It's a darn competitive world out there, isn’t it? If you’ve spent any time at all on social media, you’ll know that it’s all a popularity contest. Likes, retweets, shares, comments, heart emojis… these are the metrics by which success is measured, friends.
Where there’s success, there’s also someone out to nab it for themselves. Nice world record you have there. Be a shame if someone… surpassed it.
Then there are the bandwagoners, who see that someone else’s idea has worked out darn well and wants to get in on that action as well. You know how it is, when a rival company drops their own version of a product. It’s always just different enough to keep the troops of rabid winged lawyer-monkeys away.
In the wide and wacky world of buildings that are just too darn big, you see a lot of this way of thinking. There’s something hey, ma, look what I can do about it all, as ambitious architects seek to reach new and greater heights than anybody has before. As we speak, the world’s first one-kilometre-tall building is under construction. But more on that later.
Height is going to be a primary factor in this rundown, but there’s more to it than that. We’re talking about grandeur, about spectacle. About the glory of Rome’s awe-inspiring Colosseum or Egypt’s Pyramid of Khafre. Also, sure, about the Chinese shopping centre that occupies an absurd 19 million square feet.
Strap yourselves in, it’s going to be an amazing and educational ride.
20 You’re Totally Just Showing Off
We’re going to kick this party off the right way, diving straight into the current tallest building in the world. As I say, something much bigger is currently being cooked up elsewhere in Saudi Arabia, but for now, the Burj Khalifa stands head and shoulders above everything else.
This amazing structure in Dubai stands at 828 metres (2,722ft) tall. Construction began in 2004, and it’s been the tallest building in the world since its completion late in 2008. It was named after the leader of the United Arab Emirates, according to USA Today, and is 163 storeys worth of pure chutzpah.
19 Indomitable USA Spirit
After the mighty Burj Khalifa, I suppose you could call the One World Trade Center a bit of a step down. I mean, come on. You’re only the tallest building in the Western hemisphere. Sixth tallest in the world? Come on, guys, my grandma’s taller than that.
This is no time for jokes, though, because the One World Trade Center is a magnificent building. Interestingly, as Size Explorer reports, it was designed by David Childs and his firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, who also created the Burj Khalifa. This icon of the New York skyline stands at 541 metres (1,776 feet).
18 My, Willis, What A Large Tower You Have
While we’re in the United States, let’s cross over to Chicago, Illinois. There you’ll find another supertall building. Number seven on Size Explorer’s tallest list, incidentally, just after the One World Trade Center. You guessed it, it’s the Willis Tower.
Often referred to by its former name of Sears Tower, this 442.1 metre (1450 feet) skyscraper was the tallest building in the world on its completion in 1973. It held that title for almost a quarter of a century. Today, it’s the second-tallest building in the hemisphere, which is still, to use the technical architect’s term, really freaking high indeed.
17 When Seven Skyscrapers Combine To Form One All-Powerful Super Skyscraper
Now, I don’t know what the official dictionary definition of extra is. I don’t know if it’s made it in there, in the modern sense of the word. If it has, though, I’d recommend that they just put a picture of the Abraj Al Bait in there. This is something else, right here.
The name means ‘The Towers of the House,’ which is all kinds of appropriate. This complex in Mecca, Saudi Arabia consists of seven vast skyscrapers, all of which are hotels. The central one is the Makkah Royal Clock Tower, which stands at 601 metres (1,971 feet).
It boasts the world’s largest clock face, according to Gizmodo, and cost approximately $15 billion to build. The world’s most expensive building, by a heck of margin (#2 is the $5.5 billion Marina Bay Sands in Singapore).
16 The World’s Tallest Twins
What do you do if you can’t quite win on height alone? You change the goalposts a little, that’s what you do. Our next stop is Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where the world’s tallest twin skyscrapers await.
The Petronas Towers were the tallest buildings in the world for a brief stint, from 1998 to 2004. They currently stand in tenth position on Size Explorer’s chart of completed buildings, 88 storeys and 452 meters (1,483 feet) of architectural wonderment. They’re one of Kuala Lumpur’s most popular and world-renowned tourist attractions. As well they should be, because that’s one heckola of a view right there.
15 Not As Colossal As You Might Think
So yes. So far, we’ve seen some truly incredible modern building. Feasts of human engineering in their right, for sure. When it comes to famous landmarks, though, you’ve got to look back a little too. The first of the more classic landmarks we’re going to look at? None other than Rome’s iconic Colosseum.
For many, this vast amphitheatre represents the pinnacle of Ancient Roman engineering. Completed in AD 80 under Titus, this 48 meter (157 feet) structure barely registers in contemporary lists of tallest buildings. It held an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 spectators, though, which is an absolutely phenomenal feat for the time. It’s been a symbol of Imperial power for centuries.
14 A Shard Of What?
Hopping back over to contemporary times, we’re off to London next. The famous Shard (formerly known as London Bridge Tower) was completed in 2012. It just barely ranks among the world’s top 100 tallest buildings, which doesn’t sound all that impressive. Hold your snark, though, because it’s the tallest in Western Europe.
As the official site explains, this Southwark landmark is home to a luxurious 5-star Shangri-La hotel, the finest views of the city anywhere, and the highest and most exclusive apartments anywhere in the United Kingdom. It’s 309.7 metres (1,016 feet) of utter luxury. The View From the Shard is a bucket list experience if ever I’ve seen one.
13 Because Height Isn’t Everything
Some people, as we all know, are a little sensitive about their height. More specifically, their lack of height. As such, I feel obligated to point out that we can’t judge on tallness alone. Our next stop, Central Park Jakarta in Indonesia, is an awe-inspiring building in a completely different sense.
The site is a combined shopping center, hotel and series of office buildings. Height-wise, it may not be anything special, but it’s the world’s tenth largest building. How? Because it covers 655,000 square meters (7,050,000 square feet), that’s how. I’m breaking you in gently, because we’re going to see even bigger later, but… wow.
12 A True Jewel Of India
Our next landmark may not be as old as Rome’s Colosseum, but it’s certainly cemented its place as a world heritage site. The Taj Mahal, in Agra, India, also attracts visitors in their droves every year, from all corners of the world.
Renowned as one of the finest examples of Mughal architecture ever, it was commissioned in 1632 by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in honour of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Now that’s a doting husband, right there. Remember that episode of The Simpsons, where the men of Springfield thought that Apu’s romantic gestures were putting the rest of them to shame? That was probably the sentiment throughout the empire.
This splendid marble structure is 73 meters (240 feet) tall and was just over two decades in the making.
11 Parisian Perfection
When the subject turns to Europe’s most beautiful (and popular landmarks), there’s one city that’s always going to crop up: Paris. If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to visit, you’ll know that the French capital is a treasure trove of historic buildings and other cultural highlights.
The magnificent Notre-Dame cathedral is just one of these. The architecture, the huge rose windows, the Hunchback from the movie… what’s not to like? Plans for this glorious Medieval building began to take shape under the reign of King Louis VII (1137-1180), and was finally completed in 1345. It stands 128 meters (429 feet) tall. Another one for the man-made bucket list.
10 I Know Airports Are Big, But This Is Ridiculous
So, yes. As the summer vacation season starts to fade to a distant memory (along with the meagre sun tan I managed to get on my pale British skin), we yearn for those exotic trips some of us were lucky enough to have taken this year.
Lots of them, naturally, involved air travel. Ah, airports. Those huge, clinical, time consuming waiting rooms. It’s no surprise that China, the world’s most populous country, would have particularly big airports, but still. Feast your eyes on Beijing Capital International Airport, Terminal B.
How big is the terminal? I’m glad you asked. It occupies a floor area of 10.6 million square feet, that’s how big it is.
9 The Biggest Ben In All The Land
Earlier in this rundown, we visited England’s capital and its super-swanky Shard. As impressive as it was, the Shard is a little too exclusive for my tastes, with its exclusive Shangri-La hotel and high-end apartments. How about a London landmark we can all enjoy?
Surely we’re onto a winner with Big Ben, size-wise? After all, it’s not called... Disappointingly Small Ben.
Contrary to popular belief, this is not the name of the Palace of Westminster’s clock tower itself. Rather, Big Ben is the nickname of the great bell within. The Clock Tower (renamed Elizabeth Tower in 2012 to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee) is 96 meters (315 feet) tall. You could stack three of them together, and they'd still be shorter than the Eiffel Tower!
8 A Factory Fit For A Boeing
As I say, it’s easy to judge buildings purely on height. It’s the most conventional way, I suppose, because that’s what’s most firmly entrenched in our consciousness. If you live in a big city, you’re probably familiar with the idea of gazing up at vast towers and feeling just a little overawed by the whole thing.
In terms of largest buildings by volume, though, there’s one clear winner. The famous Boeing factory in Everett, Washington takes that crown. We’re talking about 13.3 million square feet of space, here, or 472 million cubic feet. That’s just mind-boggling, when you stop and think about it.
7 Come On, That’s Bad For Your Posture
Work on Pisa’s iconic leaning tower began in 1173. Its design (featuring a foundation of just three meters) was inherently flawed, and the builders didn’t appreciate how unstable the soil was. As such, the work hadn’t progressed very far when the tilt began to become apparent.
Fast-forward several centuries, and the cathedral bell tower’s characteristic lean is exactly what draws tourists. Renovation has stabilised it over the years, but it’s never been corrected. It probably wouldn’t be if they could. The tower stands at 55.86 meters (183.3 feet) tall.
6 An Australian Icon
As we’ve seen, the world’s most renowned and iconic landmarks have a USP. A hook. They’re super old and culturally significant, like the Colosseum or the Taj Mahal. Or maybe they have a unique feature, even accidentally. I’m looking at you, Leaning Tower of Pisa.
The much-beloved Sydney Opera House is one of these. It’s quite a recent development, as the official site reports, opening in October 1973. What’s really notable about this one, of course, is its completely unique design. Those characteristic ‘wings’ are the work of Danish architect Jørn Utzon.
It stands 65 meters (213 feet) tall, is 183 meters (600 feet) long and covers an area of just shy of 4.5 acres.
5 It Took A Little More Than A New York Minute
New York City, as anyone who’s ever tried to drive anywhere there will tell you, is one heckola of a metropolis. The cityscape is replete with super-important, super-tall buildings, as we’ve already seen. Now we’re back in the city, to look at what is probably its most famous skyscraper.
The Empire State Building was one of the biggest architectural feats in history at the time. After construction was finished in 1931, it remained the tallest building in the world until the World Trade Center’s North Tower was completed just shy of four decades later.
The Empire State Building is still an imposing sight, at 443.2 meters (1,454 feet) at its very highest point.
4 Vive La France!
If I can wax lyrical about the wonders of Paris again for a moment (can you tell I’m a huge fan?), we’ve got to address the city’s most famous landmark of all: the Eiffel Tower.
Gustave Eiffel designed and built this monument over the course of two years, from 1887 to 1889. It was to serve as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair, and continues to capture the world’s imagination over a century later.
It’s 300 meters (984 feet) tall and holds a proud place as one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions. If you’ve ever experienced the queues to climb it, you’ll know that all too well.
3 I See Why They Call It ‘Great’
The Eiffel Tower, of course, is one of the most recognisable landmarks in the world. Off we go to Egypt now, to take a look at one that certainly rivals the tower in that regard.
The Great Pyramid of Giza is the largest of the trio that makes up the Giza pyramid complex. It now stands at 138.8 meters (455 feet) tall, but its estimated original height was 146.7 meters tall (481 feet). At the base, meanwhile, it’s 230.34 metres (756 feet) long.
By modern standards, it’s not the largest around, but we’ve got to stay humble. After all, the Great Pyramid was the tallest building in the world for 3,800 years!
2 But What Would You DO With Twenty Sydney Opera Houses?
Ah, yes. Now we’re really hitting the big time, friends. I’m going to close out this rundown with the two largest buildings in the world. Firstly, we have the New Century Global Center in Chegdu, China. This beast of a complex is the biggest by floor area, covering a dizzying 1,700,000 square meters (18,000,000 square feet).
According to The Daily Mail, you could fit twenty Sydney Opera Houses in that space! China wisely chose not to do that, though. Instead, the complex is home to a shopping center, several hotels and a Mediterranean village, among many other things. Well, yowzah.
1 You Call That A Tower? THIS Is A Tower
At the start of this rundown, we saw the mighty Burj Khalifa, currently the world’s tallest building. It’s a monument to Dubai’s prosperity, and a statement about their position on the world stage. Records are made to be broken, though, and as promised, the world’s first ever kilometre-tall building is out to surpass it.
As CNN reports, their neighbours in Saudi Arabia are hard at work on the Jeddah Tower, which is scheduled for completion in 2020. We’re talking about foundations around 200 feet deep, supporting a tower that will (if all goes to plan) eclipse the mighty Burj Khalifa by some 180 meters (591 feet). That’s about the height of London’s formidable Swiss Re Tower higher than its closest rival!
References: Size Explorer, World Atlas, CNN, USA Today, Gizmodo, The Shard.com, Sydney Opera House.com.