On November 12th, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (yes, there really is such a body) ruled (yes, they really did rule) that the new One World Trade Center is officially the tallest building in the country. You can read all about it on the Council’s web site – click here – but the main point of contention addressed by the Council’s Height Committee (yes, there really is…) had to do with the enormous mast at the tower’s top, which, by adding 408 feet, raises the building’s height to a symbolic 1776 feet, and makes it taller than Chicago’s Willis Tower (known better by most of us as the Sears Tower) — which had, in turn, long ago snatched the title of World’s Tallest Building from the first World Trade Center. Of course, as the World’s Tallest title has since moved off shore, the competition is merely for the U.S. title. But still, it’s nice to have it back in New York, where it belongs. (To understand why, read the history of “world’s tallest buildings” by clicking here.)
One of the major issues up for discussion by the HC of the CTBUH was whether that 408-foot-tall mast qualified as part of the building. As reported in a New York Times article, the New York tower “was deemed taller [than the Willis/Sears Tower] even though it has six fewer floors and its roof is more than 100 feet lower than the top side of the Willis Tower.” The two long masts on the Chicago building “are considered antennas, which the council does not count.” So why should the 408-foot mast in New York count? Because it is called, by contrast, “a spire,” and its developers “insisted it was a critical and permanent element of the architects’ overall design.” (Rahm Emmanuel, Chicago’s mayor, was not happy with this line of thinking.)
If that description seems like a distinction without a difference, consider the Empire State Building. (Remember the Empire State Building?) It has *both* a spire *and* an antenna. When it took the title of World’s Tallest from the Chrysler Building, it did so by adding a dirigible mooring mast at the top – and though dirigibles never moored there, the mast raised the ESB’s height to 1250 feet, well beyond Chrysler’s 1046 feet – which was apparently the point. But that’s not the top of the building as we see it today – instead, atop the dirigible mooring mast rises an enormous television antenna, which makes the tower’s silhouette much slenderer than the original. Yet nobody uses that antenna in calculating the building’s height – just the top of the dirigible mast.
What’s perhaps most remarkable is that these arguments have been going on since the race to the top began with the Singer Tower shortly after the turn of the last century. When the 700-foot-tall Metropolitan Life Tower took the title in 1908, a few years after Singer had claimed it, the Singer Company countered that though its building’s height was just 612 feet “from the sidewalk to the base of the flagstaff,” it could actually be considered 672 feet “to the top of its flagstaff,” and, in fact, when measured from its foundations, the building rose to 762 feet.
Flagstaffs, foundations, antennas, dirigible mooring masts – these were all arguments put forward by grown-ups; they seemed silly then, and they seem silly now. And yet, somehow, we care. The Council’s ruling has been reported in newspapers around the world. And here we are, talking about it…..