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The Tallest Buildings in the World

From earliest times, human beings have sought to challenge themselves, searching for the unattainable and the unreachable. Reaching upwards towards the unknown is a physical manifestation of our constant desire to free ourselves of our earthly bonds and launch ourselves into the skies to be the equals of birds.

We express this longing by building into the sky, to pierce the clouds and call this unexplored domain our own. Mankind has always sought the solace of high places from which to survey the landscape beneath. The nearer one built to heaven, the closer one could be to it, argued the architects of the Great Pyramid of Giza, which, at 146m high, remained the tallest building in the world for centuries. The architectural and engineering skills of Romans meant that 10-storey buildings could rise in the tightly packed streets of ancient Rome. Medieval cathedrals sent their spires soaring to heaven to enable congregations to become closer to God, in both a spiritual and physical sense.

This constant search for height continued throughout the history of architecture. However, it wasn't until the 1850s, when the world's first lift was invented, that multi-storey buildings became the norm, rather than the exception. This, together with advances in steel-frame construction, enabled architects and engineers to develop the familiar shape we see in our cities today - the skyscraper. Technological developments in both construction materials and techniques have seen us push the boundaries of our built environment ever upwards. So if the sky really is the limit, what have we achieved so far?

Burj Khalifa: Dubai
Shining like a silver beacon in the desert and set against the turquoise Persian Gulf, the Burj Khalifa defies expectations of scale and, at the moment, is the tallest building and the tallest free-standing structure in the world. Standing an incredible 828m high, with 160 floors, it was officially opened in 2010. A mix of residential, commercial and hotel accommodation, it is also home to an 11-hectare park. The Burj attracts over 4,000 visitors every day to its viewing deck (itself the tallest such vantage point in the world).

The Makkah Clock Royal Tower: Saudi Arabia
The Makkah (or Mecca) Royal Hotel Clock tower is also known as the Abraj Al-Bait Towers and was built to modernise the city of Mecca in order to cater for the many pilgrims that visit each year. It's the second-tallest building in the world at 601m and holds other records too. It has the tallest clock tower and the world's largest clock face - 151ft in diameter and illuminated by two million LED lights which can be seen up to 18 miles away. A steel and concrete post-modern monolith in the desert, with a glass mosaic facade, it has 120 floors and houses 94 elevators which service 858 hotel rooms. There are conference facilities, apartments, a shopping mall and two heliports.

One World Trade Centre: New YorkAlthough it's not completed yet, the One World Trade Centre, in downtown Manhattan, will be America's tallest building when it's finished. Rising 541m above the site of the original World Trade Centre's Twin Towers, with 104 floors above ground, its 2.6 million sq. ft. footprint will house office space, restaurants, broadcast and antennae facilities as well as an observation deck. One World Trade Centre has already been topped out and is expected to open later this year.

Taipei 101: Taiwan
Taipei 101, or the Taipei Financial Centre, was the tallest building in the world when it was built in 2004, only to be beaten some six years later by the Burj. Seen as modern Taiwan's iconic landmark, it is 509m tall and is considered the greenest tall building in the world by virtue of its innovative eco-friendly design. It is also an outstanding example of the oriental art of feng shui, which seeks harmony to achieve balance and enhance luck. The building is designed to resemble a stalk of bamboo. Its 101 floors symbolise adding one to a hundred, which is considered an auspicious number in Chinese culture. Its eight sections are also representative of good luck and, because the number four is considered unlucky, there is no 44th floor- just a 43a. The tower houses exclusive commercial space, including the Taiwan Stock Exchange, hotels, restaurants, a shopping mall and a library which the 5,000 visitors the tower welcomes each day can enjoy.

These towering examples of the achievements of human beings and the tenacity which they display and the ingenuity they demonstrate can humble us when we consider their scale. They serve to show us that in aspiring to create the finest examples of human endeavour, we do indeed reach for the sky.

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