What are the tallest structures in the world?
Be it to stand closer to the gods, to express power, to broadcast TV signals or simply to enjoy the scenery, humankind always strived to reach the sky.
Giant buildings fill our history - all different, yet all examples of incredible architecture through the ages.
For example, you might know the impressive complex of the Makkah Clock Royal Tower in Mecca, located in Saudi Arabia.
This giant clock tower tops out at 601 m (1,972 ft), and boasts the largest clock face, with a diameter of 43 m (41 ft).
That's six times larger than London’s Big Ben.
Over the Sumida district, Tokyo, rises the futuristic Tokyo Skytree: the tallest tower in the world.
The iconic observation tower broadcasts TV and radio signals and stands at 634 m (2,080 ft).
It was completed in February 2012, and substituted the famous red-and-white Tokyo Tower as the primary television and radio broadcast site in the Kantō region.
Or you might have heard of the Goldin Finance 117, or China 117 Tower, the tallest unoccupied building that ever existed.
The skyscraper counts 128 stores and stands at a height of 596.6 m (1,957 ft), towering over the Xiqing District of Tianjin, China.
The tower's owner ran into financial difficulties and was forced to suspend progress on the skyscraper whilst the construction work was ongoing, leaving it unfinished and unoccupied.
So, yes: the world is full of epic constructions, new and old, that never fail to make us feel small with their majestic scale.
But just how tall are the tallest structures on the planet?
To answer that question, join us on a journey around the globe to unveil the secrets of four impressive, record-breaking mega-structures.
Once upon a time, most churches were impressive architectonical projects.
Meant to showcase religious power and sometimes to impress nearby cities, they were designed with numinous towers and high ceilings to stand out in towns and to appear physically closer to God.
Ulm Minster, a Lutheran church situated in the state of Baden-Württemberg, Germany, is no exception.
In fact, this Gothic building has the tallest church spire in the world.
The record-breaking cathedral has a long, intricate history, and shows a majestic spire that stands at 161.53 m (530 ft).
The striking Gothic architecture is immediately noticeable thanks to the ogival doors, the high vaulted ceiling and the intricated, elegant shape of its many statues and dragon gargoyles as well as it's finely sculpted tympanum.
Lutz Krafft served as the burgomaster for what was said to be one of the most ambitious projects of the Middle Ages, and laid the foundation stone for the church in 1377.
However, Ulm Minster's history is laced with wars, reformations and many, many renovation plans.
Ultimately, the church was not completed until the late 19th century - that is to say, four centuries later.
Several historical setbacks halted construction work many times: as happened during the Reformation, for example, which put an end to the church's construction in 1531.
Initially, the church was declared complete at just 100 m (328 ft) shortly after the Reformation, in 1543.
Work was not resumed until the 19th century when the lower parts of the building were renovated and reinforced.
It was then that the project saw a new, ambitious addition: a towering spire was to be added to the 14th-century foundation.
At last, in 1890 and over four hundred years after the original plans, the cathedral was finally completed according to burgomaster Matthäus Böblinger’s 1477 drawings and original plan.
Despite the long construction time, the continuous hiatuses turned Ulm Minster into a masterful example of different architectonical styles.
Moving on the inside of the church, an interesting detail is represented by Ulm Minster's organ, which was rebuilt in the 16th century.
The instrument was further renovated in 1960 and has been famously considered one of the largest organs in the world for many decades.
Among the famous hands that played this organ was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who played it in 1763.
The tallest building in the world needs no introduction.
The Burj Khalifa, also known as the Khalifa Tower, is an incredible skyscraper that dominates the skyline of Dubai, UAE.
It counts 163 levels and stands at 828 m (2,716 ft 6 in) tall.
It was completed in October 2009 and officially opened in 2010.
Among its designer suites (Armani designed two levels of the tower), SPAs, hotel rooms and lounge areas, the Khalifa Tower has racked up several records.
The impressive architecture also gained the tower a spot in the coveted Guinness World RecordsHall of Fame, which highlights particularly iconic or pioneering record-breaking individuals, buildings and animals.
Started on 21 September 2004 and designed to be "just" 518 metres tall, this impressive neo-futuristic building grew by 300 metres during its development.
An incredible addition that alone measures more than the iconic Eiffel Tower, which is 276 m (906 ft) tall.
This vertical city in the heart of Dubai was designed with a reversed Y shape to avoid wind deterioration, and can adjust to sustain a certain level of seismic damage.
On the inside, the Khalifa Tower offers several panoramic spots and amenities for its visitors and residents – like shopping centres, gyms, libraries, pools (four of them) and an on-site hotel.
Between the 19th and 108th levels, the jaw-dropping complex counts 900 residences: from studio flats to luxurious penthouses.
It also features an observation deck, which can boast a record of its own: the highest outdoor observation deck in the world, situated at the 148th floor.
Some of the records broken by the impressive tower are:
- Tallest elevator in a building (504 m; 1,654 ft),
- Most floors in a building (163)
- Highest restaurant from ground level (441.3 m; 1,447 ft 10 in).
Fancy a tour of the Burj Khalifa?
We ventured inside the record-breaking tower to unveil its secrets (so you don't have to!)
Giant Ferris wheels
But Dubai does not only serve as the backdrop for the tallest building in the world: the UAE capital is also home to the world's largest Ferris wheel.
The dizzying record of the largest observation (Ferris) wheel was broken by the giant Ain Dubai, which opened on 21 Oct 2021 and is sadly not currently open to the public.
The giant construction towers over Bluewaters Island in the UAE, standing at a daunting 250 m (820 ft).
"[It stands at] Almost twice the height of the London Eye, and has 48 air-conditioned cabins offering 360-degree views of Dubai’s skyline. It’s a fantastic attraction," reported Fernando Eiroa, CEO of Dubai Holding Entertainment.
The ride takes 38 minutes to be completed, offering a complete view of Dubai Marina’s blue sky and crystal-clear water.
The pods are equipped with an explanation video, music, air con and some are even arranged with their own bar.
Before that, the largest observation (Ferris) wheel was the Las Vegas High Roller, located at the LINQ in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.
With an outside diameter of 161.27 m (529 ft 1.44 in), this mammoth Ferris wheel had a total height of 167.5 m (549 ft 8.4 in).
If you’re looking for a more futuristic take on the classic ride, you’ll have to head to China.
The tallest centreless observation wheel offers a new, alternative take on Ferris wheel with unique architecture and incredible measurements.
The centreless wheel looks surreal and stands 142.5 m (467 ft) over the Bailang River in Weifang, Shandong.
Without a centre, forget the mechanics of the classic Ferris wheel: this minimal-looking structure remains stationary, and doesn’t rotate.
Instead, the metal frame serves as a track for the 36 viewing cabins which can fit up to ten people each.
The experience around the record-breaking wheel lasts up to 30 minute in total, and offers a panoramic view of the two-level deck river.
In total, it took the builders four years to complete the foundations and to assemble the 4,600 tons of steel pipe that compose the wheel.
Also known as "the eye of the Bohai Sea", the design seems straight out of a sci-fi movie and is inspired by the shape of the "flood dragon".
Colossus from the ancient world, peppered in every corner of the globe, pyramids remind us of past civilizations.
The tallest pyramid ever built is the Pyramid of Khufu, situated in Giza, Egypt.
It’s part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Memphis area. The ancient necropolis sites situated in the area include some of the most famous buildings of the ancient world – like the Pyramids of Giza and Saqqarah.
Although originally the pyramid topped out at 146.7 m (481 ft) tall, erosion and vandalism have diminished the tip of the giant construction and reduced its height to 137.5 m (451 ft).
It’s not only the size of the pyramid itself that inspires awe – its construction is shrouded in mystery and legends.
Several sections of the pyramid also expand below and above the ground:
- The Subterranean Chamber
- The Queen’s Chamber
- A Grand Gallery
- The Antechamber
- The King’s Chamber, situated at the centre of the pyramid
Above the king’s chamber - where the mummified pharaoh used to rest, secured inside a sarcophagus carved out of a single granite block - are five more spaces.
As the name suggests, these five "relieving chambers" were built to relieve some of the weight from the massive roof above, avoiding the possibility of the stone collapsing.
The regal complex was completed by five boat pits to ferry the soul of the ancient pharaoh to the afterlife, where the gods would scrutinize his life deeds.
Out of the two massive boats that have been found in the complex, the giant 6-feet Khufu boat has been rebuilt and can be admired at the Grand Egyptian Museum.
It took 27 years to build the majestic pyramid, and it showcases a precision that would be difficult to accomplish even with modern technology.
It required advanced techniques and the manual labour of a great number of permanent workers, animals and supporting personnel – such as physicians, bakers and priests that would tend to the needs of the builders on-site.
It is plausible that the Egyptians employed a system of sledges, rollers, and levers to build their pyramids, but the planning of these giants remains a modern mystery.
Such a result is even more impressive if one considers that the tomb of pharaoh Khufu was completed around 2560 BCE, and remained the biggest building in the world for over 4,000 years.
This remarkable accomplishment still spurs legends and admiration, being the oldest (and one of the most well-known) Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
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If you’re curious to know more about the tallest structures in the world find them in the Guinness World Records 2023, out now online and in store.