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Committee Rules One World Trade Center Is Nation’s Tallest Building

At Issue Was The Structure's 408-Foot Needle
One World Trade Center (Photo by Mary Altaffer-Pool/Getty Images)

One World Trade Center (Photo by Mary Altaffer-Pool/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – The new World Trade Center tower in New York knocked Chicago’s Willis Tower off its pedestal as the nation’s tallest building when an international panel of architects announced Tuesday that the needle atop the skyscraper can be counted when measuring the structure’s height.

The Height Committee of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat said the needle is not an antenna but a spire, and thus is a permanent part of the building.

“The height committee looked at it in detail and they ruled virtually unanimously that that was indeed a spire and not an antennae,” said Anthony Wood, Executive Director of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

The needle, measuring 408 feet tall, was more than enough to confirm Chicago is the Second City when it comes to tall buildings.

With the needle, One World Trade Center is a symbolically important 1,776 feet tall. Without it, the building would have been only 1,368 feet tall — well short of the 1,451-foot Willis Tower.

“Obviously, there was a lot of tense moments coming to this meeting,” said Timothy Johnson, chairman of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. “We believe the building is 1,776 and that the element on top, the mast of the building, is a spire.”

“It is recalling the hand of the Statue of Liberty and the torch that’s on the flame of the Statue of Liberty,” Johnson added.

At stake was more than just bragging rights in two cities that feast on superlatives and the tourist dollars that might follow: 1 World Trade Center stands as a monument to those killed in the 9/11 attacks, and its architects had sought to capture the echo of America’s founding year in the structure’s height.

The building’s 1,368 feet height without the needle also holds symbolism; it is the height of the original World Trade Center.

One World Trade Center architect David Childs said winning was not the point; he wanted his building recognized as standing 1,776 feet tall because of what that number represents.

The 30 Height Committee members are industry professionals from all over the world and are widely recognized as the final arbiter of official building heights around the world. They conferred behind closed doors last week in Chicago, where the world’s first skyscraper appeared in 1884.

The new World Trade Center tower remains under construction and is expected to open next year.

The designers originally had intended to enclose the mast’s communications gear in decorative cladding made of fiberglass and steel. But the developer removed that exterior shell from the design, saying it would be impossible to properly maintain or repair. Without it, the question was whether the mast was now primarily just a broadcast antenna.

Under the council’s current criteria, spires that are an integral part of a building’s aesthetic design count. Broadcast antennas that can be added and removed do not.

Daniel Safarik, an architect and spokesman for the nonprofit council, said it might consider amending its height criteria. Such a move would have much broader implications that could force a reshuffle in the rankings of the tallest buildings in the world.

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