A History of the World’s Tallest Structures

You may be surprised that the title of the world’s tallest structure does not change hands that often. In fact, only 19 man-made structures have ever held the title throughout our history. An astounding fact when you realise how many tall structures have been constructed over the last five thousand years.

Today, I would like to walk you through the tallest structures in world history: From the pyramids of Egypt right through to the amazing Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Pyramid of Djoser (2648 BC to 2610 BC)

Location: Saqqara, Egypt
Construction Period: 2667 BC to 2648 BC (19 Years)
Height: 62 m (203 ft)
Tallest Structure Crown: 38 years

Also known as the Stepped Pyramid of Saqqara, the pyramid of Djoser was was built for the burial of Pharaoh Djoser in 27th century BC. Nowadays, it is better known as the first pyramid built by the Egyptians.

6 tombs of decreasing size were placed on top of each other (known as mastabas), which is why the top of the complex is known as a step-pyramid. Underneath the pyramid there is around 6 km of tunnels and chambers (please visit www.arthistory.upenn.edu//zoser/zoser.html for a complete walkthrough of the Djoser complex).

The pyramid of Djoser was the tallest structure in the world for 38 years.

Pyramid of Djoser

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Meidum Pyramid (2610 BC to 2605 BC)

Location: Egypt
Construction Period: Unknown
Height: 93.5 m (307 ft)
Tallest Structure Crown: 5 Years

Built by the pharaohs Huni and Sneferu, Meidum was a step-pyramid that was constructed on sand, not rock. This is one of the main reasons why the pyramid collapsed during construction. The heavy outer layers slid away, which is why the pyramid today resembles a cube.

It was the tallest structure in the world for only 5 years, being succeeded by another pyramid built by the pharaoh Sneferu.

Meidum Pyramid

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Bent Pyramid (2605 BC to 2600 BC)

Location: Egypt
Construction Period: Unknown
Height: 101.1 m (332 ft)
Tallest Structure Crown: 5 Years

The second pyramid built by Sneferu, the bent pyramid got its name due to its 54 degrees inclination at the bottom and 43 degrees inclination at the top. Scientists believe that the inclination at the top was changed as a result of the meidum pyramid collapsing. Check out guardians.net/egypt/cyberjourney/dahshur/bentpyramid/bent_pyramid_interior.htm for a look inside the bent pyramid complex.

Like Meidum, the bent pyramid was at the top of the world for 5 years.

Bent Pyramid

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Red Pyramid of Sneferu (2600 BC to 2560 BC)

Location: Dahshur, Egypt
Construction Period: 2617 BC to 2600 BC
Height: 105 m (345 ft)
Tallest Structure Crown: 40 Years

Also known as the North Pyramid, the red pyramid was the third constructed by the pharaoh Sneferu (apparently on his 30th year of reign). It was built at 43 degrees to make the pyramid more stable and is therefore regarded as the first true pyramid. It only features one internal structure.

This was the last pyramid constructed by the pharaoh Sneferu. Interestingly, the pyramid was not always red. The outer layer of the pyramid was built with white Tura limestone, however those blocks were removed during the Middle Ages for buildings in Cairo, revealing the red sandstone underneath. The pyramid was the tallest structure in the world for 40 years.

Red Pyramid of Sneferu

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Great Pyramid of Giza (2560 BC to 1311 AD)

Location: Egypt
Construction Period: 2560 BC to 2540 BC (20 Years)
Height: 146.5 m (481 ft)
Tallest Structure Crown: 3,871 Years

One of The Seven Wonders of the World, the great pyramid of Giza was the tallest structure in the world for nearly four thousand years. It is also referred to as the Pyramid of Khufu and the Pyramid of Cheops, after the pharaoh who constructed it.

Great Pyramid of Giza

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When people think about the pyramids in Egypt, they are think about the great pyramid of Giza. It truly is a masterpiece. It is estimated that 2.3 million blocks were used to build the pyramid, weighing a whopping 5.9 million tonnes. Apparently, the four sides have an average error of only 58 millimetres in length. Til this day, we do not have conclusive proof on how the pyramid was built, though there are many different theories.

Due to erosion, the pyramid now stands 138.8 metres (455 ft) tall; approximately 8 metres less than it did when it was constructed.

Lincoln Cathedral (1311 to 1549)

Location: Lincoln, England
Construction Period: 1092 to 1311 (219 Years)
Height: 160 m (525 ft)
Tallest Structure Crown: 238 Years

The Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln, more commonly referred to as Lincoln Cathedral, is a medieval cathedral that took over 200 years to build. The Cathedral is steeped in history. In addition to being the home of the Bishop of Lincoln, it used to be the home of one of the original copies of Magna Carta.

Had its central spire not collapsed in 1549, it would have been the tallest structure in the world for 573 years until the Washington Monument was built in 1884. Still, the title of the tallest structure in the world would remain within the religious world until that date.

Lincoln Cathedral

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St. Olaf’s Church (1549 to 1625)

Location: Tallinn, Estonia
Construction Period: 1438 to 1519 (81 Years)
Height: 159 m (522 ft)
Tallest Structure Crown: 76 Years

Dedicated to King Olaf II of Norway, St. Olaf’s Church was only one metre shorter than Lincoln Cathedral, however 30 years after being completed it was catapulted to the top of the world due to the collapse of Lincoln Cathedral’s central spire. Unfortunately, St. Olaf’s has had a lot of problems too. It has apparently been burned down three times in it’s history. It lost its tallest title when its spire was hit by lightning in 1625. Today the church stands 123.7 metres (406 ft) tall and has belonged to the Baptist church since 1950.

St. Olaf's Church

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St. Mary’s Church (1625 to 1647)

Location: Stralsund, Germany
Constructed: 1298
Height: 151 m (495 ft)
Tallest Structure Crown: 2 to 2 Years

When the spire of St. Olaf’s was destroyed by lightning in 1625, St. Mary’s Church in Stralsund, Germany, was crowned the tallest structure in the world. The church was built 47 years before St. Olaf’s in Estonia, and had been standing for 147 years when it was unexpectedly crowned the tallest structure in the world.

Unfortunately, the beautifully gothic St. Mary’s was knocked off the top stop in the same way. In 1495 its steeple tower was blown down during a storm and was subsequently rebuilt taller. It too was later struck by lightning in 1647 and was completely destroyed. Today the Cathedral stands at 104 metres (341 ft) tall.

St. Mary's Church

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Strasbourg Cathedral (1647 to 1874)

Location: Strasbourg, France
Construction Period: 1015 to 1439 (424 Years)
Height: 142 m (469 ft)
Tallest Structure Crown: 227 Years

Also known as Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg, Strasbourg Cathedral is a gothic style Catholic Cathedral that was completed in 1439. 208 years after it was completed, the Cathedral was crowned the tallest structure in the world due to two circumstances: St. Mary’s Church in Stralsund, Germany, losing its steeple tower, and The Great Pyramid of Giza eroding several metres below its former height.

It was the third religious building in a row to be crowned the tallest structure by default due to the previous structure being destroyed. This had the bizarre effect of each of the tallest structures between 1549 and 1874 being smaller than the last tallest structure. Even more bizarre, because of the erosion of The Great Pyramid of Giza, Strasbourg Cathedral has the unique title of being the smallest “tallest structure” from 2560 BC to the present day (4573 years!!). It remained the tallest structure in the world for 227 years.

Strasbourg Cathedral

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St. Nikolai (1874 to 1876)

Location: Hamburg, Germany
Construction Period: 1846 to 1874 (28 Years)
Height: 147 m (483 ft)
Tallest Structure Crown: 2 Years

The title of tallest structure remained in Strasbourg for over 200 years. It would then change hands 5 times in just 15 years. The Gothic Revival Church of St. Nicholas was 147 metres tall (482 ft) when it was completed in 1874; 5 metres higher than Strasbourg Cathedral.

It was the tallest structure in the world for 2 years. Unfortunately, the church was mostly destroyed during the bombing of Hamburg on 28 July 1943. Most of it was destroyed 8 years later, however the front of the church, which includes the spire, remains.

St. Nikolai Church

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Cathédrale Notre Dame (1876 to 1880)

Location: Rouen, France
Construction Period: 1202 to 1876 (674 Years)
Height: 151 m (495 ft)
Tallest Structure Crown: 4 Years

Cathédrale Notre Dame is a breathtaking Cathedral that was close to 700 years in the making. It contains a tomb of the famous English King, Richard the Lionheart (Richard I of England). Like St. Nikolai in Germany, Notre Dame was bombed during the second world war, however it was thankfully not destroyed.

It was 4 metres higher than St. Nikolai, which was enough for it to lay claim as the tallest structure in the world. A title it would hold for 4 years.

Cathédrale Notre Dame

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Cologne Cathedral (1880 to 1884)

Location: Cologne, Germany
Construction Period: 1248 to 1880 (632 Years)
Height: 157.4 m (516 ft)
Tallest Structure Crown: 4 Years

Cologne Cathedral is a beautiful Cathedral that took over 600 years to construct. It is home to the famous Shrine of the Three Kings and Gero Cross. It was also bombed during the second world war but was luckily not destroyed. Today it is Germany’s most visited landmark.

Its high spires helped it become the tallest structure in the world for 4 years, though it is the last religious structure in this prestigious list.

Cologne Cathedral

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Washington Monument (1884 to 1889)

Location: Washington D.C., United States
Construction Period: 1848 to 1854, 1877 to 1884 (36 Years from Start to Finish)
Height: 169 m (555 ft)
Tallest Structure Crown: 5 Years

Named after George Washington, the first president of the United States, the Washington Monument is one of the most famous landmarks in the USA. Construction was halted for over 20 years due to lack of funding, however funding was later secured and it was completed within 7 years. It is made of marble, granite and bluestone gneiss.

It was the tallest structure in the world for 5 years. Despite losing that title a long time ago, it continues to hold other records such as the world’s tallest stone structure and the world’s tallest obelisk.

Washington Monument

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Eiffel Tower (1889 to 1930)

Location: Paris, France
Construction Period: 1887 to 1889 (2 Years)
Height: 300.65 m (986 ft)
Tallest Structure Crown: 41 Years

Completed in 1889 for the 1189 Paris World Fair, the Eiffel Tower is as famous now as it was back then. It is one of the most famous landmarks in the world, however when it was being built it was criticised as being “useless and monstrous”:

We, writers, painters, sculptors, architects and passionate devotees of the hitherto untouched beauty of Paris, protest with all our strength, with all our indignation in the name of slighted French taste, against the erection…of this useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower … To bring our arguments home, imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the Dome of les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream. And for twenty years … we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal.

Despite these criticisms, the Eiffel Tower went on to win the hearts of everyone in Paris, and today it remains the most visited monument in the world.

Eiffel Tower

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The tower was slightly over 300 metres when it was constructed in 1889. It was the tallest structure in the world for 41 years until the Chrysler Building was completed in 1930. Interestingly, an antenna was added to the top of the tower in 1957 that extended its height to 324 metres (1,063 ft). This means that today the Eiffel Tower is 5 metres higher than the building that stole its tallest structure title; which is justice in a way, as the Chrysler Building added its high spire of 38 metres specifically to take the crown as the world’s tallest structure.

Chrysler Building (1930 to 1931)

Location: New York, United States
Construction Period: 1928 to 1930 (2 Years)
Height: 319 m (1,046 ft)
Tallest Structure Crown: 1 Year

The Chrysler Building held the title of the world’s tallest structure for the least amount of time in history: Only 11 months. It was surpassed the following year by the more famous Empire State Building. It is a shame that the Chrysler Building is not as famous as it is arguably much more beautiful. Its art deco style still stands out today due to its stylish crown, which lights up at night.

No workers died during the construction of the building, despite it being built at a rate of four floors every week. Today, it remains the tallest brick building in the world and the fourth largest building in New York (a position it shares with the 2007 New York Times Building).

Chrysler Building

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Empire State Building (1931 to 1967)

Location: New York, United States
Construction Period: 1930 to 1931
Height: 381 m (1,250 ft)
Tallest Structure Crown: 36 Years

Many argue that the Chrysler Building is more stylish, however it is difficult to argue that the Empire State Building is more iconic. Since King Kong climbed to the top, it has been famous all around the world. It is still the most recognisable skyscraper in the world.

Empire State Building

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The Empire State Building was the tallest structure in the world for 36 years and the tallest building in the world for 41 years (when the World Trade Centre towers were completed in Lower Manhattan in 1972). It was also the first skyscraper to have more than 100 floors.

The building was delivered under budget and was completed in only 15 months, 3 months less than it had been scheduled for completion. The quoted height of the building of 381 metres is the height to the top of the roof. When you include the antenna at the top, its height increases to 443 metres (1,454 ft).

Ostankino Tower (1967 to 1976)

Location: Moscow, Russia
Construction Period: 1963 to 1967 (4 Years)
Height: 540.1 m (1,772 ft)
Tallest Structure Crown: 9 Years

Completed in 1967, the Ostankino Tower in Moscow, Russia, is a television and radio tower that held the title of the tallest structure in the world for 9 years. It lost the title to CN Tower, however it remained the second tallest structure for over 30 years. To this day Ostankino Tower is the tallest structure in Europe and the sixth tallest structure in the world.

Ostankino Tower

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CN Tower (1976 to 2007)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Construction Period: 1973 to 1976 (3 Years)
Height: 553.33 m (1,815.4 ft)
Tallest Structure Crown: 32 Years

CN Tower is an impressive concrete tower that was built for communications in Toronto, Canada. It is one of the most recognised structures in Canada, with millions of people visiting it every year.

It was the tallest structure in the world for over 3 decades. It is only 13 metres higher than Ostankino Tower. There were plans twenty years ago to add a 21 metre high antenna to the top of the Ostankino Tower. This would have taken the tallest structure title away from CN Tower at the time, however the antenna was never built. As such, CN Tower remained the tallest structure in the world until 2007 (though technically it held the title until 2010, as that is when the Burj Khalifa officially opened).

CN Tower

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Burj Khalifa (2007 to Present)

Location: Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Construction Period: 2004 to 2009 (5 Years)
Height: 829.8 m (2,722 ft)
Tallest Structure Crown: 6 Years and Counting

The Burj Khalifa topped out in January 2009 and officially opened on 4 January 2010, however it surpassed the height of CN Tower during 2007. It was previously known as The Burj Dubai but its name changed to honour UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

The building is nothing short of a masterpiece. It has 163 floors plus 46 maintenance levels. It has broken several world records for its height. It even has records such as the world’s highest nightclub, highest restaurant and highest elevator installation.

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa did not break the tallest structure in the world record: It smashed it! It is just over 50% higher than CN Tower. No other structure today even comes close.

The World’s Tallest Structures

For thousands of years, the worlds tallest structures belonged to the pharaohs. Then, for nearly 600 years, all of the tallest structures in the world belonged to Christianity. After a short run at the top by Washington Monument, all of tallest structures in the world have been towers and skyscrapers.

Today, the tallest structure has returned to the middle east. There are dozens of tall structures being developed over the next 5 years, however there is none in development that are even close to the height of the Burj Khalifa. The 718 metre high India Tower in Mumbai is the closest, however that project is on hold (and rumoured to be cancelled). China currently has five skyscrapers in development between 2015 and 2017 that will be between 580 and 660 metres; however even when those are completed, the Burj Khalifa will be the tallest in the world by a long way.

I can’t help but think that China will build a record breaking structure one day, and when they do, I expect a taller building to be constructed in Dubai, or another city in the Middle East. Mark my words, you are going to see a structure break the 1 kilometre milestone within the next 10 years. I have no doubt of that.

New York Workers Lunch

I hope you have enjoyed this review of the world’s tallest structures. If you enjoyed this post, make sure you are subscribed to updates, as over the next few weeks I will be publishing more interesting articles about buildings and skyscrapers.

Which of the tallest structures have you visited? Please leave a comment and let me know :)

Kevin

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