The Tallest Buildings in the World

Keeping Up With an Ever-Changing List of Skyscrapers

Detail of the stainless steel facade of the world's tallest building, in the clouds with sun reflecting Dubai
The Burj Khalifa Dubai Tower, the World's Tallest Building. Burj Khalifa by Martin Child / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Tall buildings are everywhere. Since it opened in 2010, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, has been considered the tallest building in the world, BUT...

Skyscrapers are being built all around the world. The measured height of new skyscrapers seems to rise every year. Other Supertall and Megatall buildings are on the drawing board. Today the tallest building is in Dubai, but soon the Burj may be second tallest or third or further down the list.

What is the tallest building in the world? It depends on who does the measuring and when it's built. Skyscraper buffs disagree on whether features like flagpoles, antennae, and spires should be included when measuring building height. Also under dispute is the question of what, exactly, is the definition of a building. Technically, observation towers and communications towers are considered "structures," not buildings, because they are not habitable. They do not have residential or office space.

Here are the contenders:

1. The Burj Dubai

It opened on January 4, 2010, and at a soaring 828 meters (2,717 feet), the Burj Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is now considered the world's tallest building. Keep in mind, however, that these statistics include the skyscraper's enormous spire.

2. Shanghai Tower

When it opened in 2015, the Shanghai Tower wasn't even close to the height of Burj Dubai, but it readily slipped into place as the second tallest building in the world at 632 meters (2,073 feet).

3. Makkah Clock Royal Tower Hotel

The city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia jumped on the skyscraper bandwagon with the 2012 completion of the Fairmont Hotel in the Abraj Al Bait Complex. At 601 meters (1,972 feet), this towering multi-use building is considered the second tallest in the world. The 40 meters (130 feet) four-faced clock atop the tower announces daily prayers and can be seen 10 miles away from this holy city.

4. Ping An Finance Center

Completed in 2017, PAFC is yet another skyscraper to be built in Shenzhen, China — China’s first Special Economic Zone. Since 1980, the population of this once-rural community has increased by millions of people, millions of dollars, and millions of square feet of vertical space. At 599 meters high (1,965 feet), it's roughly the same height as the Makkah Clock Royal.

5. Lotte World Tower

Like PAFC, the Lotte was also completed in 2017 and also designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates. It will be in the top 10 highest buildings for a while, at 554.5 meters (1,819 feet). Located in Seoul, Lotte World Tower is the tallest building in South Korea and third tallest in all of Asia.

6. One World Trade Center

For a while it was thought that the 2002 plan for Freedom Tower in Lower Manhattan easily would become the world's tallest building. But security concerns lead designers to scale down their plans. The design of One World Trade Center changed between 2002 and when it opened in 2014. Today it rises 541 meters (1,776 feet), but much of that height is in its needle-like spire.

The occupied height is a mere 386.6 meters (1,268 feet) — Willis Tower in Chicago and the IFC in Hong Kong are taller when measured in occupied height.

Yet, in 2013 the design architect, David Childs, argued that the 1WTC spire was a "permanent architectural feature," whose height should be included. The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) agreed and ruled that 1WTC would be the third tallest building in the world when it opened in November 2014. Although 1WTC may be New York's tallest building for a long time, it already has slipped in global ranking — but so will most of today's completed skyscrapers.

7. Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre

Another Kohn Pedersen Fox-designed Chinese skyscraper, the Chow Thai Fook Finance Centre in the port city of Guangzhou rises 530 meters (1,739 feet) above the Pearl River. Completed in 2016, it is the third tallest skyscraper in China, a country gone wild with building tall in the 21st century.

8. The Taipei 101 Tower

Measuring 508 meters (1,667 feet) tall, the Taipei 101 Tower in Taipei, Taiwan was widely considered the world's tallest building when it opened back in 2004. But, like the Burj Dubai, the Taipei 101 Tower gets much of its height from a huge spire.

9. Shanghai World Financial Centre

Yes, this is the skyscraper that looks like a giant bottle opener. The Shanghai Financial Centre still turns heads, but not only because it's more than 1,600 feet high. It's been in the top 10 list of world's tallest buildings since it opened in 2008.

10. International Commerce Centre (ICC)

By 2017, five of the top 10 tallest buildings were in China. The ICC Building, like most of the new skyscrapers on this list, is a multi-use structure that includes hotel space. Built between 2002 and 2010, the Hong Kong building at 484 meters (1,588 feet) high will surely slip from the world's top 10 list, but the hotel will still provide great views!

More From the Top 100

Petronas Twin Towers: At one time the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia were described as the tallest buildings in the world at 452 meters (1,483 feet). Today they don't even make the top 10 list. Once again, we should look upward — Cesar Pelli's Petronas Towers get much of their height from spires and not from usable space.

Willis Tower: If you count only habitable space and measure from the sidewalk level of the main entrance to the structural top of the building (excluding flagpoles and spires), then Chicago's Sears Tower ("Willis Tower"), built in 1974, still ranks among the tallest buildings in the world.

Wilshire Grand Center: Up until now, New York City and Chicago have been the two cities to dominate skyscraper height in the U.S. Not anymore. In 2014, the City of Los Angeles changed an old 1974 local rule that mandated rooftop landing pads for emergency helicopters. Now, with a new fire code and construction methods and materials that mitigate earthquake damage, Los Angeles is looking up. The first to rise is the Wilshire Grand Center in 2017. At 335.3 meters (1,100 feet), it's on the list of top 100 world's tallest buildings, but L.A. should be able to get higher than that.

Future Contenders

Jeddah Tower: In ranking the tallest, do you count buildings that are still being built? Kingdom Tower, also known as Jeddah Tower under construction in Saudi Arabia, is designed to have 167 floors above ground — at a whopping 1000 meters (3,281 feet) high, Kingdom Tower will be more than 500 feet higher than the Burj Khalifa and more than 1500 feet higher than 1WTC. The list of 100 future tallest buildings in the world points to 1WTC not even being in the top 20 in a matter of years.

Tokyo Sky Tree: Supposing we included spires, flagpoles, and antennae when measuring building heights. In that case, it might not make sense to distinguish between buildings and towers when ranking building heights. If we rank all man-made structures, whether or not they contain habitable space, then we'd have to give high rankings to the Tokyo Sky Tree in Japan, measuring 634 meters (2,080 feet). Next in running is China's Canton Tower, which measures 604 meters (1,982 feet).

Finally, there's the old 1976 CN Tower in Toronto, Canada. Measuring 553 meters (1,815 feet) tall, the iconic CN Tower was the world's tallest for many years.

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Craven, Jackie. "The Tallest Buildings in the World." ThoughtCo, Oct. 24, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-is-the-worlds-tallest-building-175981. Craven, Jackie. (2017, October 24). The Tallest Buildings in the World. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-the-worlds-tallest-building-175981 Craven, Jackie. "The Tallest Buildings in the World." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-the-worlds-tallest-building-175981 (accessed December 13, 2017).