World Trade Center Beats Willis Tower as 'Tallest Building in America'

At 1776 feet, One Trade Center in New York City stands as America's tallest building.

One World Trade Center towers over lower Manhattan on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, in New York City.
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An old American icon is dethroned, while another is crowned America's tallest building. The Willis Tower in Chicago, formerly known as the Sears Tower, has lost its title as the tallest building to the nearly complete One World Trade Center in New York City.

Architects and engineers from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat gathered in Chicago to determine which structure would bear the coveted title. And though the verdict would seem very cut and dry, it is actually more technical.

The complication to a rather simple declaration of "America's tallest building" arose Nov. 8, when the council's committee met to determine the height of the new One World Trade Center. But there are two ways to measure the building's height. The actual building measures 1,368 feet, the height of the original World Trade Center that collapsed on 9/11. But a 408 foot tall steel needle is affixed to the building. With the steel spire, the building measures a total of 1,776 feet, a rather significant number, symbolic of the year in which America was founded.

In comparison the Willis Tower has been deemed 1,451 feet tall. The two antennas that stand erect on the Willis Tower were not included as the architectural top of the building. Signage or flagpoles are also considered functional equipment that don't count as architectural height, while spires and structural elements are included in buildings' height calculations.

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Ultimately "it's about the authorship of the architect in some ways, and the permanence of the piece to reinforce the role of design," council spokesman Daniel Safarik told CNN.

David Childs, the project's chief architect in charge of overseeing the design of One World Trade Center, ultimately convinced the council that the needle was part of the architectural design as it had at one time been designed inside a radar dome made of fiberglass and steel. However, the inability to take care of the dome made it impractical and forced architects to nix the design.

"I feel completely satisfied that this building achieved what it set out to do," Childs said. "We used the council's rules and designed around them. It's an important statement for all of us to make."

Since One World Trade Center is still under its last stages of construction, it will not be ranked until completion in early 2014.

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Some critics have argued that standards for the skyscrapers are being based off technicalities and are no longer indicative of a skyscrapers true height.

"Skyscrapers should be shorthand for brute size and height, not rulebook small print and decorative, non-functioning roof sticks," read an article in One Trade Tower's very own New York printed paper Village Voice.

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