The Tallest Building Title Goes from Chicago to New York

All eyes on me: Would Chicago's famous Willis Tower maintain the title, or would the new (and not yet open) One World Trade Center in New York become the tallest building in the country?

Willis Tower in Chicago was at the center of the tallest building in the country debate. New York's new One World Trade Tower was voted the tallest in Nov. 2013.

It's done. Chicago is out. Not everyone is happy. And Mayor Emanuel didn't like it and said so.  

The Height Committee of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, a Chicago-based organization, was in the national spotlight. In a special meeting called this week, members had one contentious architectural debate on their hands. At issue? None other than the tallest building in the United States. Would Chicago's Willis Tower, at 1,451 feet, the tallest in the word between 1973 and 1998, hold on? Or would the Sept. 11 memorial construction of the 1,776-foot One World Trade Center in rival New York claim the mantel?

This should be straightforward, right? Naw. This is architecture, people. It's a drama full of irony and old Chicago-New York cultural battles. This is the town where the first skyscraper in the world appeared in 1884, and the Willis – formerly Sears – is more than a landmark: It's a defining aspect of the Chicago skyline. It's sensitive.

The decision came down to whether an antennae topping the New York contender was just a broadcast antennae or counts as a permanent architectural element. Sans the 400-foot needle, the 104-story tower measures 1,368 feet. Architectural firm Skidmore Owings & Merrill, in charge of the design (and who also built the Sears tower), said it will fire a beacon of light, visible over 26 miles as symbolic of hope, according to Crain's.

Grumbles ensued after the Council voted. As Antony Wood, executive director of the Council, explained to Chicago Tribune: "It is not just a plain steel mast from which to hang antenna or satellite dishes." It's integral. 

Mayor Emanuel was blunt in his disagreement. "I would just say to all the experts gathered in one room, if it looks like an antenna, acts like an antenna, then guess what? It is an antenna," adding that he wasn't, uh, competitive. 

For the record, neither Chicago nor New York had the tallest building in the world. That distinction belongs to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, measuring 2,722 feet. New York will officially debut One World Trade Center in 2014.


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