Top 10 Highest Buildings in the World

How do we judge the tallest buildings in the world? Do we end at the structural top, or on the uppermost floor, or do we continue to the actual tip? The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CBTUH), has come to its own conclusions. The non-profit organisation, formed in 1969, sets the standards, and regularly compiles a list of the first one hundred. Here, we take a look at the top ten.

10. Kingkey 100 – 1,449 ft (Shenzhen, China)

Kingkey 100

The first for us, but the tenth highest at 1,449 feet, is the KK100 in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China. Situated in the financial district of Luoho, it opened in 2011. Architects Terry Farrell and Partners gave the city one hundred floors of office space and a hotel, with the top four housing a garden and restaurants, and an observation deck sited conveniently near the top. The curved glass body with its pointed tip suggests a spring or fountain, representing the wealth and prosperity of Shenzhen. A mall next to it contains luxury shops, restaurants, a supermarket, and the city’s first IMAX cinema.

9. Willis Tower – 1,450 ft (Chicago, USA)

Willis Tower

At number nine is the Willis Tower in Chicago, USA, once known as, and still often called, the Sears Tower. When completed in 1973 by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, it was the tallest skyscraper in the world, a title it held for almost twenty-five years. At 1,450 feet with a hundred and eight storeys, it’s still the second tallest building in the United States, and a popular tourist destination, with over one million people using its observation platform every year. On two occasions, it has been climbed successfully by would-be Spidermen, and has also been used as a location for several films and television shows.

8. Zifeng Tower – 1,476 ft(Nanjing, China)

zifeng tower

Climbing higher at number eight comes the Zifeng Tower in Nanjing, China. At 1,480 feet, it contains eighty-nine storeys of retail and office space in the lower part, while above that are restaurants, a hotel and a public observatory, giving spectacular views over mountains, lakes and historic buildings. The whole structure is topped by a spire. Designed by architectural and structural firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, and led by architect Adrian Smith, it was finished in 2010. The three central elements of the form denote the Yangzte river, and traditional Chinese imagery of dragons and columns.

7. Petronas Twin Towers – 1,483 ft (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Petronas twin towers

We head to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for the seventh highest. The Petronas Twin Towers rise 1,483 feet off the ground, and with the Kuala Lumpur Tower, are the city’s landmarks. They were designed by Argentinian architect César Pelli in the 1990s, in a postmodern style to display a twenty-first century icon for the city. The towers, mostly occupied by offices, have a double decker skybridge, connecting them on the 41st and 42nd floors, making it the highest two-storey bridge in the world. Not attached to the main structure, it’s made to slide in and out, to prevent it from breaking.

6. International Commerce Centre – 1,588 ft (Hong Kong)

International Commerce Centre
Tom Hirtreiter /

Number six on the list is the International Commerce Centre in West Kowloon, Hong Kong. Its one hundred and eighteen storeys reach 1,588 feet, as part of the Union Square project on top of Kowloon Station. Designed by American architectural firm Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, with Wong & Ouyang (HK) Ltd., it was finished in phases between 2007 and 2010, with the tower and remaining sections opening in 2011. The world’s highest swimming pool and bar sit on the top floor, part of a five-star hotel, while other floors are occupied by offices, restaurants, and an observation deck.

5. Shanghai World Financial Center – 1,614 ft (Shanghai, China)

Shanghai World Financial Center
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Midway, at five in the top ten, is China’s Shanghai World Financial Centre, in the Pudong districe of the city. Designed by Kohn Pederson Fox, and opened in 2007, its 1,614 feet height houses a mixture of offices, hotels, shopping malls, and viewing platforms. The distinctive trapezoid structure at the peak consists of steel and concrete, with the aperture acting as protection against wind and earthquakes. The building stands next to the Shanghai Tower, due to open in 2014, and together with the adjacent Jin Mao Tower, the three will make up the world’s first grouping of three super-high skyscrapers.

4. Taipei 101 – 1,670 ft (Taipei, Taiwan)

Taipei 101

The fourth highest in the world can also boast that it’s the tallest green building. Images of Tapei 101 are beamed around the world every New Year’s Eve, when fireworks are launched from the tower. The 1,670 feet high skyscraper in the Xinyi District of Taipei, in the Republic of China, has a hundred and one floors above ground, and five below, and is adjacent to a multi-level shopping mall. Finished in 2004, it was designed by C.Y. Lee & partners to symbolise the evolution of technology and tradition in Asia. It blends traditional elements with postmodern style, but is constructed to withstand typhoons and earthquakes.

3. One World Trade Center – 1,776 ft(New York, USA

One World Trade Center

We have reached the top three, and have come to New York’s One World Trade Centre. Popularly called the Freedom Tower, it is the main building of the new World Trade Centre complex in Lower Manhatten, and stands on the northwest corner of the 16 acre site. The steel structure of a hundred and one storeys was completed in 2012, with the spire added in 2013. Architect David Childs intends the 1,776 feet high edifice as a statement of remembrance and renewal, after the destruction of the original World Trade Centre in the terrorist attacks of September 2011.

2. Abraj Al Bait-tower – 1,740 ft (Mekka, Saoedi-Arabië)

Abraj Al Bait-tower

The runner up is the impressive Abraj Al Bait-tower in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, also known, not surprisingly, as the Mecca Royal Hotel Clock Tower – the clock tower itself is the world’s tallest, while the clock has the largest face. Nearby is the world’s largest mosque. The 1,972 feet height of the tallest tower is part of a project to modernise the city while catering for the many pilgrims who travel to Mecca. Built in 2012 by architect Dar Al-Handasah, it boasts a prayer room for ten thousand people.

1. Burj Khalifa – 2,717 ft (Dubai, Emirates)

Burj Khalifa

The location of the world’s tallest building has returned the title to the Middle East, where the Great Pyramid of Giza saw off all oppostion for nearly four millennia. Built in 2010, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa rises to 2,717 feet, as part of the government’s plan to rely less on oil, and more on tourism and services. With the same shape as a boat’s sail, and part of a mixed development, the hope is that it will attract international recognition and investment. The design architect, Adrian Smith, extended the original peak without adding further floors to the existing one hundred and sixty-three, in keeping with his wish for a more slender crown.

It has been suggested that some of the supertall skyscrapers have been extended just to earn that achievement. Many have skyward-climbing spires which cannot be used for anything, and without these, would not fall into the same category. The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat has christened this as Vanity Height. The term can be applied to the top 20% of London’s Shard, the UK’s only contender in this range. However, this trend dates right back to the New York Chrysler building in the 1930s. As the embellishments are integral to the design, and are accepted by the CTBUH, perhaps we should simply look up in wonder.