One World Trade Center ruled US' tallest building

Lower Manhattan skyscraper beats out Chicago's Willis Tower, experts rule

An industry group ruled Tuesday New York's One World Trade Center, by virtue of its spire, is taller than the Willis Tower, with its antennae.

One World Trade Center in New York City will stand as the tallest building in the United States and the Western Hemisphere, putting Willis Tower in Chicago in the metaphorical shade, an industry group ruled Tuesday in a hotly anticipated decision.

The Council on Tall Buildings and The Urban Habitat found that One World Trade Center beats out its Windy City challenger by virtue of its spire. The Willis, formerly the Sears Tower and at one time the world’s undisputed tallest building, sports an array of antennae at its top.

But antennae, which are “subject to change” in a way a spire isn’t, did not rank as high with the Council.

“When completed and occupied, expected to be in early 2014, 1WTC will surpass The Willis (formerly Sears) Tower in Chicago as the Tallest Building in North America,” the CTBUH writes in its decision. 

“At 1,776 feet (541 meters), 1WTC will likely be the third-tallest building in the world upon completion, after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (2,717 feet / 828 meters) and the Makkah Royal Clock Tower in Mecca, Saudi Arabia (1,972 feet / 601 meters).”

The Willis Tower, made of steel and completed in 1974, is now the 9th tallest building in the world, and was the first in the Western Hemisphere until New York's tower took that bragging right.

One World Trade Center surpasses its Chicago rival by virtue of its needle, which measuring 408 feet.

With the needle, 1 World Trade Center is 1,776 feet tall. Without it, the building would have been only 1,368 feet tall ← well short of the 1,451-foot Willis Tower.

At stake was more than just bragging rights in two cities that feast on superlatives and the tourist dollars that might follow: 1 World Trade Center stands as a monument to those killed in the 9/11 attacks, and its architects had sought to capture the echo of America's founding year in the structure's height.

"The committee was well aware of the gravity of the situation," Antony Wood, the council's executive director, said during a news conference in Chicago.

The building's 1,368 feet height without the needle is also symbolic; it is the height of the original World Trade Center.

The Height Committee comprises 30 industry professionals from all over the world and is widely recognized as the final arbiter of official building heights around the world. They conferred behind closed doors last week in Chicago, where the world's first skyscraper appeared in 1884.

The new World Trade Center tower remains under construction and is expected to open next year.

The designers originally had intended to enclose the mast's communications gear in decorative cladding made of fiberglass and steel. But the developer removed that exterior shell from the design, saying it would be impossible to properly maintain or repair. Without it, the question was whether the mast was now primarily just a broadcast antenna.

Under the council's current criteria, spires that are an integral part of a building's aesthetic design count. Broadcast antennas that can be added and removed do not.

Daniel Safarik, an architect and spokesman for the nonprofit council, said it might consider amending its height criteria. Such a move would have much broader implications that could force a reshuffle in the rankings of the tallest buildings in the world.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the spire doctrine is bringing designers of new buildings to put spires on top of their towers just to beat the record.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press 

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