in the 1930s is still very much in evidence in its skyline four decades later.

New York City's Tallest in 1976

*In researching this post, I discovered that the answer to a Trivial Pursuit card back in the early 1980s was not exactly straight-forward. The question was "Which city has the tallest buildings outside the United States." The answer was: Toronto. While technically true, Tokyo had more skyscrapers, and what Toronto had was the tallest structure and the two tallest office towers outside the USA.

Considering the competition in New York and Chicago, Toronto was not really even in the game.
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Old Posted Jun 28, 2007, 12:10 PM
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Tower 42, the first skyscraper in London, opened in 1980

In retrospect, the early 1970s boom of skyscraper construction in North America was the last gasp of the continent's economic preeminence.

By the late 1970s, recession, stagflation (inflation that occurs while the economy tanks) reared again for the second time since 1973. The 1981 recession would be the third.

^The five tallest buildings on Earth in 1973 were unchanged in 1980, and for years afterward.

It is not surprising then that the brakes were thrown on skyscraper construction in North America. In all, only 22 structures taller than 500 feet were built in the United States, and none were built anywhere in Canada let alone Toronto. Where in 1976 Toronto and Tokyo were the skyscraper cities outside the US, by 1980 both economics and an obstructive city hall objecting to the 'Manhattanization" of the city took Toronto out of the running.

In a similar vein, London completed its first skyscraper — the 42-storey (600-foot) National Westminster "NatWest" Tower at the late date of 1980. Fraught with controversy, work had begun on the building in 1971. Numerous construction delays born of labour strife, economic woes and official reluctance had delayed the opening by nearly a decade. After NatWest sold the building, it adopted its current name based on the total floor count, which was the highest in the UK.

To fans of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy: Tower 42 appears in the scene just before the Vogons destroy the planet prior to the Earth (which is actually a supercomputer) calculates the ultimate question of Life, the Unverse, and Everything. The British pop group Level 42 was also named in reference to this building.

Tall buildings were starting to fall out of vogue in many cities. They had once seemed symbols of modernity and progress. Now to many, giant buildings were emblemic of conformity and the destruction of neighbourhoods.

But not everywhere.

The City of Detroit had once boasted the tallest building outside of New York City— the Penobscot Building, which opened in 1928. It was Detroit's first skyscraper.

It was also the last one until the Renaissance Center opened in 1977.

Detroit was is serious decline by the late 1970s, and the city once called the "Arsenal of Democracy" was now better known for urban decay and the 12th Street Riot of 1967.

The five towers of the Renaissance Center completed in 1977 were a "city within a city," and included a 73-storey hotel complex. The hotel opened as a Westin Hotel, and is now the Deroit Marriott. These five buildings boosted Detroit's skyscraper count from one to six, and also constituted nearly one quarter of all skyscraper development in North America in the late 1970s. An only partially successful urban renewal project thus represented the largest development in North America in the latter part of the decade.

In 2005, renovations made as part of converting part of the Renaissance Center into the new headquarters of General Motors reduced the size of the hotel. Detroit doesn't get lots of tourists, so the hotel mostly serves conventions and meetings.

By that time, however, the Stamford of Singapore had already exceeded it as the world's tallest hotel.

Further to that point, about the same number of skyscrapers were completed in Tokyo, Singapore and Hong Kong as all of North America in the late 1970s, and the size of the buildings was generally increasing.

^Asia's tallest in 1980
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Old Posted Jun 28, 2007, 12:16 PM
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The 1990s

Kuwait Towers in Kuwait City, one of the new breed of tall structures worldwide

The return to prosperity in the 1980s did not see a return to the construction of giant office towers. Although several jumbos and superjumbos were completed in the decade, none of these cracked the top five represented by the Sears tower, the World trade Center towers, Aon Center and John Hancock Center. For that matter, none of the new communications towers posed any challenge to the CN Tower and Ostankino Tower. All of these structures would enter the 1990s ensconced in exactly the same positions they held in the early 1970s.

A comparison of the number of skyscrapers on 1980 and 1991 reveals that a considerable amount of construction had been undertaken in the 1980s. Notably, much of this activity occurred in the South and west of the United States, with the skylines of Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Seattle and Atlanta rising at a much faster pace than the established skyscraper capitals of New york and Chicago.

Cities with at least four structures >500 feet in 1980

New York City: 110
Chicago: 34
Houston: 12
Tokyo: 11
San Francisco: 10
Boston, MA: 9
Los Angeles: 9
Toronto: 7
Singapore: 7
Dallas: 6
Detroit: 6
Paris: 5
Pittsburgh: 5
Hong Kong: 4
Seattle: 4

^The largest structures of the 1980s were built primarily outside of New York and Chicago.

Skyscrapers of an "American size" were also starting to appear overseas, most particularly in Asia. In the 1980s Hong Kong lept from having a mere four buildings taller than 500 feet to 21 — surpassing Tokyo and Toronto as the non-US champion in both the number of tall buildings, and ultimately in proportions as well.

^The "Big Five" of Asia in the late 1980s

^Complete with the Eiffel Tower standing in for Tokyo Tower, Europe's 'Big Five" of the 1980s were more modest affairs.

Cities with at least five structures >500 feet in 1991

New York City: 155
Chicago: 63
Houston: 26
Hong Kong: 21
Los Angeles: 20
Dallas: 17
San Francisco: 16
Tokyo: 16
Singapore: 15
Boston, MA: 13
Melbourne: 12
Toronto: 12
Seattle: 11
Pittsburgh: 9
Sydney: 9
Atlanta: 8
Philadelphia: 8
Detroit: 6
Paris: 6
Frankfurt, Germany: 6
Johannesburg: 5
Kuala Lumpur: 5
Minneapolis: 5

Structures in the later 1980s tended to be larger than their late 1970s and early 1980s counterparts. As had happened twice before, the largest structures of them all opened in the early years of the decade following the boom that had given them birth, and just as the next recession was underway.

Bank of China Tower

Location: Hong Kong

Year Completed: 1990

Height: 1,002 feet (70 storeys)

Claim to Fame: The Bank of China Tower was the first building outside the United States to top the 1,000-foot mark, and it unseated Toronto's First Canadian Place from the number one non-US spot after 15 years. The building also surpassed the height of Tokyo Tower, and was thus the tallest structure in Asia, period.

The design of the reflective faces of the tower resembles bamboo shoots, and are intended to symbolize livelihood and prosperity. Notably, the tallest building in Hong Kong also marked the increased presence of the People's Republic of China in the then-British colony in the years prior to the 1997 handover.

Status: Practitioners of Feng Shui have dubbed the Bank of China Building the "Cleaver Building." The building's profile from some angles resembles that of a cleaver, and the sharp edge of the "blade" looms over the smaller headquarters of the HSBC Bank — Hong Kong's largest homegrown bank.


Location: Frankfurt, Germany.

Year Completed: 1991

Height: 842 feet (63 floors)

Claim to Fame: The Messeturm or "Fair Tower" was the tallest building in Europe when it opened. The construction of the building's foundation set a world record for the longest continuous concrete pour. Ninety trucks poured concrete for 78 hours into the 20-foot deep foundation.

The tower is unique for its use of geometric shapes. The base of the building is square, the higher floors form a cylinder, while the top takes the shape of a pyramid.

Status: The Messeturm opened the same year that East and West Germany reunited, and a recession began in Europe, North America and Japan. The tower was fully occupied only in 1995.

One Canada Square

AKA Canary Wharf

Location: London

Year Completed: 1991

Height: 771 feet (50 storeys)

Claim to fame: One Canada Square was only London's second skyscraper, it remains the tallest building in Great Britain. Unlike Tower 42, which is in the City of London, One Canada Square is located on reclaimed docklands on the Isle of Dogs and is the centerpiece of the Canary Wharf office development.

As recently as the early 1960s, the Isle of Dogs was one of the busiest port facilities in the world, but the area went into steep decline and the last dockyards closed in the early 1980s. The canary Wharf development was conceived as a way to create large, modern office spaces that are generally unavailable in "the City." (This is partly due to reluctance on the part of the Corporation of the City of London to approve large office towers that would require demolition of London's historic square mile.)

Status: The square adjacent to the tower was named after Canada because it was built by the Canadian real-estate firm Olympia and York, then owned by the Reichmann family. The company went bankrupt in the wake of the property crash of the early 1990s.

The upper half of the One Canada Square remained empty for several years following its completion, with the upper part of the building remaining darkened at night.

In November 1992, the Provisional IRA (an IRA offshoot that opposed peace talks with Britain) attempted to place a large bomb next to the building, but was thwarted by security. One Canada Square was thus the first skyscraper to be targeted by a terrorist organization.

The provisional IRA did detonate a large bomb at South Quay south of Canary Wharf in 1996, which killed two people and damaged several buildings. This explosion is wrongly referred to as the "Canary Wharf bomb".
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Old Posted Jun 28, 2007, 12:24 PM
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North America loses its edge

The Gravestone of the late 1980s boom in Toronto

Asian Overture

Not every developer opens a giant skyscraper just in time for a recession. Sometimes, just being a few months behind the curve will mean major changes to a building’s design as the economic justification for a structure comes into question. In the case of Canary Wharf, the nearly bankrupt developers chopped 10 storeys off the top and completed a shorter building than originally planned. This didn’t prevent One Canada Square from sitting half empty for years, however.

The builders of the Bay-Adelaide Centre originally intended to build a 57-storey office tower that would have been the third tallest in Toronto's financial district. Toronto Council was openly hostile to massive office buildings (and still doesn’t cheer for them) and to gain city hall's approval the developers committed $80 million towards new social housing (section 8 housing to Americans, council housing to Brits) and other projects, including turning over part of the site of the Bay-Adelaide Centre to the city for use as a park.

After three years of delays, construction finally began in 1990 — just in time for the economy to go south and the real estate bubble to burst. As the economy worsened, in 1991 the developers toyed with capping the building at 40 storeys. But then office vacancy rates in Toronto rose to 20% and the market for even this vanished.

Construction was halted and in 1993 the project was permanently put on hold. All that was completed was the underground parking garage and several storeys of the concrete elevator shaft known to the locals as "the stump". Just this past week, work has begun again on completing the building. A 55-storey building is slated to be opened by 2008.

The real estate bubble burst all around Europe, North America and Japan in the early 1990s. Indeed, Japan has never recovered its previous status as the world’s third-largest economy.

But the 1990s recession was not universal. In Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia (“The Four Tigers’), things kept chugging along as usual. Indeed, Asia began a protracted construction boom the likes of which had never been seen before.

^The Biggest buildings in Asia in 1994. The Bank of China Tower slips to second place.

The 1930s boom and the 1970s boom pale in comparison with what was about to happen in Asia. For just one example, Hong Kong took a decade to go from four to 21 skyscrapers. But in the 1990s, the Bank of China Building would be surpassed when it was less than two years old, and other skyscrapers followed in rapid succession. Hong Kong would add another 22 buildings over 500 feet tall in just four years in the early 1990s. This is equivalent to adding a Houston to its skyline… in four years.

Orient Pearl Tower

Location: Shanghai, China

Year Completed: 1995

Height: 1,535 feet

Claim to Fame: The third tallest freestanding tower in the world, after the CN Tower and the Ostankino Tele-Tower. The Oriental Pearl is a telecommunications tower that features three spherical sections containing a shopping plaza, a revolving restaurant and several observation decks.

^The Orient Pearl alongside other historic towers.

Status: The tower attracts more than three million visitors a year. The Oriental Pearl is quite famous in Asia, and has been featured in a sequence in Godzilla: Final Wars in which the tower is destroyed when a fight between two giant monsters gets a bit rough.

Tuntex Sky Tower

AKA T & C Tower , 85 SKYTOWER, Tuntex & Chien-Tai Tower

Location: Kaohsiung City, Taiwan

Year Completed: 1997

Height: 1,140 feet (85 storeys)

Claim to Fame: The Tuntex Sky Tower is likely the tallest building you have never heard of, and was built in a city virtually unknown outside its own region.

Despite its almost complete anonymity outside Asia, the jade-green Tuntex Sky Tower surpassed the height of both the Aon Center and the John Hancock Center in Chicago, and thus became the first new building to join the top five tallest skyscrapers in the world since 1973.

Remember the headlines the day it opened? Beuller? Anyone?

Adding to the general weirdness, the building also has a hole right through its base. The Tuntex Sky Tower is shaped like a giant tuning fork with two separate 35-floor sections that merge into a single central tower 500 feet above the ground, which then rises to a spire 1,240 feet tall.

This is just ten feet short of the height of the mooring mast of the Empire State Building.

This highly unusual design was inspired by the shape of the Chinese character Kao, which means — here it comes — "tall."

I am not making this up.

^The Tuntex Sky Tower takes its place at the apex of Asian skyscrapers in 1997. The Bank of China Tower falls to fifth place in Asia at the ripe old age of seven.

Status: The Tuntex Sky Tower is a “mixed use” building like the John Hancock Center, and contains offices and residential apartments, a department store and the Splendor Kaohsiung hotel. It was the tallest building in Taiwan when it opened. (I should hope so!).

^The "Big Five" in 1997, after 24 years of no change to the lineup.
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Old Posted Jun 28, 2007, 12:30 PM
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Things go crazy

The Tuntex Sky Tower did not spend long in the top five.

Jin Mao Building

AKA Jin Mao Dasha, Golden Prosperity Building

Location: Shanghai, China

Date Completed: 1998

Height: 1,298 feet (93 storeys) plus an 82-foot antenna

Claim to Fame: The Jin Mao Building was the first non-American building and only the fourth in history at the time it opened to surpass the height of the Empire State Building. The building stands on a grassy plaza near the Orient Pearl Tower (from where the above photo was taken) and forms the centrepiece of an office development complex similar to London’s Canary Wharf — but on a considerably larger scale.

Although it was designed by the Chicago architecture firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the Jin Mao Dasha draws heavily on traditional Chinese architecture and resembles a tiered pagoda.

The building's proportions evoke the number eight many times, a numeral associated with prosperity in China. There are 88 storeys in the main part of the building (The total of 93 includes five storeys in the spire, which are used mainly as utility areas much like the floors inside the Empire State Buildings mooring mast). The 88 main floors are divided into 16 segments, each of which is 1/8th shorter than the 16-story base. Further, the building’s concrete core is shaped like an octagon, with the floors supported by eight columns, braced by eight diagonal trusses. The building was officially dedicated in August 28, 1998 to add a few more eights in its favour.

Status: The Jin Mao was the first skyscraper in the People’s Republic of China (excluding Hong Kong which repatriated to China in 1997) to provide Class A office space with four-metre ceilings (14 feet). The Building also features China’s first five-star hotel.

Petronas Towers

AKA Petronas Twin Towers

Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Date Completed: 1998

Height: 1,322 feet (88 storeys) plus 161-foot antennas (for a total of 1,483 feet)

Claim to Fame: The Petronas Towers were, depending on viewpoint, the first buildings to exceed the height of the Sears Tower in Chicago and thus take the mantle of World’s Tallest Building(s).

I say bollocks.

The Petronas Towers were the world’s fourth tallest buildings, because the ‘spire’ consists of nothing more than a metal antenna with some artistic flourishes. The spire of a cathedral or the Chrysler Building has inhabitable space within it, for either bell ringers or maintenance workers. There are doors, ladders and a most importantly, floors or balconies for a person stand on inside a spire. Whether it is the golden antenna on top of the cathedral of Notre Dame de Rouen or an aluminum TV antenna on top of your house or the Sears Tower, an antenna is not a spire.

Notably, the contracts to build the twin towers were given to two different construction companies, and the two had a race to finish their tower first.

^Asia's tallest buildings in 1998. For those keeping score, the Bank of China Building fell to seventh place.

Status: The controversy over the real height of the Petronas Towers caused the World Council on Tall Buildings to create four height categories for “tallest thingamajig”: highest roof, highest occupiable floor, highest architectural detail and highest freestanding structure.

In 1998, the Sears Tower had the highest roof and highest occupiable floor, and the CN Tower was the tallest structure overall. Basically, the Petronas Towers antennas were the highest aesthetic decoration. So the Nunavuter judgement is that they were the fourth tallest buildings on earth in 1998. Besides, the Orient Pearl Tower is even taller, but that structure isn’t even called a building. Why? Because it doesn’t have occupiable floors going up its height. Hmmm. Just like the “spires” of the Petronas Towers.

Regardless of this controversy, with the opening of the Petronas Towers and the Jin Mao Dasha, the venerable Empire State Building dropped out of the ranks of the five tallest buildings, taking the Tuntex Sky Tower with it.

^The "Big Five" in 1998.
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Last edited by Nunavuter; Jun 28, 2007 at 12:36 PM.
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