One World Trade Center Wins Claim to Tallest U.S. Tower

Lower Manhattan’s 1 World Trade Center was deemed the tallest tower in the U.S. by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, which ruled that the skyscraper’s 408-foot spire is part of its architecture.

The group’s height committee decided that the tower’s official height is 1,776 feet (541 meters), Timothy Johnson, chairman of the council, said at a press briefing today in New York. That surpasses Chicago’s Willis Tower, at 1,451 feet, as the country’s tallest.

One World Trade Center, scheduled for completion in January, will be the second skyscraper to open at Ground Zero, where terrorists destroyed the twin towers 12 years ago. The building’s height including the spire was chosen by Daniel Libeskind, the master-plan architect for the 16-acre (6.5-hectare) site, as a symbolic reference to the year the U.S. declared its independence from Great Britain. The mast is meant to be part of tower’s artistic design, rather than a piece of technical equipment, the Council on Tall Buildings said.

“The design of One World Trade Center, as explained to us, reinforces its role as a symbol of resurgence on this important site,” Antony Wood, an executive director on the council, said in a statement. “The spire which holds the beacon light, shining out at the symbolic height of 1,776 feet, is especially poignant.”

Broadcast Facility

The determination that the mast atop the building wasn’t an antenna was critical to the group’s decision, Johnson said.

Before the spire’s installation, the developers said it would “serve a state-of-the-art broadcast facility” to be housed in the tower that would offer “unparalleled service to the region’s broadcasters,” according to a Jan. 24 statement on the 1 World Trade Center website.

Jordan Barowitz, a spokesman for the Durst Organization, co-developer of the tower, said the distinction is that the spire itself “doesn’t transmit anything.”

“You can hang equipment off of it, or off the communication rings at the bottom of it, but the spire is not an antenna,” he said today in an interview.

Anthony Hayes, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Durst’s partner, said today that plans call for the structure to house equipment to transmit broadcasts.

Chrysler Building

One of the original twin towers had a broadcast antenna that wasn’t considered part of its height. After the 2001 terrorist attacks, much of the region’s transmissions moved to the Empire State Building in Midtown. That property’s spire isn’t counted in its height. By contrast, the nearby Chrysler Building’s spire isn’t functional and is considered an architectural part of the tower, Johnson said.

Upon completion, 1 World Trade Center would be the world’s third-tallest tower, according to the Chicago-based council, a global organization of real estate professionals including landlords, developers, architects and engineers. It ranks behind the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, at 2,717 feet, and Mecca, Saudi Arabia’s Makkah Royal Clock Tower, which rises to 1,972 feet.

Willis Tower, built in 1973 and formerly known as the Sears Tower, is poised to be the world’s 10th tallest, according to the council. One World Trade Center won’t officially claim its status until it is declared complete, Johnson said.

One World Trade Center’s 1,776-foot span has been “an unwavering principal” of the building’s design, according to a statement today from the Port Authority, the Durst Organization and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, the tower’s architect.

Because of the height’s symbolic importance, the council was assured that the spire would never be replaced, unlike the antennas on the Willis Tower, which have been changed over the years, Johnson said.

Carol Willis, founder of New York’s Skyscraper Museum, said the council made the right call.

“I’m very happy that architectural trumps functional, when it comes to the artistic expression of buildings,” said Willis, who attended the briefing.

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