You're so vain

44 of the world’s 72 tallest buildings are cheating

September 9, 2013
September 9, 2013
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(Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat)

It turns out that most of the world’s tallest buildings are doing the architectural equivalent of wearing platform shoes. That is, they’re scraping skies courtesy of dozens—sometimes hundreds—of meters of “vanity height,” says a new report (pdf) by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), first spotted by io9. That’s the term CTBUH uses to describe the distance between the highest floor occupied and the top of the building. Here are some of the report’s most startling facts:

61% of the world’s supertall buildings need vanity height to qualify

It turns out that 61% of the world’s “supertall” buildings—those over 300 meters (984 feet)—wouldn’t be so super if not for their vanity height. China’s 390-meter CITIC Plaza, in Guangzhou, is the tallest building to be knocked off the list if vanity height is discounted. (It would shrink to 296 meters.)

Who’s the vainest of them all?

With a vanity height of 39% of its total, the Burj al Arab in Dubai is the vainest of the supertall buildings. On the other hand, Dubai also has the least vain supertall building; a mere 1% of the tower known as The Index counts as vanity height (it lacks a spire).

If you broaden the search to buildings that are simply tall, Moscow’s Ukraina Hotel is the vainest of them all; 42% of its 206 meters comes from vanity space.

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A full moon rises behind the skyline of midtown Manhattan in New York, November 21, 2010. The New York Times building sits at left and the new Bank of America tower is in the center, in front of the moon. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn
Vain sisters: the New York Times Tower on the left, Bank of America Tower on the right.(Reuters/Gary Hershorn)

New York City is really vain

When One World Trade Center is completed in 2014, New York City will have three of the “tallest 10 Vanity Heights,” says CTBUH. Bank of America Tower has 36% vanity height, while the New York Times Tower has 31%. Just shy of 30% of One World Trade Center is slated to be unoccupied.

So is the UAE

The United Arab Emirates’ 19 supertall buildings have, on average, vanity heights of 19%, followed by China’s average of 14% for its 24 buildings. And while only 42% of China’s 24 supertalls wouldn’t qualify as supertall without their vanity heights, 68% of UAE’s 19 wouldn’t.

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(Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat)

But even without its vanity height, the Burj Khalifa still wins

As CTBUH points out, if the vanity height portion of the Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, were a standalone building in Europe, at 244 meters it would be the continent’s 11th-tallest building. But even if you’re counting height based solely on the highest occupied floor, the Burj Khalifa would still win:

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​​(Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat)

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