Skyscrapers have long been a contest of sorts. Owners are secretive about the actual height of their buildings, so that others do not eclipse them before their time as tallest has come. The tricks that designers use to inflate tall buildings' heights are impressive, too. Spires and decorative elements are often used to get those last few precious feet.
Image courtesy CTBUH
But underneath these shiny glass facades is another trick. A recent Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) study illustrates that big chunks of useless space are hidden at the top of many of the world's skyscrapers in order to inflate their height. In fact, as much as one-third of a building's height can be "vanity space." Consider it space as decoration.
Burj Khalifa. Image courtesy Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill
The building that is set to be the world's tallest, the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudia Arabia, set off the Council's alarms. A case study suggested that the structure was designed with decorative, height-inflating space on top, inside of its unoccupied spire. This led the CTBUH to investigate this phenomenon in super-tall buildings, defining "vanity space" as "the distance between a skyscraper’s highest occupiable floor and its architectural top.”
Kingdon Tower. Image courtesy Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill
The current tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, has an enormous 800-foot spire that accounts for almost one-third of its 2,716-foot height. The building with the most useless decorative space is the Ukraina Hotel in Moscow. Its unoccupiable space makes up almost half, or 42 percent, of its 675-foot height. In the United Arab Emirates, we find some of the most "vain" skyscrapers, with an average of 19 percent vanity space, including the vainest super-tall, the Burj Al-Arab in Dubai, which has a useless 39 percent of its 1,053-foot height.
Burj Al-Arab. Image via www.amazingplacesonearth.com