Chicago Committee To Decide If Design Change Disqualifies Skyscraper

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Rising from the ashes of 9/11, the new World Trade Center tower has punched above the New York skyline to reach its powerfully symbolic height of 1,776 feet and become the tallest building in the country.

Or has it?

A committee of architects recognized as the arbiters on world building heights was to meet Friday to decide whether a design change affecting the skyscraper’s 408-foot needle disqualifies it from being counted.

One World Trade Center stands as a monument to those killed in the terrorist attacks and the ruling could dim the echo of America’s founding year in the structure’s height.

Without the needle, the building measures 1,368 feet. The building’s architects say the spire should be counted.

The decision was being made by an organization based in Chicago, whose cultural and architectural history is embodied by the Willis, formerly Sears, Tower that would be knocked into second place by a vote in favor of the World Trade Center.

The Chicago downtown skyline including the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower (Photo SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

The Chicago downtown skyline including the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower (Photo SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

“Most of the time these decisions are not so controversial,” said Daniel Safarik, an architect and spokesman for the nonprofit Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

Antony Wood is executive director of the council. He said he doesn’t expect picketing over the vote, however it turns out.

“What I do expect is a very, very lively debate,” Wood said.

From 1908, New York had the tallest buildings in the country. But then in 1974, Chicago overtook them in the race to the sky.

“Willis Tower is still tallest in terms of how high you can stand above the Earth, but when you look at what’s totally built from the ground up, then One World Trade Center wins,” said Jen Masengarb of the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

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

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.

The designers of One World Trade Center 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 is whether the mast is now primarily just a broadcast antenna.

Safarik said the committee might consider amending its height criteria during the Friday meeting, a move with much broader implications that could force a reshuffle in the rankings of the tallest buildings in the world.

If the matter weren’t so steeped in emotion it might have set off some of the good-natured ribbing emblematic of the history of one-upmanship between New York and Chicago. But One World Trade Center is a monument to American resilience admired well beyond Manhattan.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to argue with the pride in building that new tower,” said 31-year-old software developer Brett Tooley, who works across the street from the Willis Tower. “Not only is it going to be the tallest building; it’s going to be one of the strongest buildings in the history of America. It’s a marvel of engineering.”

In New York, the debate was upsetting to Jim Riches, a retired FDNY deputy chief who lost his 29-year-old firefighter son, Jimmy, in the terrorist attack.

“You know what? I think it’s a ridiculous argument. It doesn’t matter to me what height it is,” he said. “You know, my son’s not going to walk back in that door again. And that’s the big thing. He’s gone.”

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