After Hours

Geek Trivia: One tall order

Which proposed skyscraper will break every type of record for the world's tallest building?

On June 5, 2000, Chicago's Sears Tower became the world's tallest building for the second time — depending on how and when you pose the question. On that date, Sears overtook the former World Trade Center towers in New York by a mere 58 centimeters — just under two feet — by virtue of a small extension installed on one of the two television antennae that top the Sears Tower.

If that seems like cheating, consider this: The Sears Tower already outstripped the World Trade Center in every other recognized measure of building height and had done so since the Chicago landmark's completion in 1973.

Earning the qualification of tallest building in the world is an accomplishment steeped in technicality, as there are four different ways to qualify. (These are just qualifications for buildings, which are different than radio towers and various other categories of supported and freestanding structures.)

  1. Architectural height, which includes decorative spires and pinnacles but not antennae or flagpoles (which can be removed and replaced)
  2. Height of highest occupied floor
  3. Roof height
  4. Complete height of structure, including antennae

Why four categories? Partly because the Sears Tower didn't take lightly to its demotion from first to third, thanks to the construction of the Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia.

When construction of the Petronas Towers completed in 1998, builders petitioned the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) — the official recognizing body of building height records — for recognition as being taller than the Sears Tower. The argument was that the topmost spire of the Petronas Towers was nine meters taller than the roof of the Sears Tower, dropping Sears from first to third among tallest buildings by virtue of a new spire-inclusive definition of height.(Before this point, spires and antennae hadn't entered the conversation.) Sears Tower advocates protested, and the resulting compromise produced the four categories listed above.

But six years later, the argument was pretty much moot. That's when the Taipei 101 skyscraper in Taiwan beat out both the Petronas Towers and the Sears Tower in every category except antennae height (in which the Sears Tower still holds tallest) after its 2004 completion.

Neither Taipei nor Sears should get comfy, however, as another building currently under construction is set to unify the titles of world's tallest building under one roof when this staggeringly tall skyscraper opens in 2009.


Which skyscraper currently under construction will break every record for the world's tallest building when completed in 2009?

The Burj Dubai — Arabic for Tower of Dubai — in the United Arab Emirates will offer up an estimated spire height of 808 meters, roof height of 643 meters, and a highest occupied floor height of 624 meters. This blows away the Taipei 101 tower's records of 509-meter spire height, 449-meter roof height, and 439-meter floor height.

Equally impressive is the fact that, while the Burj Dubai won't have an antenna, its spire height will nonetheless outstrip the Sears Tower's antenna height of 527 meters. Thus, by all four measures of recognized building height, current expectations say the Burj Dubai will be the tallest skyscraper on Earth.

Expectation is the key word here, as the firms behind the design, planning, construction, and finance of the Burj Dubai have been notably circumspect about the exact final measurements of the tower — even though the building's groundbreaking took place in 2004.

These groups don't want to tip their hands about exact construction measurements to the builders of the Al Burj, another super-skyscraper planned just across town from the Burj Dubai. Construction of the Al Burj hasn't passed the site-clearing stage, so its developers could still incorporate tweaks into its proposed 1,200-meter height to ensure that it beats out the Burj Dubai for some coveted tallest building records. Until both buildings open to the public in 2008 and 2009, there will likely be no final accounting for which will hold the title of world's tallest building — and in which category.

Right now, the Burj Dubai has a serious lead. As of April 2007, the Burj Dubai boasted more constructed floors (124) than any skyscraper on the planet — with roughly 40 more to come.

This beats out the Sears Tower, which has either 108 or 110, depending on whether you count the two unoccupied mechanical-space floors that top the building — just one reason why floor count is not a recognized record category. By any measure, that's not just a towering architectural accomplishment — it's an awesomely engineered example of head-topping Geek Trivia.

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The Quibble of the Week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week's Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article. Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and discuss it in a future edition of Geek Trivia.

This week's quibble comes once again from the April 11 edition of Geek Trivia, "A tax to grind." TechRepublic member bgsiwicke felt I wasn't specific enough with calculating the length of end-to-end paper trails.

"Your calculation of four miles uses the 11-inch dimension of the paper: (24,000 pages) * (11 inches) * (1/12 feet/inch) * (1/5,280 feet/mile) works out to approximately 4.17 miles — the stated result. Using the 8.5-inch dimension of the paper: (24,000 pages) * (8.5 inches) * (1/12 feet/inch) * (1/5,280 feet/mile) works out to approximately 3.22 miles — not the stated result."

Fortunately, member Zeppo9191 had my back.

"The 'ends' of any rectangle are generally considered to be the two shortest of the four edges creating the shape. Alternately, the 'sides' are generally accepted to be the longer edges.

"If you lay the pages end-to-end horizontally (which, btw, wasn't mentioned in the article), you get a ~4.17-mile-long line of paper. If you lay them end-to-end vertically, you get a ~4.17-mile-HIGH line of paper. You're still putting the shortest edges of the shape together (as defined by 'end-to-end') — you're just lining them up in a different direction."

Thanks for all that extra math, gang. I probably should have thrown the words landscape or horizontally in there somewhere. Thanks for auditing my work, and keep those quibbles coming!

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The Trivia Geek, also known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who's duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.

About Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

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