April 27, 2003

Defining the world's tallest

Category: Architecture

Kuala Lumpur: Statistics are amazing and utterly malleable things.

Most people (and Malaysia's national pride) accept the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur to be the worlds tallest buildings. However, to the benefit of Chicago, the claim is fairly dubious.

Side by side, as this diagram attempts to illustrate, the Sears Tower certainly looks taller. It's not an illusion, the Sears Tower is taller, well sort of...

Measured to the top of the radio masts, Sears' height is 1,518ft, which easily eclipses Petronas' 1,483ft. Trouble is, the masts on top of the Sears Tower don't count, but the mast on top of Petronas' does. Hmm, confused? The masts on the Sears tower are not considered to be a part of the actual building, so the official measurement stops at 1,450ft. So Petronas gets the crown.

As a result of inevitable arguments, there are now 4 criteria for "worlds tallest building". 1) Tip Height - measured to the absolute top, 2) Structural height - measured to the last 'integral structural element', 3) Highest occupied floor, 4) Roof height.

Sears tower wins on criteria 1 and 3, and 4 is debatable. (Where is the roof on the Petronas towers?) Nonetheless, the World Council on Tall Buildings has decided that criteria #2 is the only one that counts. There you have it. A fairly unsatisfying victory for KL. Kind of like winning on a penalty kick.

But wait, there's more: You still have to define 'building'. The CN tower in Toronto stands at a whopping 1,815ft, but it's considered an observation tower, not a building.

Well, for those looking for something absolute to hang on to, there is one indisputable champion of building height. The otherwise undistinguished KTHI-TV tower in North Dakota (2,063ft) is the tallest man made thing ever built, standing or otherwise. I wonder if they sell postcards...

[The official rules][a counter argument]
*Diagram swiped from here.

ED UPDATE: It seems the debate has been settles by the completion of Taipei 101, now truly the world's tallest. It's amazing how emotional people get about the issue!

Posted by Nick at April 27, 2003 01:14 PM | TrackBack


Bwahahahaa... what's the fuss abt who's being taller? Anyone who's sane, knows KLCC is NOT the tallest! And the false claim won't be for long either.

Posted by: a malaysian on June 24, 2003 10:01 AM

WIth rule #2, I can build a 2 story building with a 5000 ft mast, that is a part of the design and I would have the tallest building in the world. I love the comment on the History Channel about the window washer at the Petronis Towers cleaning windows in the tallest building in the world. The Petronis Towers have 89 floors. Tell that to the guy who washes the Sears Towers windows while doing the 100th floor.

Posted by: Marc on August 23, 2003 08:38 AM


To me, seems liek the roof of the KL building is the pase of that spire. but if you check buildings in malasia, they all have a spire on them, it's how they traditioanlly design things, and I belive part of that element would probably be counted as roof, maybe the whole thing.

In any case, I do agree a building is somethign designed promerily for occupancy, whcih strikes structures which are strictly towers from the running.

Maybe thats just me.

In any case it won't matter, as soon as the next giant sky-scraper is built in NYC on Ground Zero, the new record will be 1776 feet, though only the first 100 floors will be occupied.

Posted by: QSquared on September 11, 2003 06:05 PM

ALSO, the tallest structure STANDING may be the TV tower you mentioned, but there was a taller tower built once, for yoru or-otherwise catagory, whcih would be: Warszawa Radio Mast, Plock, Poland (647m)

Posted by: Qsquared on September 11, 2003 06:18 PM

I agree with you. I have been fascinated with the Sears Tower for a long time now. Petrona's is an amazing building but I don't think it is fair to classify it as the world's tallest

Posted by: Seed on October 6, 2003 11:29 PM

in agreement with Marc, rule #2 allows the building to be defined by it's structural top, making a mockery of excluding the CN Tower as a building. If the defining element of a building is it's inhabitable environment, then the roof is the ceiling to the inhabitable environment. 99% of the buildings out there have a sign that says, "Roof" and it points to the roof you stand on when you go out to the roof. Why the council does not know where the roof of a building is, amazes me. Why should anyone care what this "authority" declares as gospel when they still need to be saved from their own stupidity?

Posted by: Damian on October 19, 2003 08:54 PM

I beleive that most of you have lost track of what this whole thing is about- the worlds tallest building, not China,Taiwan,India or whatever else... these arguments are some of the most irrelevent ever, get to the point people!!

Posted by: Sally from Australia on October 27, 2003 06:53 AM

To whom it may concern. As far as Im concerned When I was first interested in tall buildings it was the empire state building that was the tallest building in the world. Im 38 years old now. Next came the world trade center buildings and then came the sears tower.I feel that in the past they went by how many floors the building had. To me if you cant stand on it then to me it means nothing. Spires and masts and antenas come afterward.

Posted by: vernon S. rolstad on October 27, 2003 09:17 PM

Building or no building, what is really interesting is to find out which the tallest house is. I believe no one can object to that Sears Towers is the tallest house?

Posted by: thomas weslien on November 18, 2003 12:00 PM

From what I have been reading the tallest building will be in NYC.in a few years where the WTC was and it will be 1,776 feet like that 1 other guy said so bwaaaaaahaaaaaa Malaysia lol.

Posted by: Donnie on November 20, 2003 09:02 PM

Standing by my letter to the Scientific American years ago - those of us who worked on the 102nd floor of the Sears Building (WLS-TV, WTTW, several FM stations ) would have laughed at the pipsqueak spires coming up if the Petronas Towers has been built beside the Sears Building.
I stand by my statement - the Sears Tower is a BUILDING - Petronas is POINTED SPIRES!

Posted by: Kermit Slobb on December 1, 2003 12:46 AM

I love the US but if the proffessionals say that the petronas towers are the tallest then so be it.

P.S. NYC will soon have the tallest replacing the WTC so haha Malaysia. I love New York.

Posted by: James Alexander on December 3, 2003 02:54 AM

Well being from Toronto, guess what I'm going to say! The Toronto CN tower is the tallest free standing (i.e. no cables) structure on the planet. I've been up the Sears tower and I have to agree it's very impressive. But to me, nothing can compare to standing under the CN tower and looking straight up. Actually, there is one thing, standing on the glass floor in the observation tower and looking straight down.

Posted by: on December 6, 2003 11:49 AM

I think it is fair to define the tallest building is only to consider the number 3) Highest occupied floor, 4) Roof height. To me CN Tower is a structure Tower but not really a building. To me building means having a office, stores and apartment on each floor, like Sears tower and Taipei 101 etc.


Posted by: Chung on December 10, 2003 09:02 PM

Yo Ho Ho... Merry Christmas!! Im In NYC...The BIGGEST BUILDING WILL BE the Freedom Tower! HAHA Malaysia... :-) 1776...WooHooo! Ya Cant Beat It!
I'm sooo excited to kick those malaysian towers ass! One Word: OooohLaLa!

Posted by: GaTz on December 19, 2003 06:42 PM

Did you know that the Malasia towers where not actually the tallest? The spires on top of the Malasia count for the building height. The spires on the Sears tower do not. The spires on the sears tower go higher than the spire on Malaysia. Even when you dont count the spires, Sears is the tallest.

Posted by: Eddie on December 29, 2003 02:49 AM

As far as Freedom Towers, NYC goes.... I think that every sane person in the world would be happy to dedicate this noble structure to the memory of those lost on the site. But did you know that by far the tallest building (incl. offices, hotels, shops, etc) ever planned was that planned by the Grollo Const. Co. in Melbourne, Australia. Although denied on "aesthetic grounds" this pyramid shaped building was to be hundreds of feet taller than its nearest rival. Shame that the politicians got involved.

Posted by: Simon on January 7, 2004 09:05 AM

Sorry. I have misinformed you. Grollo towers is still going to be built.....but not in Melbourne. http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/02/26/1046064104215.html
It is now going to be built in Dubai, still by Grollo, and will be approx 1950ft tall (600 metres for those not in USA). At this height (assuming that the plans remain unchanged) it will not quite eclipse the KTHI-TV tower but will be taller than both the NYC Freedom towers and the planned Shanghai World financial Centre (492m)

Posted by: Simon on January 7, 2004 09:47 AM

the sears tower is by far the tallest building in the world. when u put it side by side with the pet towers, it definitely looks bigger. the spires should not count. anyway, after the freedom tower gets done, chicago will build a building taller than that and reclaim the title. chicago will always have the title. chicago beats new york anyday. hahahaha. new york is the city for dirtbags.

Posted by: beef on January 9, 2004 06:28 AM

I've been to both Chicago and Kuala Lumpur and seen both the Petronas Towers and the Sears Tower. Both buildings are extremely impressive and well-designed, but having seen both, and based on my judgment, The Sears tower appears alot taller and more massive compared to the Petronas. I've been up both Chicago's and KL's second tallest buildings as well, The Hancock Ctr and KL Tower, to get a glimpse of both Sears and Petronas from a distance and based on my unscientific survey, Sears tower does seem alot taller. There you have my two cents......

Posted by: Jeff on January 31, 2004 03:28 AM

To whom it may concern: As far as Im concerned if your in a building and it has an antena or a spire it is part of the buiding, but can you stand on it? No. In the past they would concider how many floors the building had and each floor would varry. Example: World trade center had 110 floors. Sears tower has 110 floors but each floor in the sears tower was say 16ft instead of say 12ft in the world trade center. Giving the sears tower the title. The bottom line is if there isnt a floor that you can stand on it should not be concidered the tallest building just because it has a spire on it. Ya have a 100ft building and a 2000ft spire on it and your the worlds tallet. thats bullshit.

Posted by: Vernon rolstad on January 31, 2004 07:00 PM

Yeah, well I'm gonna build a 2200 ft. tower and incorporate its design into my house and kick everyone's butt!!! What does it mean to "incorporate" a tower, anyway? If it's part of the building, it's part of the building!!!

Posted by: Teej on February 1, 2004 02:28 AM

i love klcc & Malaysia..............whatever.hahahahaa....

Posted by: Napster on March 17, 2004 02:06 PM

american suck...........!!!!

Posted by: Trio on March 20, 2004 04:14 PM

the sears tower in chiago il is a very impressive skyscraper but because they have certain crieteria that catogorizes the 4 award titles it is just and the sears is the 2nd tallest, and info on othet buildings the chiago-o'hare intl airport has reclaimed the title as worlds best airport!

Posted by: ryan on March 25, 2004 09:45 PM

the petronas towers are the tallest

Posted by: uh on March 30, 2004 09:26 PM

they are 88 stories hi

Posted by: on March 30, 2004 09:28 PM

I think there is a new world's tallest building coming up, which certainly makes the debate more intriguing.

Posted by: anpk on April 11, 2004 07:26 AM

Forget it Guys....India rules...


Posted by: Mitesh Vasa on April 15, 2004 11:44 PM


Posted by: 11 YRS OLD on April 16, 2004 03:07 PM

Americans just cannot accept that they are second best. Grace is not their strong point I guess. Petronas tower is officially the highest so accept the fact!!!

When the rest of the world called it football, to them it's soccer. When only TWO nations competing in sports, they called it world cup.

Learn humility in defeat. It's good for your soul.


Posted by: Sam from Malaysia on April 18, 2004 07:28 PM

Forget it guys! The tallest building will be not in Chicago, New York, Taipe, Malaysia nor China! The tallest envisioned building will be in Tokyo, Japan! The X-Seed! It is visioned to be 4000m or 13,123ft! A Piramid type of building! If you want to see it to believe it then visit this website... Emporis.com! Search it there yourself! All kinds of High-rise buildings are there!

Posted by: Zack on April 21, 2004 06:45 AM

But then again, that visioned building are not likely to be built! But who knows!

Posted by: Zack on April 23, 2004 06:03 AM

Let the KLCC falls under the tallest TWIN TOWER in the world. What ever comes in the near future, we are still the tallest.... lets see any other twins around.

Posted by: Man on April 25, 2004 10:48 AM

I think you're right. By the way I look the sears tower and Petronas tower, its look taller Sears tower than Petronas Tower. Do you know when Bionic Tower starts the construction?

Posted by: J. Anderson on April 29, 2004 10:22 PM

For that being talked (Bionic Tower) since 2001..( I think so ) maybe the origin(Shanghai)could enlighten us. Anyway, if its materialze...we have to admit that it will be the "wonders" in the new era of the modern building & civilization. Not only the height ( 3'701 ft ) but the design & structure is miracle......... Meanwhile the X-Seed status..."never come close to being built" maybe I'm wrong.

Posted by: Man on May 1, 2004 09:09 AM

If the title is not reliable and accurate, why should you all die for it? If that is the case, Malaysia’s Petronas Towers deserve for the title awarded by the World Council on Tall Buildings. There is no doubt on this fact. Hey…to “whoever” feels unsatisfying of victory for K.L., I would feel very sorry. However, I advise you to face the reality rather than putting your own perception to minimize the significance of this building. Nevertheless, at least, Malaysia’s Twin Towers are number 1 at this moment, at this year… No body can take away this title. Ultimately, We, Malaysian are very sporting to accept the truth, if one day our Twin Towers fall to second place.

Posted by: Spring on May 5, 2004 04:47 PM

Well I went to the top of the World Trade (1998) in NYC and Chicago's Sears and John Hancock towers. The elevators of the Hancock were the fastest in the world if I remember correctly. The WTC and Sears elevators were sluggish as compared. The Hancock was my favorite.

Posted by: on May 14, 2004 01:46 PM

you guys are all wrong!TAIPEI 101 in taiwan is now the tallest building in the world.

Posted by: kazar on June 19, 2004 10:22 AM

having read all the replies so far i think you are all correct in 1 way or the other and i agree that taipei 101 is now the worlds tallest but shangai's world financial centre will be 40 mtres taller, and even though sears tower is in my book the 2nd tallest building u must admit the petronois towers is far more astheticaly pleasing and their are 2.the worlds tallest bridge is now millau viaduct in france no 1 tops that.

Posted by: laurie on July 17, 2004 06:23 PM

i am not a spammer? and whats your email address

Posted by: laurie on July 17, 2004 06:31 PM

you say; "KTHI-TV tower in North Dakota (2,063ft) is the tallest man made thing ever built, standing or otherwise"
this is incorrect, it may be the tallest man made structure standing but in 91 the warsaw radio tower came down this was 2120 feet high so you can say what you said minus the 'standing or otherwise'

Posted by: Jimbo on July 31, 2004 12:10 PM

If you visit www.the-skydeck.com, You will see why the title goes to Chicago's Sears Tower. Proposals have been made for decades but until the buildings are complete and proven to be succesful with businesses,commercial space, lodgeing etc on those top floors, they don't count.

Posted by: Derrick on August 3, 2004 05:50 AM

"lodging" sorry for the typo's

Posted by: Derrick on August 3, 2004 05:51 AM

The purpose of a building is to house people. If you look at these two buildings or if you've been to both places, COMMON SENSE shows and tells that the Sears Tower is the tallest.
How can you let a "political" counsel dictate beyond your common sense. It does not take a Rocket Scientist people. The diagram actually does some justice for the Petronas because when I visited both places, the Sears Tower seemed way-taller as if they shouldn't even be compared.I just recently spent a year in Missouri so "SHOW ME"!!!!

Posted by: Derrick on August 3, 2004 11:47 PM

Antennas, spires, floors, all fairly irrelevant to most people. All I know is that I've stood in a room and taken photographs at 1,465 ft (447 m) about the ground, and still higher than any other room in the world that I could do the same in. Oh, and that was in Canada.

Posted by: Laurence on August 6, 2004 04:44 PM

Freedom Tower in New York, when completed, will not only be the tallest building in the world but will surpase the the CN Tower in height as well. I've lived all over the world and I've visited many cities and the most impressive observation deck I've ever been to is the World Trade Center. When it comes down to shear numbers nothing else was more massive. Although the Petronas Towers and the Taipei 101 are considered taller than the Sears Tower, the Sears Tower is actually a much more massive building than either of them. Just one of the Trade Center buildings was only about 150 sq ft smaller than the Sears Tower. So you had two buildings side by side like the Petronas Towers but were each the size of the Sears Tower! The presence of just one of those buildings was impressive but two of them dwarfed any other skyscraper in the world. Plus the World Trade Center held the tallest ranking if you considered the top of the antenna. The WTC also had an observation deck on the roof making it the highest outdoor observation deck in the world. It's a shame that they were destroyed.

Posted by: on August 13, 2004 09:32 PM

for ur information taepei 101 is the currently the woelds tallest structure

Posted by: xxx on August 29, 2004 09:01 AM

Menara Tun Mustapha is the tallest structure here.

Posted by: fandi on September 1, 2004 08:19 AM

Realy it is a tallest butiful building in the world but the Americans are not seeing its tall and buty and i hope the Americans note this too..

Posted by: Abdul Haq Jamaldini on September 20, 2004 06:32 AM

FYI, North Dakota has the tallest structure in existance, So all you city people are wrong, We are proud of our accomplishment up here.

Posted by: Blain Johnson on September 28, 2004 07:22 PM


My name is Rene Corbeil I live in Canada, and wolrd tallest buildings also facinates me I
thinkan Office tower as tall as the Sears tower
and the Petrona towers would look good in my
coun try but Tornnto our largest city would not have enough poeple to fill both ofice towers,
by the way due to the high tech look of modern
office tawers I prefer to cal them "Office pavillion towers" I also found you comments interesting an a bi helleriuos. but well said.

Posted by: Rene Corbeil on September 28, 2004 09:06 PM
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