New York's One World Trade Beats Chicago's Willis Tower

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1 World Trade Center

New York City regained the mantle of having the tallest building in the country Tuesday when an obscure committee ruled that the spire atop 1 World Trade Center should be counted as part of its height.


The Height Committee of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat had deliberated whether the spire was part of the actual building or  merely the equivalent of a broadcast antenna, which it doesn't consider as the top of a building. The official ranking goes into effect when 1 World Trade opens, expected to be some time next year.

If the needle was not considered, 1 World Trade Center would be 1,368 feet tall, making it shorter than the 1,450-foot Willis Tower in Chicago.

Announcing the results simultaneously in Chicago and New York, Timothy Johnson, the chairman of the council, told reporters his organization considered the height to the architectural top, the highest occupied floor and height to the tip in its ruling.

"It's our opinion, looking at the design, hearing from the architect and also imagining the significance of 1776, we don't believe that this spire is ever going to be removed from this building or changed from this building," he said. "And so the permanence of it is a key part of our ruling." 

When the design of 1 World Trade Center changed about two years ago, and proposed decorate cladding around the spire was never added, the committee was unclear whether the building should be considered the tallest in America.

New York's Empire State Building was long the tallest building in the country — and in the world — until it was supplanted by the North Tower of the World Trade Center in the early 1970s. But the crown then quickly went to Chicago in 1974, when the Willis Tower, then known as the Sears Tower, was completed.

Since then, other towers in Asia have risen higher, and One World Trade Center is the third tallest building in the world.  Johnson said it is unique in another way because a specific height drove the design.

"I would say for the first time in history, a building was set out to be an exact dimension and I think the architects did a great job at hitting that," Johnson said. 

Paul Goldberger has written extensively about the building of One World Trade for the New Yorker. He’s now a contributing editor for Vanity Fair and author of Why Architecture Matters.

“We’re really not building a lot of super tall buildings in the world anymore,” said Goldberger noting the world’s tallest buildings are now found in cities like Dubai and Mecca. “I think we did it here more because it was important as a symbol, as a sign after the World Trade Center was lost that we restore what was taken away from the skyline.”

To hear a full interview with Paul Goldberger, click audio above.