Sunday, November 10, 2013

Tallest building west of the Hudson?

Once again, Chicago's status as the home of the tallest building somewhere in the world is diminishing as the new 1 World Trade Center in New York has been topped off and will very likely be determined to be taller than our Willis/Sears Tower. I say likely determined because no one agrees exactly what constitutes the top of a building. Antennas for example don't count, since they're not considered an integral part of the design of a structure. Spires however, which are essentially ornamental in function, may or may not actually be measured as part of the height of a building.

This has become an issue since the new WTC has a spire which supporters of the building say should be counted as part of its height. With the spire the building measures 1,776 feet. Where have I heard that number before? As you can imagine, Chicago boosters say no, a building should be measured by its highest inhabitable floor. Since the WTC's spire leapfrogs it above the Chicago building, there has been quite a to do about methods of measurement. However we lost that battle to the twin Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur years ago.

Willis/Sears, once unquestionably the tallest building in the world, has slipped into the double digits depending upon whose list you subscribe to. Until the New York tower was topped off, Willis/Sears could still be claimed as the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. It was especially satisfying to denizens of the Windy City to know that while New York may get all the attention, by golly we still had a taller building.

I've previously written about the famous Chicago tower, expressing little enthusiasm for the building itself, and my lack of interest in the subject of ranking heights of buildings. And I was prepared to write another post expressing more of the same. But after giving it considerable thought, at least ten minutes worth, I've come to the conclusion that Sears Tower (as I will refer to it now and for evermore), deserves to be considered the taller building.

It turns out that the spire atop of the WTC itself is nothing more than a sheathing for an antenna, albeit a rather attractive one. What's more, the building's developers have decided for practical reasons against attaching the structure that was originally designed to cover the antenna, so now we're left with a 1,368 foot building topped with a 408 foot antenna. Sears Tower, without its two antennas, measures 1,450 feet.

This week in Chicago of all places, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat will meet to settle the score. There will be sentiment for 1WTC for obvious emotional and symbolic reasons. Meanwhile there will be many Chicagoans who will be awaiting the decision with baited breath. As one of our mottos is: "the city of big distinctions" it will be important to know just how to refer to Sears Tower; will it continue to be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere or merely the tallest building west of the Hudson?

Of course my life and probably yours won't be much effected by the ruling. Still, looking at pictures of the new Manhattan tower, it seems pretty ridiculous to consider the thing stuck on top of it to be anything other than an antenna. Measuring to the top of that antenna would be like measuring the height of a woman from the floor to the tip of her beehive hairdo.

There now I've done it, now I'll never look at 1 World Trade Center again without thinking of Marge Simpson. And maybe you will too.

You're welcome.

POST SCRIPT: Today, Tuesday November 12, 2013, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat has indeed declared 1 World Trade Center to be officially 1776 feet tall, making it the tallest building in the western hemisphere. Curses, foiled again.

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