When you move to New York, as the saying goes, you’re not officially a New Yorker until you stop looking up. The Empire State Building. The Chrysler Building. The Woolworth Building. And those are just the time-tested legends. Factor in 21st-century constructions—One57, the Bank of America Tower, 432 Park, the entire Hudson Yards complex—and you’ll quickly realize that America’s concrete jungle is a veritable oasis of awe-inspiring architecture. It’s enough to make a guy question an old adage. Is anyone truly a New Yorker? Is it possible to go about one’s day without looking up even once?
Yes, ever since architects erected the first “skyscraper” in the 1880s—the Home Insurance Building, in Chicago, which stood a then-impressive 10 stories before it was demolished four decades later—we’ve held a collective-consciousness fascination with formidably tall buildings. In fact, in the early 20th century, when buildings, like Chicago’s Wrigley and Tribune Towers, would officially wrap up construction, the moment would be celebrated a lot like a film premiere would today, with red velvet and deep crowds and flashing camera lights.
These days, it’s not just New York and Chicago. Walk around any urban environment on the planet and you’re bound to come across at least a few skyscrapers. (Even old-world cities with strict historical preservation, like Paris, have robust, skyscraper-laden downtown districts.) And if you take a closer look, you’ll find that these steel-and-glass monoliths are fascinating for more than just their incredible height. Here’s just a sampling of how. Once you get a taste of what goes into these beasts, you’ll never go a day without looking up again. And for more amazing wonders from around the world, check out the 15 Summer Family Trips Your Teenage Children Won’t Hate.
Burj Khalifa Sees Two Sunsets a Day
Since the building is so tall, you can watch the sunset from the base of the Burj Khalifa, shoot up to the roof on the elevator, and watch the sunset all over again. The two sunsets occur about three minutes apart, thanks to the height, and considering that the elevator takes under a minute-and-a-half to get to the top, there’s plenty of time for a fast mover to catch both shows. And for more wonders from around the world, learn the 20 Hotels So Outrageous You Won’t Believe They’re Real.
The Makkah Clock in Saudi Arabia Tried to Change Time as We Know It
The clock’s proprietors hoped the world would be so impressed with the structure that it would opt to abandon Greenwich Mean Time, which has been the “center” of the glove for more than a century, and adopt local Mecca time (to which the Makkah Clock is set) instead. Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi explained this made sense since the clock is “in perfect alignment with the magnetic north. “However,” as the folks at Gizmodo explain, “after a bit of cursory Googling revealed that magnetic North actually sits on a longitude that passes through the United States, the clock was set to Arabia Standard Time.”
Russian Climbers Once Illegally Scaled Shanghai Tower
In February 2014, a pair of Russian climbers ascended Shanghai Tower (before it had been completed) wearing forehead-mounted cameras, but no apparent safety gear to capture the not-for-the-faint-of-heart climb. And this stunt is nothing compared to the 30 Craziest Things People Have Done For Selfies.
The Empire State Building’s Spire Was Conceived Partly for Blimps
In an era when travel by dirigibles was viewed as the transportation of the future, the people behind the Empire State Building’s construction initially designed its 200-foot tower to serve as a docking station for airships arriving from across the Atlantic, complete with gangplank, check-in and customs office, and more. When it became clear that the intense wind that high up made such plans difficult, the plan was scrapped. And to delve deeper into the past, check out The 40 Most Enduring Myths in American History.
A Cult Once Sought to Destroy Sears Towerin Chicago
Calling themselves the Universal Divine Saviors or Liberty City Seven, this group of seven people based in Miami, conspired to destroy the Sears Tower (back before it was renamed the Willis Tower), seeking out contacts in al-Qaeda in order to acquire expertise—though they had no weapons or means to actually carry out their plan and were foiled before it progressed beyond early planning.
There Was a Time Capsule in Hancock Tower in Boston
A 1968 time capsule placed in the Hancock Tower the year it was completed was recently opened. The capsule in the now-16th tallest building in the world held microfilm, a lapel pin from U.S. Senator Charles Percy, a rock from the original Illinois state capital, and a piece of another famously tall structure, the Eiffel Tower.
The Engineering Features of Taipei 101 Have Their Own Mascots
A giant steel pendulum that serves as a “tuned mass damper” to help offset the 11th-tallest building in the world’s movements when hit by strong winds has got its own mascot and comic book. Damper Baby adorns a wide range of souvenirs and trinkets in the Taipei 101 gift shop, helping to promote the building’s impressive engineering—and appealing to kids.
One World Trade Center May Be the Safest Building in NYC
Considering its tragic legacy, the tallest building in the city got a number of innovative safety features that have helped allay any concerns, from a reinforced concrete base to blast-resistant windows and pressurized stairwells, to even biological and chemical filters in the ventilation system. Speaking of safety: Don’t miss the 15 Ways to Be a Safer Female Solo Traveler.
The World’s Tallest Hotel Just Opened This Year
For those looking for sky-high luxury, the new Gevora Hotel in Dubai opened earlier this year, officially becoming the world’s tallest hotel building. Topping out at 1,168 feet tall, it beat out previous record-holder JW Marriott Marquis by a mere meter and boasts fancy restaurants, a health club, sauna, and plenty of other attractions with an Art Deco interior. And if you’re looking for some hotel suggestions, look no further than these 17 Floating Hotels That Are Simply Magical.
A “Freedom Stone” Was Supposed to Be Part of One World Trade Center
On Independence Day, 2004, the cornerstone of the then-named Freedom Tower in New York—a 20-ton slab of black granite inscribed with the words “tribute to the enduring spirit of freedom” and dubbed the “Freedom Stone”—was laid at a special ceremony. But it was removed two years later when construction began, when construction plans shifted and it was deemed to be in the way—and stored in Hauppauge, Long Island. It never did become part of the tower, in what the Daily News calls “20 tons of beautifully polished national disgrace.”
It’s 15 Degrees Cooler at the Top of Burj Khalifa
Considering that Dubai can get to 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, that makes getting as high into the sky as possible an appealing option. The temperatures at the top can be up to 15 degrees cooler than at its base.
Numbers Are Meaningful at One World Trade Center in New York
The building itself is famously 1,776 feet high (when you include the 408-foot spire at the top), in reference to the year America’s founding fathers issued the Declaration of Independence. But the height of the tip of the metal-and-glass parapet on top of the tower also carries significance. It’s composed of two portions, one measuring 1,362 feet and one 1,368 feet, meant as a tribute to the heights of the original Twin Towers.
The Penthouse in 432 Park Avenue Sold for Less Than Half Its Asking Price
The highest unit in New York’s super-tall residential building is unsurprisingly not cheap. But while the 95th floor penthouse was listed for a staggering $82 million when it first became available in 2016, that price proved too rich even for the world’s super wealthy: City records show that it sold for a comparatively measly $32.4 million. If you’re looking to score deals on your own real estate, by the way, don’t miss the 15 Things Your Real Estate Agent Won’t Tell You.
We’ve Reached a Barrier in Elevator Speed
While the world’s tallest buildings have broken one elevator-speed record after another, a representative for Toshiba, which recently held the speed record, recently told the Washington Post, “the competition for speed is over.”
According to the Post, “One recent study suggested that 51.4 mph would probably be the limit before passengers get sick. Traveling down quickly is even more difficult: Go too fast and the body thinks it’s falling. Elevators in both the Shanghai Tower and the CTF Finance Tower go down at 22.3 mph, close to the limit.” And to learn how to comport yourself in these speedy lifts, bone up on the 13 Mistakes You’re Making in an Elevator.
One World Trade Center’s Project Director Has a Personal Connection to the Site
Steve Plate, who oversaw engineering and construction on One World Trade Center, had personal reasons to feel a connection. He worked in the North Tower of the original World Trade Center, but missed his train on the day of the 9/11 terror attacks.
Two Window Washers Were Trapped at the Top of One World Trade Center
Hopefully these guys got holiday bonuses: In November 2014, a pair of window washers had to be rescued outside the 68th floor of the One World Trade Center when a cable came loose from their platform, leaving them dangling from the building from the 68th floor. Rescue workers had to break through three layers of glass from the inside of the building to get them back inside.
The AC Condensation of the Burj Khalifa Could Fill 20 Olympic-Sized Swimming Pools
The world’s tallest building uses 946,000 liters of water on a daily basis, but perhaps more crazy is the amount of water produced over the year in the form of condensation from air conditioners. Considering how hot it gets in Dubai, it makes sense that strong ACs would be a must, but still: in the span of a year, the buildings air conditioners produce enough water via condensation to fill 20 Olympic-sized pools.
The Burj Khalifa Bends
Tall buildings are built to be slightly flexible as wind and weather conditions change, and this is especially true of the world’s tallest building. Exposed to strong desert winds, the building “is tuned to sway slowly so your middle ear doesn’t pick it up,” according to lead architect George Efstathiou. “They tune it just like a musical instrument so that the harmonics of the building don’t coincide with the harmonics caused by the wind…. We tune it so that on the floors where people are going to be, you don’t feel it that much”
The Second Tallest Building in the World Has the Fastest Elevator in the World
One record that the world’s tallest building does not hold is that of fastest elevator, an honor that is held by the world’s second-tallest building, Shanghai Tower, whose elevators can get up to an astonishing 45.8 miles per hour. However, the average visitor is unlikely to experience this speed, as it requires a specially enhanced elevator car accompanied by a Mitsubishi technician.
One World Trade Center Was Built With Enough Concrete to Build a Sidewalk From New York City to Chicago
That would be 200,000 cubic yards of concrete (not to mention 45,000 tons of structural steel).
One World Trade Center Uses Enough Glass to Cover 20 Professional Football Fields
And that’s just the exterior of the building. The tower itself is made with enough steel to build 20,000 cars.
Chicagoans Tried to Change Willis Tower Back to Sears Tower
When insurance broker Willis Group Holdings changed the name of the second-tallest building in the Western Hemisphere from the iconic Sears Tower to the less evocative Willis Tower, locals balked. A petition to change the name back to “Sears” attracted 50,000 signatures and broad public support, but there was not much that could be done and the new name has remained.
The Highest Aboveground Bathroom Is in Willis Tower
Though only the second-tallest building in the United States, Willis Tower still holds the record for highest aboveground bathroom, with its Skydeck bathrooms at a staggering 1,353 feet above ground level (others reach greater elevations, such as Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe, CA, where the restroom sits at 9,000 feet above sea level, though the building it’s in is partially ensconced in ground).
The Lobby of One World Trade Center Includes References to the Original Twin Towers
In particular, the white marble adorning the walls comes from the same quarry of the old towers.
It took Just 410 Days to Erect the Empire State Building
Impressive even by today’s standards, the tallest building in the world at the time took less than 14 months to erect—410 days to be exact—thanks to the assistance of 3,400 workers eager for a job during the nadir of the Great Depression.
The Burj Khalifa Holds More Records Than “World’s Tallest Building”
While Dubai’s Burj Khalifa holds the impressive record of World’s Tallest Building, it also holds five other records: the tallest freestanding structure in the world, the highest number of stories in the world, the highest occupied floor in the world, the highest outdoor observation deck in the world, and the tallest service elevator in the world.
The Fifth Tallest Building Has the Fastest Double-Decker Elevator
When the Lotte World Tower finished construction in South Korea last year—to become the fifth-tallest building in the world—one of its most impressive feats was the fact it had the world’s fastest double-decker elevator. Consisting of two attached cabins, one on top of the other, it can carry passengers to separate floors and carry twice the capacity of a standard elevator.
The Concrete in the Burj Khalifa Weighs as Much as 100,000 Elephants
That’s approximately half a million tons when it contains no people. Once it fills up, it weighs plenty more elephants.
The World’s Second-Tallest Building Is One of Its Greenest
While the world’s tallest buildings are known more for their excess than their sustainability, China’s Shanghai Tower has a number of green features that set it apart from other super high-rise buildings: It was designed with a 120-degree twist as the tower rises, which not only reduces wind loads but reduced the amount of construction material used by 25 percent; its rooftop holds 200 wind turbines, which generate about 10 percent of the building’s electricity; and it collects rainwater and recycles waste water.
Burj Khalifa’s Height Was Kept Secret
Just like the name change, the actual height of the Burj Khalifa was kept quiet until the building’s official opening day. The building’s Chicago-based architects, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, commented that they had expected clever onlookers to measure the building’s shadow in order to get the info. And for more fun trivia, check out these 100 Facts That Will Make You Say “Wow!”
The Makkah Clock in Saudi Arabia Is the Largest Clock Face in the World
The world’s tallest clocktower requires a pretty big clock. The Makkah Clock, measuring 141 feet across, holds the record for largest clock face, and can be read from more than 10 miles away (the minute hand alone stretches 75 feet long). That makes it 35 times larger than the famous Big Ben.
Burj Khalifa Was Renamed as a Last-Minute Surprise
Originally named Burj Dubai at the building’s opening ceremony, it was renamed in a surprise move after Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the president of the neighboring emirate Abu Dhabi (considering the billions that the emirate has poured into Dubai, it was perhaps the least they could do).
Yes, the Third-Tallest Building in the World Is a Clock Tower
In case you hadn’t figured this out by now. Though it require feats of cutting-edge engineering in its construction, the Abraj Al-Bait Towers—the world’s third-tallest building, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia—has a strikingly old-fashioned appearance, and houses an old-timey decorative clock at its top, known as the Makkah Clock.
The Abraj Al-Bait Is Very Religious
As you’d expect from a giant building in Mecca, the Abraj Al-Bait Towers make religion central to much of its purpose. The clock is ale to broadcast prayers from loudspeakers that can be heard miles away, it houses a museum of Islamic art, and dedicates a significant amount of space to prayer rooms and other religious areas—40,000 square feet.
One World Trade Center Had a Name Change
New York Governor George Pataki announced in 2005 that, once completed, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere would be known as the Freedom Tower. But after considering that it might be more practical to market the building using a more familiar name, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced in 2009 that it had been renamed One World Trade Center.
Willis Tower Is Actually Nine Separate Towers
The (at that time) Sears Tower was constructed as a group of nine individual buildings that all have the same width of 75 square feet, but range in height from 50 stories to 108 stories. According to the building’s architect, this “tube system” was inspired by a pack of cigarettes.
The Burj Khalifa’s Windows Are Cleaned the Old Fashioned Way
The 24,000 windows of the world’s tallest building are cleaned just like any other building—with soap and water and a team of washers who are clearly not afraid of heights. A team of 36 cleaners wash the windows year-round. They only work on surfaces when they are in the shade, to avoid the sun, and are strapped into state-of-the-art cages. Plus, they wear special protective clothing that looks a lot like a moon suit. And for more architectural astonishment, check out the 17 Floating Hotels That Are Simply Magical.
New York Is Still Home to One Type of Tallest Building
Though its days as the home of the tallest buildings in the world are behind it, New York City does still have a claim as the place where the tallest residential building in the world stands. That would be the 1,396-foot-tall 432 Park Avenue building, completed in December 2015 and overlooking Central Park. And if you live in the Empire State, you’ll appreciate these 30 Things That Always Annoy People in Cities.
The Port Authority Owns One World Trade Center’s Land
This 16-acre site on which the landmark stands is owned by a government agency controlled by New York and New Jersey’s governors, though über-developer Larry Silverstein currently holds the lease for the retail and office space.
The Third-Tallest Building Has the Most Floor Area
Of all the mega-tall skyscrapers, the Abraj Al-Bait Towers in Saudi Arabia are the world’s bulkiest, with seven individual towers of varying heights in addition to the central clock tower, giving it the biggest floor area in the world. The development as a whole boasts nearly 17 million square feet.
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