Architecture

Reach for the sky: The world's tallest skyscrapers

Around 11 Boeing 747-8 airplanes would need to be stacked, tail to tip, to reach the height of the Burj Khalifa
Around 11 Boeing 747-8 airplanes would need to be stacked, tail to tip, to reach the height of the Burj Khalifa
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Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) designed the International Commerce Centre, the 10th tallest skyscraper in the world
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Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) designed the International Commerce Centre, the 10th tallest skyscraper in the world
KPF designed half of the world's top ten skyscrapers, including the International Commerce Centre
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KPF designed half of the world's top ten skyscrapers, including the International Commerce Centre
Construction began on the International Commerce Centre in 2002 and was finished in 2010
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Construction began on the International Commerce Centre in 2002 and was finished in 2010
The International Commerce Centre reaches an official height of 484 m (1,588 ft)
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The International Commerce Centre reaches an official height of 484 m (1,588 ft)
The Shanghai World Financial Center, by Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), is a stunning-looking skyscraper
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The Shanghai World Financial Center, by Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), is a stunning-looking skyscraper
The Shanghai World Financial Center rises to a total height of 492 m (1,614 ft)
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The Shanghai World Financial Center rises to a total height of 492 m (1,614 ft)
The Shanghai World Financial Center's trapezoid section features an impressive observation point which allows visitors to walk and take in the view of Shanghai from almost half a kilometer up
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The Shanghai World Financial Center's trapezoid section features an impressive observation point which allows visitors to walk and take in the view of Shanghai from almost half a kilometer up
The Shanghai World Financial Center's shape represents the ancient Chinese symbols of heaven and earth
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The Shanghai World Financial Center's shape represents the ancient Chinese symbols of heaven and earth
The Shanghai World Financial Center's trapezoid void serves the practical purpose of reducing wind loads
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The Shanghai World Financial Center's trapezoid void serves the practical purpose of reducing wind loads
From its completion in 2004 until the Burj Khalifa surpassed it in 2009, the Taipei 101 (aka Taipei World Financial Center) in Taiwan was rated the world's tallest skyscraper
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From its completion in 2004 until the Burj Khalifa surpassed it in 2009, the Taipei 101 (aka Taipei World Financial Center) in Taiwan was rated the world's tallest skyscraper
Designed by C.Y. Lee & Partners Architects, Taipei 101 rises to a total height of 508 m (1,667 ft)
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Designed by C.Y. Lee & Partners Architects, Taipei 101 rises to a total height of 508 m (1,667 ft)
Taipei 101 is designed to handle the severe winds and earthquakes that can occur in the region
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Taipei 101 is designed to handle the severe winds and earthquakes that can occur in the region
In recent years, Taipei 101 has become a beacon of tall building sustainability
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In recent years, Taipei 101 has become a beacon of tall building sustainability
Taipei 101 received a Platinum award from LEED (a leading green building standard) and includes an energy-efficient double-paned glass curtain wall, low-flow water fixtures and advanced energy management systems
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Taipei 101 received a Platinum award from LEED (a leading green building standard) and includes an energy-efficient double-paned glass curtain wall, low-flow water fixtures and advanced energy management systems
Another skyscraper by Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), the Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre stands out from the crowd thanks to its terracotta cladding
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Another skyscraper by Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), the Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre stands out from the crowd thanks to its terracotta cladding
The Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre rises 530 m (1,739 ft) on a site overlooking the Pearl River
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The Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre rises 530 m (1,739 ft) on a site overlooking the Pearl River
Though it only recently opened in October, 2016, over 30,000 people already use the Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre each day
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Though it only recently opened in October, 2016, over 30,000 people already use the Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre each day
Visitors to the Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre get around using 95 Hitachi-designed elevators, which are among the world's fastest and move at speeds of 72 km/h (44.7 mph)
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Visitors to the Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre get around using 95 Hitachi-designed elevators, which are among the world's fastest and move at speeds of 72 km/h (44.7 mph)
The Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre stands out from the crowd thanks to its terracotta cladding
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The Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre stands out from the crowd thanks to its terracotta cladding
Remarkably, SOM's One World Trade Center is the only western skyscraper in the Top 10 tallest rankings
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Remarkably, SOM's One World Trade Center is the only western skyscraper in the Top 10 tallest rankings
Taking its name from the North Tower that was destroyed on September 11, 2001, the One World Trade Center rises to exactly 1,776 ft (541 m)
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Taking its name from the North Tower that was destroyed on September 11, 2001, the One World Trade Center rises to exactly 1,776 ft (541 m)
The One World Trade Center's height reflects the year that the United States made its historic Declaration of Independence from Great Britain
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The One World Trade Center's height reflects the year that the United States made its historic Declaration of Independence from Great Britain
The One World Trade Center rises to exactly 1,776 ft (541 m)
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The One World Trade Center rises to exactly 1,776 ft (541 m)
Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF)'s Lotte World Tower reaches a height of 555 m (1,820 ft) over Seoul, South Korea
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Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF)'s Lotte World Tower reaches a height of 555 m (1,820 ft) over Seoul, South Korea
The Lotte World Tower features an unusual silvery design that's inspired by traditional Korean ceramics, porcelain and calligraphy
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The Lotte World Tower features an unusual silvery design that's inspired by traditional Korean ceramics, porcelain and calligraphy
The Lotte World Tower has a glass-bottomed observation deck located near the top of the building, at a height of 497.6 m (1,633 ft)
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The Lotte World Tower has a glass-bottomed observation deck located near the top of the building, at a height of 497.6 m (1,633 ft)
The Lotte World Tower includes some sustainable technology, including solar panels, wind turbines, and water-harvesting systems
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The Lotte World Tower includes some sustainable technology, including solar panels, wind turbines, and water-harvesting systems
The Ping An Finance Centre, by Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), is located in Shenzhen's central business district and comprises 462,000 sq m (4,973,000 sq ft) of floorspace, spread over 100 floors
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The Ping An Finance Centre, by Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), is located in Shenzhen's central business district and comprises 462,000 sq m (4,973,000 sq ft) of floorspace, spread over 100 floors
The Ping An Finance Centre rises 599 m (1,965 ft) in height
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The Ping An Finance Centre rises 599 m (1,965 ft) in height
The Ping An Finance Centre's tapering form consists of a sculpted facade shaped to mitigate the effects of wind
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The Ping An Finance Centre's tapering form consists of a sculpted facade shaped to mitigate the effects of wind
Located in the heart of Mecca, the Makkah Royal Clock Tower rises to 601 m (1,972 ft) and is surrounded by six smaller buildings rising to various heights
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Located in the heart of Mecca, the Makkah Royal Clock Tower rises to 601 m (1,972 ft) and is surrounded by six smaller buildings rising to various heights
Gensler's Shanghai Tower makes up for its rather uninspired name with an eye-catching design that twists a total of 120 degrees from ground to tip
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Gensler's Shanghai Tower makes up for its rather uninspired name with an eye-catching design that twists a total of 120 degrees from ground to tip
The Shanghai Tower reaches a height of 632 m (2,073 ft)
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The Shanghai Tower reaches a height of 632 m (2,073 ft)
The $2.4 billion mixed-use megatall Shanghai Tower took six years to complete and its foundations involved a fleet of trucks pouring concrete non-stop for 63 hours
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The $2.4 billion mixed-use megatall Shanghai Tower took six years to complete and its foundations involved a fleet of trucks pouring concrete non-stop for 63 hours
This is the big one. Though it officially opened back in 2010, Dubai's Burj Khalifa, by SOM, still remains the world's tallest skyscraper by a long way
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This is the big one. Though it officially opened back in 2010, Dubai's Burj Khalifa, by SOM, still remains the world's tallest skyscraper by a long way
The world's tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa rises to an incredible 829.8 m (2,723 ft)
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The world's tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa rises to an incredible 829.8 m (2,723 ft)
Around 11 Boeing 747-8 airplanes would need to be stacked, tail to tip, to reach the height of the Burj Khalifa
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Around 11 Boeing 747-8 airplanes would need to be stacked, tail to tip, to reach the height of the Burj Khalifa
The Burj Khalifa's total floorspace is 334,000 sq m (3,595,146 sq ft), which is over twice the floorspace of China's Forbidden City, or four times the floorspace of London's Buckingham Palace
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The Burj Khalifa's total floorspace is 334,000 sq m (3,595,146 sq ft), which is over twice the floorspace of China's Forbidden City, or four times the floorspace of London's Buckingham Palace
Dubai gets rather hot in summer, so to prevent the concrete from spoiling during the Burj Khalifa's construction, workers had to mix in ice rather than water
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Dubai gets rather hot in summer, so to prevent the concrete from spoiling during the Burj Khalifa's construction, workers had to mix in ice rather than water
The Burj Khalifa's engineers had to tackle the issue of pumping concrete up to a height of 600 m (1,968 ft). Special mixes had to be used, along with some of the world's largest pumps, sending the concrete up at amazing pressures
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The Burj Khalifa's engineers had to tackle the issue of pumping concrete up to a height of 600 m (1,968 ft). Special mixes had to be used, along with some of the world's largest pumps, sending the concrete up at amazing pressures
The Burj Khalifa features a novel design which, according to SOM, "confuses" the wind and prevents wind vortexes from becoming dangerously powerful
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The Burj Khalifa features a novel design which, according to SOM, "confuses" the wind and prevents wind vortexes from becoming dangerously powerful

From the pyramids of ancient Egypt to the medieval churches of Europe, mankind has long endeavored to construct buildings that reach the heavens. Thanks to advances in tall building design it's feasible to build skyscrapers that approach a kilometer in height and perhaps even a mile high will soon be possible too. Join us as we take a look at the cutting edge designs that make up the world's tallest skyscrapers.

Skyscraper construction has undergone a shift in the last couple of decades, with the baton for really tall buildings passed from west to east. More specifically, the oil-rich middle-eastern countries like the United Arab Emirates now lead the way in commissioning very tall buildings, followed closely by China, though the firms which design these buildings are usually western.

The rate of change is very impressive. The State of the Game back in 2015 is now totally transformed, and all but one of the buildings we featured then has dropped a position (or several) in the world's tallest rankings. Rankings are decided by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), the leading authority on tall building construction.

Read on for the 10 tallest buildings today, and be sure to head to the gallery for more photos of each of the buildings listed.

10th: International Commerce Centre

Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) designed the International Commerce Centre, the 10th tallest skyscraper in the world
Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) designed the International Commerce Centre, the 10th tallest skyscraper in the world

Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) designed the International Commerce Centre, the 10th tallest skyscraper in the world. Make a note of that name by the way, as the influential American firm dominates this list, and is responsible for half of the world's top 10 tallest skyscrapers.

Construction began on the project in 2002 and was finished in 2010. On completion, it was officially ranked the 4th tallest building in the world, but has slipped position in the meantime. The skyscraper rises almost half a kilometer over Hong Kong, measuring an official height of 484 m (1,588 ft). Used primarily for office space, but with hotel space too, notable features in this building include its double-decker elevators.

Also, Wikipedia notes that all floor numbers containing four (4, 14, 24, etc) were omitted due to the word sounding very similar to death in Chinese. This isn't as unusual as it sounds, and several other buildings in that part of the world also have floors named in that way.

9th: Shanghai World Financial Center

The Shanghai World Financial Center, by Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), is a stunning-looking skyscraper
The Shanghai World Financial Center, by Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), is a stunning-looking skyscraper

The Shanghai World Financial Center, again by KPF, is a really unusual-looking skyscraper that rises to a total height of 492 m (1,614 ft), and includes offices, hotels, and retail space.

Completed in 2008, its overall shape reflects the ancient Chinese symbols of heaven and earth. In addition to making it look so unique, the trapezoid void towards the top of the skyscraper also serves the practical purpose of reducing wind loads.

The skyscraper includes an impressive observation area which allows visitors to walk and take in the view of Shanghai from almost half a kilometer up. In a novel little touch, its gift shop sells miniature Shanghai World Financial Center model skyscrapers that serve as bottle openers.

8th: Taipei 101

From its completion in 2004 until the Burj Khalifa surpassed it in 2009, the Taipei 101 (aka Taipei World Financial Center) in Taiwan was rated the world's tallest skyscraper
From its completion in 2004 until the Burj Khalifa surpassed it in 2009, the Taipei 101 (aka Taipei World Financial Center) in Taiwan was rated the world's tallest skyscraper

From its completion in 2004 until the Burj Khalifa surpassed it in 2009, the Taipei 101 (aka Taipei World Financial Center) in Taiwan was rated the world's tallest skyscraper.

Designed by C.Y. Lee & Partners Architects, it rises to a total height of 508 m (1,667 ft), and is designed to take the severe winds and earthquakes that can occur in the region in its stride. Indeed, it has a very solid-looking design consisting of multiple volumes that flare outward, bringing to mind the traditional Chinese pagoda.

Though it has lost "world's tallest" bragging rights, in recent years Taipei 101 has become a leader in tall building sustainability. The skyscraper received a Platinum award from LEED (a top green building standard), and now includes an energy-efficient double-paned glass curtain wall, low-flow water fixtures and an advanced energy management systems.

To be clear, you can't really call a building like this "environmentally friendly" in any meaningful sense, but the strive towards energy-efficiency is laudable.

7th: Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre

The Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre stands out from the crowd thanks to its terracotta cladding
The Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre stands out from the crowd thanks to its terracotta cladding

Another skyscraper by KPF, the Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre stands out from the crowd with its distinctive terracotta cladding. Measuring 530 m (1,739 ft)-tall on a site overlooking the Pearl River, it includes office space, residential space, and a hotel.

The decision to use terracotta came about both for historical reasons (it's a nice nod to China's famous Terracotta Army), and because it can be produced locally in a more environmentally-friendly manner than aluminum, glass, or steel. Terracotta is also more resistant to corrosion than usual skyscraper building materials and provides a better thermal performance than an all-glass curtain wall would.

Opening in October, 2016, the Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre is used by over 30,000 people each day. They get around using 95 Hitachi-designed elevators, which are among the world's fastest and travel at speeds of 72 km/h (44.7 mph).

6th: One World Trade Center

Remarkably, SOM's One World Trade Center is the only western skyscraper in the Top 10 tallest rankings
Remarkably, SOM's One World Trade Center is the only western skyscraper in the Top 10 tallest rankings

The One World Trade Center by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), is the only western skyscraper in the Top 10 tallest rankings. Still, what the United States lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality.

Taking its name from the North Tower that was destroyed on September 11, 2001, the One World Trade Center rises to 1,776 ft (541 m), reflecting the year that the United States made its historic Declaration of Independence from Great Britain.

Its overall form is inspired by the tapering style of classic New York City skyscrapers and is anchored by a cubic base with roughly the same footprint as the original North Tower. Over 40 percent of the materials used in construction were recycled and more than 87 percent of construction waste was diverted from landfill.

The building officially opened back in 2014 and is over-engineered to far exceed NYC Building Code requirements. Life-safety systems, including exit stairs, communication antennae, exhaust and ventilation shafts, and elevators, are encased in a concrete core that's a minimum of 2 ft (0.6 m) thick. Despite its considerable heft, it's still a beautiful building.

5th: Lotte World Tower

Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF)'s Lotte World Tower reaches a height of 555 m (1,820 ft) over Seoul, South Korea
Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF)'s Lotte World Tower reaches a height of 555 m (1,820 ft) over Seoul, South Korea

KPF's Lotte World Tower reaches a height of 555 m (1,820 ft) in Seoul, South Korea and is defined by an unusual silvery design inspired by traditional Korean ceramics, porcelain and calligraphy. Inside its 123 floors, the building includes office space, hotel space, retail space and officetels (studio apartment accommodation for workers).

The skyscraper's glass-bottomed observation deck is located near the top of the building, at a height of 497.6 m (1,633 ft), and offers fantastic views. To get up there, visitors travel in the world's fastest elevator, which can zoom from bottom to top of the tower within a minute – this must be pushing the envelope of how fast an elevator can travel without passengers losing their lunch.

The skyscraper includes some sustainable technology, including solar panels, wind turbines, and water-harvesting systems. It officially opened in April 2017.

4th: Ping An Finance Center

The Ping An Finance Centre, by Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), is located in Shenzhen's central business district and comprises 462,000 sq m (4,973,000 sq ft) of floorspace, spread over 100 floors
The Ping An Finance Centre, by Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), is located in Shenzhen's central business district and comprises 462,000 sq m (4,973,000 sq ft) of floorspace, spread over 100 floors

Completed in 2016, the Ping An Finance Centre, by KPF, is located in Shenzhen's central business district and comprises 462,000 sq m (4,973,000 sq ft) of floorspace, spread over 100 floors, and is mostly taken up by office space. It rises to 599 m (1,965 ft) in height.

Each day, the building accommodates up to 9,000 visitors to its impressive observation deck, which is located at a height of 550 m (1,804 ft), making it just a few meters short of the world's tallest observation deck, installed in the Burj Khalifa.

The Ping An Finance Centre's tapering form consists of a sculpted facade shaped to mitigate the effects of wind. Stone chevron-shaped columns converge at the tower's top and stainless steel protrusions protect the building against lightning strikes.

3rd: Makkah Royal Clock Tower

Located in the heart of Mecca, the Makkah Royal Clock Tower rises to 601 m (1,972 ft) and is surrounded by six smaller buildings rising to various heights
Located in the heart of Mecca, the Makkah Royal Clock Tower rises to 601 m (1,972 ft) and is surrounded by six smaller buildings rising to various heights

Located in the heart of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the Makkah Royal Clock Tower rises to 601 m (1,972 ft) and is surrounded by six smaller buildings rising to various heights. It includes a hotel, observation decks, exhibitions and more, but is dominated by four huge clock faces, which are the largest and highest in the world.

At night, the clocks are illuminated by 1 million LEDs, with the writing God is the Greatest on the north and south sides. Verses from the Koran adorn the east and west-facing sides.

The spire of the tower features a spherical observation center at its base and is topped by a shining gold crescent.

2nd: Shanghai Tower

The $2.4 billion mixed-use megatall Shanghai Tower took six years to complete and its foundations involved a fleet of trucks pouring concrete non-stop for 63 hours
The $2.4 billion mixed-use megatall Shanghai Tower took six years to complete and its foundations involved a fleet of trucks pouring concrete non-stop for 63 hours

Gensler's Shanghai Tower does the twist with an eye-catching design that rotates a total of 120 degrees from ground to tip. This reduces the crushing wind loads that batter the skyscraper at its maximum height of 632 m (2,073 ft) by an impressive 24 percent.

The project took six years of work, finally completing in 2016. Its foundations required a fleet of trucks to pour concrete non-stop for 63 hours. 106 Mitsubishi-designed elevators travel at speeds of up to 20 m (65 ft) per second to allow visitors to navigate the 128 floors, and it includes a total of 420,000 sq m (4,520,842 sq ft) of floorspace.

The building is clad with a double-layered glass skin and sports a total of 270 wind turbines, which provide all power required for external lighting. Its funnel-shaped parapet channels rainwater into large tanks, which is used for air-conditioning and heating systems. These measures, as well as others, ensured the building was awarded a LEED Gold rating.

1st: Burj Khalifa

The world's tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa rises to an incredible 829.8 m (2,723 ft)
The world's tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa rises to an incredible 829.8 m (2,723 ft)

This is the big one. Though it officially opened back in 2010, the Burj Khalifa, by SOM, still remains the world's tallest skyscraper by a long way. Also the tallest free-standing structure in the world, the skyscraper rises to an incredible 829.8 m (2,723 ft) over Dubai and comprises 160 stories.

At this point all these numbers might have become a little meaningless and jumbled, so to put it into perspective, you'd need to stack around 11 Boeing 747-8 airplanes, tail to tip, to match the height of the Burj Khalifa. Or roughly 2.5 Eiffel Towers.

Inside, its total floorspace is 334,000 sq m (3,595,146 sq ft), which is over twice the floorspace of China's Forbidden City, or four times that of London's Buckingham Palace. You could theoretically fit Paris' Louvre Palace and still have space to accommodate Russia's Winter Palace and England's Windsor Castle for good measure.

The Burj Khalifa features a novel design which, according to SOM, "confuses" the wind and prevents wind vortexes from becoming dangerously powerful
The Burj Khalifa features a novel design which, according to SOM, "confuses" the wind and prevents wind vortexes from becoming dangerously powerful

Delve a little deeper into the practicalities of building something like this for a minute and you get a better sense of the engineering achievement it represents. Take something as mundane as the concrete, for example: Dubai gets extremely hot in summer, so to prevent it from spoiling, workers had to mix in ice rather than water.

Then there was the issue of pumping the concrete up to a height of 600 m (1,968 ft). Special mixes had to be used, along with some of the world's largest pumps, sending the concrete up at amazing pressures.

There's also the wind, which would crush a lesser-designed tower. The Burj Khalifa features a novel design involving changes at each setback, which according to SOM, "confuses" the wind and prevents wind vortexes from building up and becoming dangerously powerful.

The Burj Khalifa's total floorspace is 334,000 sq m (3,595,146 sq ft), which is over twice the floorspace of China's Forbidden City, or four times the floorspace of London's Buckingham Palace
The Burj Khalifa's total floorspace is 334,000 sq m (3,595,146 sq ft), which is over twice the floorspace of China's Forbidden City, or four times the floorspace of London's Buckingham Palace

Drawing inspiration from a desert flower and classic Islamic architecture, the design is nonetheless very practical and efficient. Built from reinforced concrete and clad in glass, the skyscraper actually uses less steel than NYC's Empire State Building, despite being almost twice its height. It's arranged in a Y-shaped footprint and rises from a flat base in a spiraling pattern, steadily reducing mass as it reaches upwards. At its pinnacle, the central core emerges and is sculpted into a spire.

The Burj Khalifa has stood as the tallest building in the world for an impressive period, but it will likely be surpassed eventually. Indeed, the Jeddah Tower promises to do so in the coming years. However, it will remain a major milestone in mankind's continuing quest to build ever-higher.

Sources: CTBUH, SOM, KPF, C.Y. Lee & Partners, Gensler

2 comments
Booleanboy
While the Burj Khalifa is currently the tallest building in the world, it is also the most beautiful of its type. So many tall buildings (including many in Dubai) are hideous in their desperation to be different but the Burj is gorgeous both in the day and at night, especially when the fountains at its base a running. Well worth a visit if you ever get a chance!
DomainRider
Taipei 101's segmented structure may bring to mind a pagoda, but was inspired by the strength and flexibility of bamboo.