A Timeline of the Tallest Buildings in the World

A Timeline of the Tallest Buildings in the World

In recent years, and certainly since the industrial revolution, the prestigious accolade for The World’s Tallest Building has provoked stiff competition.

Of course, the current holder of the tallest building in the world is none other than the Burj Khalifa in the ultra-glitzy Dubai, standing at a colossal 828 metres (2,717ft) high. For some perspective, if you were to stack 10 Burj Khalifas on top of one another, it would rival the height of Mt. Everest.

The timeline of the tallest buildings in the world spans across continents (although disproportionately in the US and Asia) with nations fervently attempting to out-do each other for the prestige.

As it’s challenging to ascertain the exact heights of buildings in the more distant past, we’ll start with the world’s first skyscraper.


Home Insurance Building, Chicago, 1885


Recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s first skyscraper, the uninspiringly-named Home Insurance Building was constructed in Chicago, USA, in 1884-85.

Peaking at 55m (138ft), the so-called ‘skyscraper’ would be laughable by today’s standards. But this was the 1880s and it was hugely impressive in its day.

Although the building was demolished in 1931 (coincidentally the same year the Empire State Building was completed), the building set an architectural standard still used today. Known as the ‘Chicago Skeleton’, the innovative technique incorporated a steel frame which supported the whole weight of the building, rather than just the walls.


World Building, New York, 1890


Only five years after the completion of the Home Insurance Building, the World Building in New York took centre stage as the world’s tallest building, standing at 94m (309ft).

The skyscraper topped the height of Home Insurance Building by 39m, paving the way for even more ambitious projects.

Located in Park Row, this too was demolished in 1955 to accommodate for the expanding vehicle entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge.


Did New York Have Most of the Tallest Buildings?


New York City was subsequently home to the world’s tallest buildings throughout most of the 20th century, with the skyscrapers gaining twenty to forty metres with each new construction.


Chrysler Building


The Chrysler building bathed in sunlight taken from the ground looking up

In 1930, the Chrysler Building in Manhattan finally surpassed 1000ft. Standing at 319m (1,046 ft), it held the title of world’s tallest building for no less than 11 months, before being overshadowed by the Empire State Building in 1931. Fittingly, as of 2020, it remains the world’s 11th-tallest building.


Empire State Building


One of the most recognisable buildings in the world, and certainly one of the most famous, the Empire State Building stood at a teetering 381m (1,250ft). It’s Art Deco in style and took only 11 months to construct.

Empire State Building with a backdrop of Manhattan

Built during the Great Depression, the building symbolised an America emerging from the turmoil the Depression had wrought.

The Empire State Building held the title for 39 years, until the completion of the World Trade Centre in 1970.

Learn more about the Empire State Building here!


One World Trade Centre


The World Trade Centre would be the final time New York City could claim the honour of housing the world’s tallest building.

The tallest tower of a complex consisting of four buildings, the North Tower, stood at 147m (1,368 ft) when it was built in 1972.

Of course, the World Trade Centre was targeted in 2001 in the 9/11 bombings and has since been rebuilt. The height of the new One World Trade Centre matches that of the North Tower at 147m. Out of respect, it’s often referred to as the Freedom Tower.


Willis Tower, Chicago


Chicago wanted to claim back some of its glory. The Willis Tower was completed in 1973 and soars at the height of 443m (1,450 ft).

More than 1 million people visit its observation deck every year, making it one of Chicago’s most popular tourist destinations. The 3-million-square-foot office tower underwent a major renovation in the 2000s which introduced The Ledge, which is a glass cube extending 1.3m from the building on the 103rd floor. Not for the faint-hearted, but it does offer fantastic views of the city.


Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur


In 1998, halfway across the world in Malaysia’s capital city Kuala Lumpur, the Petronas Towers popped up. At 452m (1,483ft), with both towers structurally identical, they stole the show from Willis Tower by a mere 10m.

The Petronas Towers have a total of 88 storeys and took six years and $1.6 billion to construct.

They remained the tallest buildings in the world until 2004 when they were surpassed by Taipei 101.


Taipei 101, Taipei


Sign saying ‘Welcome to Taipei’ in blue neon lights with the Taipei 101 in the background

Then came the Taipei 101, standing at a staggering 508m (1,667ft), whose construction began in 1999 and finished in 2004.

Postmodernist in style, the building was built to withstand the regions seismic activities and hurricanes.

Despite no longer being the world’s tallest building, it still carries some impressive features. The elevator can travel up to 60.6km (37.7 mph), and it is recognised as the world’s tallest and largest ‘green’ building, due to its platinum LEED rating.


Burj Khalifa, Dubai

City of Dubai showing busy roads with the Burj Khalifa in the centre background

Finally, introducing the king of all skyscrapers: the Burj Khalifa, completed in 2010. Located in Dubai, this feat of architecture stands towering over the city at 828m (2,717ft), surpassing Taipei 101 by over 300m.

Home to the first ever Giorgio Armani-designed hotel and boasting 160 storeys, the Burj Khalifa is categorically the tallest building in the world as of 2020.

However, the trophies don’t end there. It’s also the tallest freestanding building in the world and has the highest number of storyes in the world.

In a climate of staunch competitiveness, it remains to be seen how long the Burj Khalifa will retain its status! So, watch this space.

Have you ever visited any of the tallest buildings in the world? We think they should be on everyone’s bucket list! We’d love to hear about your experiences on our social media channels.

If you’ve got any building plans (extremely tall or otherwise) and you require engineering assistance, we have structural engineers in Devon and the South West. We possess a wide range of knowledge and expertise in health and safety, property law, planning applications and building regulations.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions you may have. We’re happy to help!

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