Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

November 14, 2013

GARY'S WORLD: Drama surrounds tallest building debate

By Gary Nelson
Senior staffwriter

CROSSVILLE — Earlier this week it was “officially” announced that the One World Trade Center will be this country’s tallest building when it is completed and opens next year.

I guess I’m a bit unclear about this, but I thought that was already determined. However, apparently the subject was still up for debate and the Chicago-based Tall Buildings Council made the “official” announcement Tuesday.

I discovered the “breaking news” Tuesday in an article on the Chicago Tribune website. At debate was whether the One World Trade Center was taller than the Sears Tower, which is actually called the Willis Tower now, but to me and all other old-school Chicago lovers, it will always be the Sears Tower.

When I hear the name Willis I can’t help but think of the TV show “Different Strokes.” Gary Coleman’s famous “Whatch you talkin’ about Willis?” line always pops into my mind.

I don’t know about you, but I find the fact that there even is a tall buildings council to be quite humorous.

Anyway, it was a decision and announcement that drew a harsh reaction from Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

According to the article, “The decision by the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat hinged on whether the tower’s mast was a spire, which counts in height measurements, or an antenna, which doesn’t.”

“Even though the cladding was taken off the spire, you can still see that it is an architectural element,” said Antony Wood, executive director of the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. “It is not just a plain steel mast from which to hang antenna or satellite dishes.”

Emanuel disagreed with that conclusion and boasted the supremacy of Chicago’s skyline.

“I just saw the decision,” Emanuel said. “And I would just say to all the experts gathered  in one room, if it looks like an antenna, acts like an antenna, then guess what? It is an antenna. That’s number one.

“Number two,” he continued, “I think (with) the Willis Tower you will have a view that’s unprecedented in its beauty, its landscape and its capacity to capture something. Something you can’t do from an antenna. Not that I’m competitive. So for all those who want to climb on top of an antenna and take a look, go ahead. I would suggest stay indoors and take a look.”

The council ruled that One World Trade Center’s mast is a spire because it will be a permanent feature, its height locked in at a symbolic 1,776 feet.

The council accepted the argument of the skyscraper’s architect and developers that the mast is part of the building’s fixed height of 1,776-feet. That distinguishes the mast from an ordinary antenna, like the one atop Willis, whose height can be adjusted.

“We felt it was really a designed element,” not just a functional piece of equipment, added Peter Weismantle, the chair of the council’s height committee.

Wood said the height committee’s decision was “virtually unanimous.” One member of the committee abstained.

If that isn’t enough ridiculousness for you, the private council announced this decision during simultaneous Chicago and New York press conferences.

The announcement was made after weeks of speculation and anticipation regarding the ruling. Widespread attention was given to the subject because it would finally settle the issue of whether Chicago or New York could claim bragging rights to having the nation’s tallest building.

Also at debate in the subject was if One World Trade Center would achieve the symbolic height of 1,776 feet.

The Sears (Willis) Tower was completed in 1974 and at one time was the world’s tallest building, measuring 1,451 in height.

Currently, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building at 2,717 feet tall. 

One World Trade Center reached its full height and a ceremony was held last May, which is why I thought the subject had already been closed.

At that time it was nationally reported that the tower had reached the height of 1,776 feet tall and was indeed America’s tallest building.

I’m glad this is all settled now. We a owe a great deal of gratitude to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat and its height committee.

Now that the decision has been rendered we can all sleep better at night and the people of New York can proclaim, “Our building is taller than your building.”

I hope more pressing issues like this can be settled in the future.

In all seriousness, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat does have an interesting website with lots of facts and figures. I just find it quite telling of the times in which we live that an announcement such as this is given the national spotlight and is considered breaking news.

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Gary Nelson is a Crossville Chronicle staffwriter. His column is published each Friday. He may be reached at