What Is the World's Tallest Building?

Keeping Up with an Ever-Changing List of Skyscrapers

The Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, in the clouds with sun reflecting Dubai
The Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, in the clouds with Dubai's sun reflecting. Photo of Burj Khalifa by Martin Child / The Image Bank / Getty Images

What Is the World's Tallest Building? It depends on who does the measuring! Skyscraper buffs disagree on whether features like flagpoles, antennas, and spires should be included when measuring building height.

Also under dispute is the question of what, exactly, constitutes 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.

So, who are the contenders?

The Burj Dubai

It opened on January 4, 2010. 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.

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 2,073 feet.

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 meter (1972 feet), this skyscraper is considered the second tallest building in the world. The 40 meter (130 feet) four-faced clock atop the tower announces daily prayers and can be seen 10 miles away from this holy city.

One World Trade Center

For awhile 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. One World Trade Center by David Childs, completed in 2014, rises 541 meters (1,776 feet), but much of that height is in its needle-like spire.

The occupied height of One World Trade Center 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's likely to slip in global ranking—but so will most of today's completed skyscrapers.

The Taipei 101 Tower

Measuring 509 meters (1,670 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.

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 Ten list of World's Tallest Buildings since it opened in 2008.

International Commerce Centre (ICC)

The ICC Building, like most of the new skyscrapers on this list, is a muli-use structure that includes hotel space.

Built between 2002 and 2010, the Hong Kong building at 1,588 feet high will surely slip from the world's Top Ten list, but the hotel will still provide great views!

Petronas Twin Towers

At one time the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia were described as the tallest buildings in the world. In 2014 they are seventh tallest. 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 building (excluding flagpoles and spires), then Chicago's Sears Tower ("Willis Tower"), built in 1974, still ranks among the tallest buildings in the world.

Future Contenders

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 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

Now, supposing we included spires, flagpoles, and antennas 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 600 meters (1,968.5 ft). Finally, there's the famous CN Tower in Toronto, Canada. Measuring 553.33 meters (1,815 ft., 5 inches) tall, the CN Tower was the world's tallest tower for many years.

Learn More:

What is a skyscraper and how are they measured? How high can buildings go and how should we measure them? Learn more from What is a skyscraper?

Source: 100 Tallest Completed Buildings in the World, Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat [accessed December 31, 2015]