Since the dawn of civilisation, we have been building up, and as the tools required to go higher and higher got increasingly sophisticated, so did our aspirations and our ability.
For almost four thousand years, the pyramid of Giza at 146.5 metres was the tallest man-made structure in the world, until Lincoln Cathedral was built in the early fourteenth century. Technically not towers, but at the time they were the world’s tallest structures.
The first true tower to surpass 300 metres – and, perhaps the most famous tower in the world – was the 324 metre Eiffel Tower in 1889. Since then, the race to build the biggest tower ever, and the associated kudos that comes with such an accolade, is hotly contested by the world’s preeminent architects and engineers.
For the purposes of this article, we’re including towers used for observation, broadcasting and communications, but not for living or working. For this reason we’re excluding offices, apartment blocks and hotels as well as chimneys, pylons, wind turbines and bridge towers. In addition, they must be free-standing. So with the rules out of the way, where is the world’s largest tower and what is the highest tower in the world?
Here are the runners and riders in the race for the world’s largest tower.
Location: Paris, France | Height: 324 metres | Type: Observation
One of the most famous tourist sites in the world, the Eiffel Tower was the biggest tower in the world from 1889 until 1958. It was built in two years, two months and five days for the 1889 Exposition Universelle to commemorate the centenary of the French Revolution. It was designed by Gustave Eiffel, a civil engineer.
The total weight of the wrought iron tower is 10,100 tonnes and it was built using 18,038 iron parts held together by 2.5 million heavy-duty rivets.
Emley Moor Transmitting Station
Location: Yorkshire, UK | Height: 331 metres | Type: Telecoms & broadcasting
Technically known as the Arqiva Tower after the company that owns it, the tallest freestanding tower in the UK was built between 1969 and 1971 and started broadcasting in January of the same year.
It’s made up of a 276 metre reinforced concrete tower with a 55 metre steel lattice mast which holds the antennae in place. When it was built it wasn’t quite the world’s tallest tower, but it was the sixth-tallest freestanding structure in the world.
Location: Moscow, Russia | Height: 540.1 metres | Type: Broadcasting
Completed in 1967, for the next eight years the Ostankinskaya telebashnya was the world’s biggest tower until the CN Tower in Canada was built. Designed by structural engineers Nikolai Nikitin, Pyotr Gorchakov and Yuri Kondratyuk, it was the world’s first free-standing tower to top 500 metres, and was built to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution.
Location: Toronto, Canada | Height: 553.3 metres | Type: Communication & observation
Canada’s most famous building was the tallest freestanding structure in the world for thirty-two years between 1975 and 2007, until it was surpassed by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. It was also the world’s largest tower for a further two years.
When it was built in the 1970s there was a disco called Sparkles which was billed as the world’s highest dancefloor! Today, there’s a revolving restaurant at 351 metres that completes a full revolution every 72 minutes. In 2011 the EdgeWalk opened, which is the world’s highest full-circle, hands-free walk. The tower weighs 130,000 tonnes and is the height equivalent of a 147-storey building.
Location: Guangzhou, China | Height: 604 metres | Type: Science & observation
Formally known as the Guangzhou Astronomical and Sightseeing Tower, the second biggest tower in the world opened in 2010. For 20 months between August 2009 and March 2011 it was the world’s biggest tower.
The 100,000 tonne tower is constructed of steel and concrete at a cost of around $450 million and has 110 upper floors and two below ground. The tower is used primarily for TV and radio transmissions but includes a 4D cinema, restaurants and coffee bars, as well as outdoor gardens. It also has the world’s highest and biggest outdoor observation deck at 488 metres.
Location: Tokyo, Japan | Height: 634 metres | Type: Broadcasting & observation
The highest tower in the world is the Tokyo Skytree. This huge tower was completed on 29th February 2012 and cost ¥65 billion, or roughly £410 million. It was designed by Nikken Sekkei, the world’s second-largest architectural practice. According to the tower’s designers, the damping system can absorb up to 50% of the energy from an earthquake.
It’s often said that the reason why it was decided to top out at 634 metres was because the numbers 6 (mu), 3 (sa) and 4 (shi) spell out Musashi, the previous name for the area where the Tokyo Skytree stands today.
Up, Up & Away…
It’s human nature to want to go bigger and higher and when it comes to the biggest towers in the world, architects and designers continually strive to touch the sky. Will we ever see a 1,000 metre tower? Watch this space, it may be sooner than you think…