infographic showing the world's 10 tallest skyscrapers

The 10 Tallest Buildings in the World

The desire to soar among the clouds is a universal human trait that has decisively influenced some of our most outstanding achievements. Today, scaling a skyscraper is an experience akin to flying without wings. Feeling the wind blowing through your hair and touching clouds with your hands are everyday experiences atop these concrete behemoths. With a mix of office spaces, hotels, and retail outlets, these buildings function as vertical cities. So hold onto something—some of these wonders are half a mile above the earth.

The Tallest Skyscrapers In The World

Rank Building Name Height Location
1 Burj Khalifa 828m (2,717ft) Dubai, United Arab Emirates
2 Merdeka 118 678.9m (2,227ft) Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
3 Shanghai Tower 632m (2,073ft) Shanghai, China
4 Abraj Al-Bait Clock Tower 601m (1,972ft) Mecca, Saudi Arabia
5 Ping An International Finance Centre 599.1m (1,966ft) Shenzhen, China
6 Lotte World Tower 554.5m (1,819ft) Seoul, South Korea
7 One World Trade Center 541.3m (1,776ft) New York City, United States
8 Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre 530m (1,739ft) Guangzhou, China
9 Tianjin CTF Finance Centre 530m (1,739ft) Tianjin, China
10 China Zun 527.7m (1,731ft) Beijing, China

The Challenges Involved in Constructing Record-Breaking Skyscrapers

When considering buildings around the 400-450 meter range, there is a threshold in human engineering that makes construction efforts over 500 meters particularly challenging (something that Ancient Egyptians would sympathize with). Building at such immense heights presents unique challenges in both design and construction. Architects consider not only the building's stability but also its supporting structures throughout the construction process. Ground assessments are vital for understanding the area's geology and can greatly impact a project's success. The nature of the ground, combined with the building's weight and potential natural threats, means that deep foundations are often required to ensure safety and stability. These foundations can range from methods using rock anchors, reinforced concrete, to extended foundation piles that can reach depths of 27-90 meters below ground.

High-rise construction necessitates advanced scaffolding techniques. Instead of one continuous scaffolding structure, a steel exoskeleton is constructed around each story as it is built. Once one story is completed, its scaffolding is then dismantled and reused for the next level. This approach not only reduces costs but also facilitates crane movement upwards alongside the scaffold. It's crucial to understand that skyscrapers, especially those over 500 meters, need additional stabilization measures in challenging environments. 

While most might not realize it, tall buildings do sway slightly due to factors like wind, earthquakes, and storms. To combat this, engineers incorporate massive counterweights called tuned mass dampers near a skyscraper's top. These counterweights, often large spherical metallic structures, counteract forces that might destabilize the building, ensuring its stability even under adverse conditions. 

Additionally, the construction of these giants poses logistical challenges in terms of transporting materials and manpower to great heights. Innovative materials and techniques, like new ways to taper, are continuously being developed to meet the demands of such towering structures while also addressing environmental and sustainability concerns. For example, given the potential for 35,000 occupants, addressing waste can be difficult in a building like the Burj Khalifa.

1. Burj Khalifa - Dubai, United Arab Emirates

View of Dubai skyline at night.
View of Dubai skyline at night.

With its 828 meters (2,717ft), the Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. This 163-story neo-futurism masterpiece was designed by the same agency that created the Sears Tower in Chicago, a team led by Adrian Smith of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The United Arab Emirates government had decided to diversify from an oil-based economy and desired Dubai to gain international recognition by constructing this majestic skyscraper. So far this plan has worked wonders for the Emiratis, the UAE is quickly becoming one of the most popular and prestigious places to visit for vacation. The building's name is in honor of the former leader of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The expert engineer William Frazier Baker and Adrian Smith's team solved all structural needs. The Y-shaped floor geometry increases the tower's wind resistance and optimizes residential and hotel space. Construction began in 2004 and was formally opened in early 2010, although its interior was not entirely complete. The tower's aimed height was a closely guarded secret until it reached the current world record. Below this outstanding edifice, a 50-meter-deep foundation supports more than 500,000 tons of reinforced concrete.

2. Merdeka 118 - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Aerial shot Malaysia’s latest skyscraper, Merdeka 118
Aerial shot of Malaysia’s latest skyscraper, Merdeka 118

The newly built 118-story Merdeka Tower is the tallest building in Malaysia and second in the world. Starting construction in 2016, the building was finally completed this year, although it will not be fully open to the public until 2024. It was constructed in three phases and consists of more than 400,000 square meters (4,300,000 square feet) of residential, hotel, office, and commercial space. The building is designed with a blend of diamond-shaped glass facades to represent the diversity of Malaysians and their traditions by following the songlet pattern. The name "Merdeka" means "independence" and is a monument to the independence of Malaysia. Its antenna spire was made to resemble and be inspired by Tunku Abdul Rahman's outstretched hand gesture while chanting "Merdeka!" proclaiming the country's independence from the British in 1957. Construction began in 2016, and its spire was completed in October 2021, which marked its final height of 678.9 m (2,227 ft). The building still needs some internal finishing touches before it is formally opened.

3. Shanghai Tower - Shanghai, China

Shanghai skyline and cityscape
Shanghai skyline and cityscape

Planning models for the Lujiazui financial district and the Shanghai Tower date back to 1993, while construction only started in 2008. This 128-story tower is the third tallest building in the world with its 632-meter (2,073 ft) and proudly boasts the world's highest observation deck within a structure or building at 562 meters (1844ft). It has the second-fastest elevators in the world, with a max speed of 20.5 meters per second (74 km/h; 46 mph). Before 2008, the site previously was a golfing driving range. Workers prepared the area for construction and then used a repetitive slip-forming process to construct the tower's core floor by floor. Similarly to the Taipei 101 skyscraper, the Shangai Towers has peculiarly shaped tuned mass dampers to act as a counterweight and ensure structural stability. On August 31, 2014, the architectural construction was completed, and the building was ultimately opened to the public in early 2015, becoming the tallest building in China

4. Abraj Al-Bait Clock Tower - Mecca, Saudi Arabia

Top view of Makkah Suadia Arabia
Top view of Makkah Suadia Arabia

This peculiar clock tower is part of a larger complex of seven skyscraper hotels in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The Central Hotel Tower, also known as the Makkah Clock Royal Tower, is the fourth-tallest building in the world. The complex is only 300 meters away from the world's largest mosque, the Great Mosque of Mecca. Aiming to modernize the city and cater to its pilgrims, the King Abdulaziz Endowment Project included these hotel towers, commonly used by the pilgrims, to Islam's most sacred site. Each year millions of Muslims from around the world make the long journey to Mecca in order to partake in the grand religious ceremonies and festivities. The Abraj Al-Bait Clock Tower contains a five-star hotel operated by Fairmont Hotels and a five-story shopping mall and grants a parking garage capable of holding over a thousand vehicles. German tower clock manufacturer PERROT GmbH & Co. KG Turmuhren und Läuteanlagen constructed the tower's clock while Premiere Composite Technologies built the façade. The construction lasted nine years from 2002, reaching 601m (1,972ft) in 2011 and opening in 2012.

5. Ping An International Finance Centre - Shenzhen, China

Shenzhen, China - August 19,2015
Shenzhen, China - August 19, 2015

The Ping An International Finance Centre stands in the Futian District of Shenzhen with its 599.1m (1,966ft) and 116 floors, including its breathtaking observation deck. Its foundation stone was laid in mid-2009, and China State Construction Engineering Group completed the endeavor in 2017. The design of the building is meant to be elegant, unique, and to represent the history and achievements of Ping An Insurance Company, which uses the skyscraper as its headquarters. The American architectural agency Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates were the authors of this postmodern architectural masterpiece. The Ping An International Finance Centre is the second-tallest building in China and fifth-tallest in the world. Its observation deck, situated atop the 115 stories, broke the Shanghai Tower record and is the highest in the world. The Ping An has served China well in boosting its international reputation as a nation that is rapidly modernizing and more than capable of financing and engineering such impressive feats. 

6. Lotte World Tower - Seoul, South Korea

Lotte World Tower in Jamsil, Songpa-gu
Lotte World Tower in Jamsil, Songpa-gu

After 13 years of site preparation and planning, the Lotte World Tower gained final approval, and construction started in late 2010. Six years later, the tower was finalized and became South Korea's tallest building, standing at 554.5 meters (1,819ft). Its 123 stories overlook the colorful city of Seoul with the building's peculiar glassed roofing. Before the final phase of the steel exoskeleton construction, the diagrid lantern-shaped roof glass structure was completed. The roof structure is engineered to support its weight without reinforcing beams and to endure earthquakes up to a magnitude of 9 Richter. On top of the Lotte World Tower's roof, a "Sky Bridge Tour" grants spectacular views of Seoul and is the same height as the One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the United States. The Lotte World Tower is just another symbol of the burgeoning Korean economy which has seen considerable growth in the last decade. It is only a matter of time before more impressive landmarks similar to the Lotte World Tower will be errected in Seoul.

7. One World Trade Center - New York City, United States

One World Trade Center behind the 9/11 memorial, New York, USA
One World Trade Center behind the 9/11 memorial, New York, USA

The One World Trade Center is part of a complex comprising several buildings at the south-western tip of Manhattan. This skyscraper has the same name as the North Tower of the former World Trade Center, which was destroyed in the deadly terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. During the initial planning stages, it was formerly called the Freedom Tower, and a final design was unveiled in 2005 by architect Daniel Libeskind. Contrasting with Libeskind's original plan, the tower's last design tapers octagonally as it rises. Foundation work for the new building began on April 27, 2006, and construction crews completed the megastructure in 2013, making it the tallest building in the United States of America with its 541.3 meters (1,776ft), which eventually opened in 2014. Its 94 floors are almost exclusively used as work offices, with scenic views over the Hudson River at Brooklyn and beyond for those who work at the top.

8. Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre - Guangzhou, China

View of the CTF Finance Centre. (China)
View of the CTF Finance Centre. (China)

The Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre is the third-tallest in China and eighth in the world, with a height of 530 meters (1,739ft). Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre has 111 floors above-ground and five below-ground floors and houses a shopping mall, offices, apartments, and a hotel. Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CFT) owns the edifice, which houses the world's fastest elevators, reaching speeds up to 21 m/s (76km/h 69 ft/s) that beat the previous record of the Shanghai Tower. The Guangzhou CTF Centre is part of the Guangzhou Twin Towers. The other tower of the pair, the 439 m (1,439 ft) tall Guangzhou International Finance Center, is on the other side of the city axis and is known under the name "West Tower," as such, the Guangzhou CTF Centre is therefore known as the "East Tower." Its construction started in mid-2010 and was completed in late 2016, including an eight-floor podium connected to the skyscraper offering outstanding views of the Guangzhou city center.

9. Tianjin CTF Finance Centre - Tianjin, China

View of the Tianjin CTF Finance Centre
View of the Tianjin CTF Finance Centre

The softly curved glass skin of the Tianjin CTF Finance Centre integrates eight sloping mega-columns that increase the structure's response to seismic concerns. By stacking reducing floor plates, the tower tapers dramatically to reduce the surface area exposed to wind, sun, and moisture. This technologically advanced structure is once again owned by Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CFT) and was honored with the Tall and Slender Structure Award at the 2021 Awards Ceremony by the Institution of Structural Engineers. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, authors of Burj Khalifa design, also worked on the Tianjin CTF Finance Centre in collaboration with Ronald Lu & Partners. This award-winning skyscraper contains office spaces, 300 luxury serviced apartments, and a five-star 350-room hotel. In Tianjin lies another behemoth, Goldin Finance 117, which technically would be the tallest of the city with its 597m (1,959 ft) and sixth in the world, but it is not on the list since it is currently unfinished, unoccupied, and on hold.

10. China Zun - Beijing, China

China Beijing financial center
China Beijing financial center

The China Zun, also known as CITIC Tower, is the tallest building in Beijing for the foreseeable future, as in 2018, authorities capped new buildings in the central business district to a height of no more than 180m (590ft) in a bid to reduce congestion. The skyscraper was built for office space in Beijing's Central Business District, with 109 floors and an additional eight underground. Its name, "China Zun," comes from the zun, an ancient Chinese wine vessel that inspired the building design. This peculiar building tapers inwards and then outward, going down to a large base. The China Construction Third Engineering Bureau built this super-tall structure in six years with the help of the China International Trust Investment Corporation (CITIC) Group from 2012 to 2018, culminating with a height of 527.7m (1,731ft), making it the tenth tallest building in the world. 

In its unstoppable rise to the top, humankind never ceases to amaze. These incredible mega structures are the pinnacles of our civilization. With their peculiar designs, from the tripartite arrow shape of the Burj Khalifa to the Tianjin CTF Finance Centre and its rocket-shaped skyscraper, these monstrous endeavors have dethroned the pyramids of Giza that once topped the skies like nothing else. But beauty is not their only feature — thanks to unbelievable engineering innovations like giant tuned mass dampers, narrow profiles, strong steel exoskeletons, and the deepest foundations, these towering edifices can withstand every natural adversity like earthquakes, wind storms, and moisture corrosion.


More in Places