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10 of the world's tallest iconic buildings

Last Updated Aug 10, 2017 · Written by Craig Gibson


The mythical, biblical Tower of Babel, which has been associated with the Great Ziggurat of Babylon, is thought to have stood at a paltry 91 metres in height. Fast forward to today where new materials and construction techniques mean that we now have structures approaching a kilometre high - such as the Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia which is currently under construction.

Rather than list the current ten tallest buildings in the world, we have opted to focus on structures that are tall and have a unique architectural feature.

world's tallest buildings

Who is tallest?

There has always been intense rivalry for the title, tallest building in the world, and with good reason. The accolade guarantees the owners not only global prestige but free advertising, and the ability to charge exorbitant rates for the prized views and bragging rights.

No surprise then there is actually an organization, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), that is dedicated to adjudicating and certifying the 100 tallest buildings in the world. It defines “supertall” buildings at 300+ meters, and “megatall” at 600+ meters. It currently lists 91 supertall and 2 megatall buildings globally, which must be completed and occupied to qualify and be eligible. It also recognizes tall building height in three distinct categories of tall:

1. Height to architectural top, ‘measured from the level of the lowest, significant open-air pedestrian entrance to the architectural top of the building, including spires, but not including antennae, signage, flagpoles or other functional-technical equipment’.

2. Highest occupied floor, ‘measured from the level of the lowest, significant open-air pedestrian entrance to the finished floor level of the highest occupied floor within the building’.

3. Height to tip, ‘measured from the level of the lowest, significant open-air pedestrian entrance to the highest point of the building’, including antennae, flagpoles and signage.

The only sure thing with tall buildings is that there is always another, taller one, being built. What iconic tall building would you add to our list?

1. Burj Khalifa, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Burj Kalifa

Architect: Adrian Smith (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill)

Height: 829.8 m
Floors: 163
Usage: Mixed-use with 900 residences

Cost: USD 1.5 billion

Burj Khalifa is currently the world’s tallest structure at a whopping 829.8 metres, so as a marvel of modern engineering and construction techniques it thoroughly deserves to be the first on this list.

Construction of a building this size is an impressive feat especially considering that it is built in a region where temperatures regularly reach 48°C during the day. This required some innovative techniques during construction, including the addition of ice to the concrete to cool it, with a lot of the work carried out at night to take advantage of the cooler temperatures and humidity. In terms of materials the exterior cladding of Burj Khalifa is made of a combination of aluminum, silicone and glass.

The 24,000 glass panels are manufactured from a high-performance reflective glazing that is designed to save energy and reduce the desert’s extreme heat penetrating the building. Its scale and height is not the only impressive thing about  Burj Khalifa. It took 12,000 workers 22 million hours to complete the structure, using 110,000+ tons of concrete and 55,000+ tons of steel rebar. Burj is also home to the world's highest mosque, on the 158th floor.

2. Chrysler Building, 405 Lexington Avenue, New York City, United States

Chrysler Building

Architect: William Van Alen

Height: 318.9 m
Floors: 77
Usage: Office

Cost: $15 million

Completed in 1930, New York’s Chrysler Building is the tallest brick building in the world, and is revered as a leading example of Art Deco architecture. It was also briefly the tallest building in the world, a title it held from 1930 to 1931, until it was superseded by the neighbouring Empire State Building. Its standout architectural feature is the ornamentation found at the top or crown of the building, including gargoyles and replicas of radiator caps found on Chrysler cars of the era. These are clad with a special non-rusting stainless steel. The building has got to be a window cleaners worst nightmare, with some 3,862 windows gracing the structure. .

3. Empire State Building, New York

Empire State Building

Architect: Shreve, Lamb & Harmon Associates

Height: 437 meters
Floors: 102
Usage: Office

Cost: $41 million
One of the world’s most recognizable and iconic buildings, the Art Deco inspired Empire State marked the advent of steel-framed structures that were able to support massive vertical weight. It was constructed during a boom in New York’s economy when developers competed to build the world’s tallest structure. Completed in 1931, the Empire State Building still holds the record for the fastest building of its size to be built. It took 3,000 workers a total of 7 million man hours just a year and 45 days to build. In terms of building materials 60,000 tons of steel, 10 million bricks and 730 tons of aluminium went into creating its elegant facade.

4. Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur
Architect: César Pelli & Associates

Height: 452 m
Floors: 88

Usage: Office, shopping and entertainment facilities

Cost: $1.6 billion

Architect César Pelli wanted the design of the Petronas Towers to reflect the culture and heritage  of Malaysia so based his design on Islamic geometry. This goes all the way down to each tower's floor plan, which is in the form an eight-pointed star, a symbol central to Islam. Constructed from 36,910 tons of steel and glazed with 32,000 windows that cover an impressive 77,000 square metres, each tower takes window washers a month to get all the glass picture perfect. The two towers are supported by foundations some 4.5 metre thick with grade 60 reinforced concrete. This is a high strength concrete that offers maximum resistance to the extreme pressure required to support the structures 88 floors.

5. Shanghai Tower, Shanghai Shi, China


Shanghai Tower

Architect: Marshall Strabala, Arthur Gensler, Jun Xia

Height: 632m
Floors: 128

Usage: Hotel/Office

Cost: US$2.4 billion

The Shanghai Tower holds a number of records. It is currently the second highest building in the world, tallest building in China and Asia, as well as the tallest structure in its home city. It also currently holds the record for longest single elevator trip, at 578.5 meters. Architecturally, the outstanding feature is the 120 degree twist that runs the length of the structure. This is not just to make it look pretty, it actually enables the building to withstand typhoons and required far less  construction materials than buildings of a similar same height.

6. Ritz-Carlton Hotel, International Commerce Centre, West Kowloon, Hong Kong

Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong

Architect: Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF) in association with Wong & Ouyang (HK)

Height: 484m
Floors: 108

Usage: Hotel, commercial

Cost: USD 1.5 billion

The six star Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong is currently the highest hotel in the world, occupying the 102nd to 108th floors of the International Commerce Centre, making it the world's highest hotel. The hotel’s bar and pool are also record holders at 484 metres. If you are a foodie you will be interested to know that you can also dine at two Michelin starred restaurants if you stay there, the Tin Lung Heen and Tosca.

7. The Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Eiffel Tower, Paris
Architect: Gustave Eiffel

Height: 324m
Floors: 3

Usage: Tourism

Cost: US$1.5 Million

The wrought iron Eiffel Tower is one of the most recognisable buildings on the planet, and a global cultural icon that embodies Paris and France. It was the tallest building building in the world from 1889 to 1930, when New York’s Chrysler Building overtook it. It is the most-visited paid monument in the world, with over 5 million taking the ride annually. And while most chose to use the lift, it is possible to climb the 1,665 steps. Maintaining the tower is a serious job. It takes 60 tonnes of paint to get the job done, a task that needs to happen every seven years. And yes, even though it is 324 metres tall it only has three floors.

8. Makkah Royal Clock Tower, Mecca, Saudi Arabia

Makkah Royal Clock Tower, Saudi Arabia

Architect: Dar al-Handasah Shair & Partners, SL Rasch

Height: 601m
Floors: 120

Usage: Hotel, commercial

Cost: US$15 billion

The third tallest building in the world is also the tallest clock tower in the world, largest clock face in the world, the tallest building in Saudi Arabia and the second tallest structure in the Middle East. Slap bang in the middle of the holiest Islamic city, Mecca, the building provides accommodation to Hajj pilgrims and overlooks the Grand Mosque. Notable features include the clock face which is illuminated by over a million green and white LED lights, and a spire capped with a 35 ton gold crescent. The building was developed by the Saudi Bin Laden Group, and at US$15 billion makes it one of the world's most expensive buildings.

9. One World Trade Center, New York City

One World Trade Centre, New York

Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP

Height: 546.2m
Floors: 94

Usage: Office/commercial

Cost: $3.8 billion

At $3.8 billion One World Trade Center is one of the world's most expensive office towers, and an emotional response to the loss of the twin structures it replaces. With more than 40,000 metric tons of structural steel and high-strength concrete, it is also one of the safest tall buildings in the world. Its fireproofing exceeds New York’s building safety code requirements and it also has staircases installed specifically for firemen and other emergency services. Its glass clad exterior is also designed to refract light depending on the angle you look at, giving it a kaleidoscope like effect.

10. Q1 Tower, Surfers Paradise, Gold Coast

Q1 Tower, Surfers Paradise

Architect: Innovarchi

Height: 322.5m
Floors: 78

Usage: Residential

Cost: $255 million AUD

Last but not least, our very own Q1 is one of the tallest residential buildings in the world, the tallest in Australia, and currently the 65th tallest in the world. It has some pretty spectacular views, including the sun-kissed Gold Coast and adjacent hinterland. In terms of the materials it took to build it, how does 61,000 cubic metres of concrete, 9,300 tonnes of steel, 18,926 panes of glass and 1000 kilometres of electrical cabling sound, wonder can we just request this of our local electrician? Not something you can pick up at Bunnings on a Saturday morning...

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