People have been competing against each other to build taller and taller structures for a very long time. With today’s advanced building technology, the challenge gets even more difficult and far more expensive. That is why the Burj Khalifa is so well-known—it temporarily holds one of the most important titles in the world.
While it may seem easy to make a list of the tallest buildings, some people disagree on the rules of the game. Can a building simply add a spire and count it towards height, or is that cheating? Does the final measurement have to be taken from the height of the roof? Do non-occupiable floors count towards height, or is that also cheating? Organizations like the CTBUH, or Council for Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, help to define how we actually measure buildings. Using their database, we have outlined the 15 clear winners for the tallest buildings—not just any non-occupiable structure—in the world.
Since construction is always happening, this list includes only buildings that are officially completed and “topped out” as of publishing. Read on to see which 15 buildings are officially the tallest in the entire world—for now.
Tallest Buildings Around the World
Burj Khalifa (2,717 feet)
The Burj Khalifa, translated as Khalifa Tower, is the world-renowned tallest building in the world. It measures approximately 2,717 feet tall and includes over 160 stories. It is named in honor of Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the president of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Abu Dhabi to honor him for money donated to complete the building.
The Burj Khalifa uses the bundled tube structural system which works by combining multiple structural tubes which resist lateral loads and acts as a massive hollow cylinder. Tube structural systems, including bundled tubes, are extremely efficient and can be used to gain incredible heights. It was designed by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, or SOM, and inspired by Islamic architecture.
The building also boasts the following world records:
- Tallest free-standing structure
- Most stories in a building
- Tallest occupied floor
- Tall outdoor observation deck
- Longest elevator travel distance
- Tallest service elevator
Despite the Burj Khalifa’s reputation as a wonder of the world, it is important to note the controversial labor practices used for its completion. Skilled laborers worked incredibly long hours for little pay, at some points documented at $3.43–$5.25 a day, and were housed in reportedly terrible accommodations. According to Human Rights Watch, workplace injuries and fatalities were not well documented and are difficult to track.
Shanghai Tower (2,073 feet)
Although professional golfer Walter Hagen might think “no one remembers who came in second,” it is difficult to forget China’s Shanghai Tower. The building also comes second when it comes to the world’s fastest elevators and it shares the title for world’s tallest indoor observation desk with the Ping An Finance Center. Despite these second-place accolades or near wins, you probably won’t be disappointed if you visit Shanghai Tower. Each floor plate is carefully rotated to create an effortless twist that spans the entire height of the building.
Aside from decisions on the form of the building, the function of the curtain wall system is just as interesting. A double wall system helps to reduce the amount of heat absorbed through the façade and thus helps condition the space. Since there are two layers of glass, both can be clear while providing enough protection. Gensler, who worked on the building design, once described it as “the greenest super high-rise building on the earth at this point in time.” Some of the green elements that support this claim are the solar-protective curtain wall system, wind turbines, and geothermal energy sources.
Abraj Al-Bait Clock Tower (1,971 feet)
The Abraj Al-Bait Clock Tower may be the most unique skyscraper on our list. It certainly does not look like the kind of pencil towers you may have imagined would help achieve the extra height. Translated from Arabic to Towers of the House, it is actually a complex of seven buildings that cater to the many pilgrims to Mecca. It sits in an optimal location since for many, the pilgrimage end just next door at the most sacred place in Islam: the Great Mosque of Mecca.
The iconic clock tower is the structure that earns the Abraj Al-Bait Clock a place on this list and is called the Makkah Royal Clock Tower. It, unsurprisingly, has the world’s largest clock face and is home to the Clock Tower Museum which takes up four floors. Though this tall tower is impressive on its own, it’s difficult to separate it from the rest of the massive complex of buildings.
Ping An Finance Center (1,965 feet)
The Ping An International Finance Center is the fourth tallest building in the world but only the second tallest building in China. Though it is obviously an engineering marvel already, the building almost became more prestigious by beating out the Shanghai Tower and becoming the tallest building in the world, but the antenna was never installed since there was concern it would obstruct flight paths. It does, however, have the world’s tallest indoor observation deck—tied with the Shanghai Tower—which makes a great spot for tourists who are not afraid of heights. The Ping An International Finance Center also provides an important civic function by acting as the heart of the Futian District, the city’s central business district.
Lotte World Tower (1,819 feet)
Lotte World Tower is a diagrid building that has been referred to as “Korea’s crown jewel.” Lotte World Tower is named after its developer and owner, Lotte Group, for which the nearby recreation complex is also named. Both sites are important tourism destinations for Seoul.
The light color palette of the glass curtain walls and gentle curvature of the building are inspired by Korean ceramics and stand in stark contrast to the mountainous city. The building includes all of the mixed-use spaces we have come to expect from super-tall towers like offices, commercial space, and a fancy hotel, but also includes a new type of functional space special to Korea: “officetels.” An officetel—a portmanteau of office and hotel—is a type of mixed-use space similar to a studio apartment that combines living and working space.
One World Trade Center (1,776 feet)
1 WTC, or the Freedom Tower, is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere in addition to its position as the sixth tallest building in the world. Its official name of One World Trade Center was previously the northern tower of the Twin Towers destroyed in terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
The tower is part of a complex which includes multiple office buildings and a National September 11 Memorial & Museum on the ground of the original Twin Towers. As a measure of added symbolism, the official height of the building is 1,776 feet in reference to the year the Declaration of Independence was signed, signifying the establishment of the United States of America.
Guangzhou CTF Finance Center (1,739 feet)
The Guangzhou Chow Tai Fook Finance Center serves the megapolis of Guangzhou to meet its recent growth and urban expansion. The building sits on a platform or podium of eight floors of spaces mostly meant for the public and is supported by eight mega columns, similar to the Tianjin CTF Finance Center. The Guangzhou CTF Finance Center is a great example of “form follows function” in a skyscraper. Since the multipurpose building serves different functions, it needs slightly different floor sizes. As a result, the building simply acts as a wrapper around these areas and lets each space’s requirements define the form.
Tianjin CTF Finance Center (1,739 feet)
Though the Tianjin Chow Tai Fook Binhai Center is only the eighth tallest building in the world, it is the tallest building in the world with fewer than 100 floors. The skyscraper is considered part of the Tianjin Economic Development Area—a free market zone in Binhai, Tianjin, China—and provides new residences, office spaces, and a hotel.
The building’s elegant curvature is created through eight perfectly integrated mega columns, which simultaneously act to support the building and create aesthetically pleasing weaving contours of the structure’s design. The form is also helpful in how the building deals with wind forces—it is aerodynamic like a car and allows the wind to simply wrap around it since there are no sharp corners. While it currently is the tallest building in Tianjin, it will soon be overshadowed by the Goldin Finance 117 which is already under construction.
China Zun (1,732 feet)
The CITC Tower, often nicknamed China Zun, is the tallest building in Beijing and may stay that way for a long time due to new height restrictions for future projects. China Zun gets both its name and design inspiration from a historical vessel that the architects abstracted to fit its record-breaking structure. (A zun is an ancient wine vessel used in rituals during the Bronze Age in China.) This form also provided an additional function: the natural curvature of the vessel—which is wider on the top and bottom and thinner in the middle—creates strong protection against seismic activity.
Taipei 101 (1,667 feet)
Taipei 101, previously called Taipei Financial Center, is one of the most recognizable buildings on this list of skyscrapers. It was also, for a period of time, the tallest building in the world until it was beat out by our current champion, the Burj Khalifa. While many skyscrapers are examples of contemporary design that could exist anywhere, there is something distinctly Asian about Taipei 101.
There are eight separate vertical pieces of the building that each hold eight floors. This is related to the Chinese belief in eight’s association with prosperity, wealth, abundance, and good fortune. Each grouping is also designed with the abstracted shape of a bamboo stalk, a pagoda, and Chinese ingots or money boxes. The entire building also carefully considers feng shui philosophy in multiple design elements across different scales.
Shanghai World Financial Center (1,614 feet)
Shanghai World Financial Center is a mixed-use skyscraper commissioned to establish this area of Shanghai as an important hub of commerce and culture. As such, the building includes plenty of tourist attractions in addition to office space and real estate. From its Sky Arena and Sky Walk, guests are introduced to incredible views of the city below.
If you think all skyscrapers are simply tall glass boxes, the Shanghai World Financial Center may prove you wrong. Two arcs intersect a square prism to create the resulting building form and the recognizable subtracted volume near the top of the building. This symbolizes the heavens meeting or intersecting with the earth to create balance. The forms chosen for this concept are inspired by an ancient Chinese symbol. This building may show that there is plenty of ways to incorporate relevant cultural meaning even in a super tall work of engineering.
International Commerce Center (1,588 feet)
The International Commerce Center is the tallest building in Hong Kong and was once the fourth tallest building in the world. It is part of Union Square, a dense and modern “self-contained community.” The building itself includes popular tourist amenities such as Sky100 and Hong Kong Ritz Carlton.
Though it was mainly designed to house the residential, commercial, and business needs of the Union Square area, the building includes popular tourist amenities such as Sky100 and Hong Kong Ritz Carlton. Its tourist facilities mark even more record-breaking achievements including the world’s highest swimming pool and observation deck and the world’s second-highest hotel. The Kowloon Station located under the International Commerce Center may even soon connect visitors to a high-speed bullet train by 2030.
Central Park Tower (1,550 feet)
New York City’s Central Park Tower is the tallest residential building in the world and for good reason—the units are incredibly valuable pieces of real estate and many boast unparalleled views of Central Park. The design includes impressive cantilevers that run along the height of the building and a façade that is almost entirely glass—a design feature included to help the building blend into the skyline. Central Park Tower is one of the developments included in Billionare’s Row—a group of ultra-luxury towers near the southern end of Central Park.
Lakhta Center (1,516 feet)
The Lakhta Center, located in Saint Petersburg, Russia, is the tallest building in Europe in addition to its position as the fourteenth tallest building in the world. However, it is not the tallest structure in Russia. That distinction belongs to the Ostankino Tower in Moscow. Still, the Lakhta Center towers over the surrounding historic Saint Petersburg and, in fact, faced some opposition from those who thought the supertall structure would detract from the city. It was moved to an alternative area called Lakhta in Saint Petersburg as a comprise. Now, many locals believe it helps represent the duality of Russia’s history and its bright modern future.
Landmark 81 (1,513 feet)
Though it is the last building on our list, Landmark 81 is nothing to turn your nose up at. The massive tower measures just over 1,500 feet high and is the tallest building in Vietnam and all of Southeast Asia. Located in a luxurious area of Ho Chi Minh City along the western edge of the Saigon River, the skyscraper acts as the center of a bustling high-end area called Vinhomes Central Park. This area gets its name from the largest real estate company in Vietnam called Vinhomes. Vinhomes is also the investor and main developer for Landmark 81.