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10 Buildings That Were Once The Tallest In The World

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10 Buildings That Were Once The Tallest In The World

What do you do if you have too much money and want to make a statement towards your direct competitors? Then you build an office building that is slightly higher than that of your neighbour. Of course, no self-respecting neighbor can let that pass and so plans are immediately made for another office building.

One that is of course slightly higher. A kind of commercial monkey rock for entrepreneurs with the biggest ego, who want to outdo each other. In the Netherlands of course we don’t do that. That does not fit with our Calvinistic culture of ‘act normally, then you act crazy enough’. 

But in America, especially in New York, the egos and the wallets were definitely a lot bigger. Incidentally, the Americans have caught up in recent years. If you look at the current list of tallest buildings in the world style=”font-family: Verdana, BlinkMacSystemFont, -apple-system, ‘Segoe UI’, Roboto, Oxygen, Ubuntu, Cantarell, ‘Open Sans’, ‘Helvetica Neue’, sans-serif;”> , we mainly see buildings in China and the Middle East.

10. Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower – New York (1909–1913)


The Metropolitan wasn’t just any big building. It was the tallest building in the world. In 1909 of course. It was the era when Manhattan came into existence and the land became more and more expensive and expensive. At the same time, the building possibilities also improved. For example, by using (reinforced) concrete, which made it possible to build higher and higher. 

The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company did not hesitate and ordered a monstrously high building of no less than 213.36 meters for the timehigh. However, the company’s pride did not stop there. A light beacon was placed on top of the building. It blinked every quarter of an hour. Did you want to know exactly what time it was? you could also look at one of the four bells on each side of the tower. 

You could hardly miss those, because they were eight meters high and the minute hand alone weighed half a ton. A beautiful example of an early skyscraper. Unfortunately for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, their building was not the tallest in the world for very long.

9. Woolworth Building – New York (1913–1930)

The Woolworth building opened in 1913. Still one of the major attractions of New York. This has not so much to do with the height of the building, but mainly with the architecture of this palace. Until the early twentieth century, almost all tall buildings were churches or cathedrals. Woolworth decided to build on this. 

And what do you do when you have the largest trading company in New York? Then you build a ‘Cathedral of commerce’. An office building in the shape of a cathedral. Blasphemous according to one. The other thought it was a wonderful example of the strength of America. Anyway. In New York they are still proud of this building of more than 241 meters high. It is on both the National List and New York’s List of Historic Buildings.

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8, 7 and 6: Bank of Manhattan, Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building – New York (1930 – 1972

The stories of numbers 6, 7 and 8 on this list are inextricably linked. Together they even make up one of the most extraordinary stories in New York history. It takes place in the late 1920s. Almost at the same time, three skyscrapers were announced, all aiming to win the coveted prize for tallest building in the world. The Bank of Manhattan was the first. In their first plans, the building would be 47 stories high, which was even lower than the Woolworth building. Of course that was not possible and the plans were soon adjusted. 

It would now be 60 stories high, about 260 meters. Then they found out that the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building were also going to participate in what was then already called ‘the race to the stars’. So plans were changed one more time. The building would now be 283 metersget high. Enough hopefully to outperform the competition. In 1930 the building was completed in record time and the bank could triumphantly claim the title of tallest building in the world.

 However, that was only for a very short period of time. At Chrysler, they had come up with a ruse. In the deepest secrecy they had built a spire. It was smuggled into the building in four different parts and quickly built up. One bad morning – for the Bank of Manhattan that is – it found out that they were suddenly no longer the tallest building in the world. They were trumped by the 318 meters of the Chrysler building. The last laugh, however, were the creators of the iconic Empire State building. He eventually won the race in 1931 with a dizzying height of 381 meters, which would make them the tallest building in the world until 1972.

5. The World Trade Center – New York (1972–1974)

The World Trade Center, also known as WTC, was the last in line in New York. Everyone knows the sad story of these two towers, which together formed the tallest building in the world in 1972, with a length of 417 meters. They were colossal buildings, with dimensions that were almost incomprehensible. For example, the construction cost 400 million dollars, which was worth much more at the time than now, and 1,240,000 square meters of office space was created. The history of the WTC was not really happy anyway. There was a major fire in 1975, a bombing in 1993 and major robbery in 1998. In 2001, both towers were destroyed during the 9-11 attacks.

4. The Sears Tower – Chicago (1974–1998)

Sears was one of the largest trading companies in the US and the world in the 1970s. Their staff was spread over several buildings in the city, which Sears found inconvenient. So they decided to have a new office built. That became the Sears Tower, at 442 meters the tallest building in the world when it opened in 1974. The construction of the mega tower did not go completely smoothly. 

The building was so high that local residents were concerned that their TV signal would be disrupted. Pretty much every American’s worst nightmare of that time. Multiple lawsuits followed and construction of the Sears Tower was delayed. In the end, the judge ruled in Sears’ favor and the tower could simply be completed. In 2009 the building was given a new name, the Willis Tower.

3. Petronas Towers – Kuala Lumpur (1998–2004)

Where for decades the tallest building in the world stood in the US, this changed in the 1990s. Asia experienced a stormy economic growth. This also happened in Malaysia. The government decided to celebrate this happy fact with the construction of the new tallest building in the world: the Petronas towers. Two identical towers of no less than 451 meters high. 

Building it was not easy. For example, the ground turned out not to be completely solid and a foundation of more than a hundred meters had to be laid. A routine test subsequently revealed that the concrete used was faulty. All 88 floors were examined, but only one floor was found to be of poor quality. The delay cost as much as $700,000 a day. The building was completed in 1996 and the tallest building in the world no longer stood in the US,

2. Taipei 101 – Taipei (2004–2010)

What they can do in Malaysia, we can do better, they thought in Taiwan. And so the construction of the Taipei 101 began there. The status symbol of the island’s economic prosperity. It will be a special building that mixes a hypermodern construction with typical Chinese shapes. 

The building is 509 meters high and has 101 floors. Of course you don’t go up with the stairs, but with the elevator. It was the fastest in the world when the building was completed in 2004. At over 60 kilometers per hour, it only took 37 seconds to zoom from the 5th to the 89th floor. In the Tapei 101 you will find hundreds of shops and restaurants in addition to offices. From the top floor you have a dizzying view over the whole of Taipei.

1. Burj Khalifa – Dubai (2010 – )

What to do with a skyscraper in the desert? For a very long time the answer was: not so much. This changed when a wise sheik from Dubai came to the shocking conclusion that the immense oil supply of the mini-state might run out. And a desert without oil… that’s just a barren expanse of sand. So it’s high time to put Dubai on the map. Among other things, a ski hall was built, an artificial island was created in the shape of a palm tree and of course the tallest building in the world also had to move to Dubai. That became the Burj Khalifa.

 To make sure that it would remain the highest for a while, it also became only 828 meters high. The result may be there for sure. The tower mixes super modern, with a classic Islamic style. There was also criticism. Especially about the treatment of the many very poor guest workers who made the tower for the sheik. Anyway. At over 800 meters , the Burj Khalifa is currently the tallest building in the world. In 2020, it is likely to hand over the title to the Jeddah Tower, a tower currently under construction in Saudi Arabia that will reach a height of 1,006 meters

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