Inside the world’s tallest towers

Windproof, earthquake-resistant and possibly equipped with anti-terror missiles: Andrew Dickens explores many, many floors



One World Trade Centre, New York

• In most skyscrapers, the concrete can withstand 9,000psi. At the 546m-high 1WTC it’s manufactured to withstand 14,000psi.

• There is a waterproof elevator for emergency services that can run when sprinklers go off.

• Unlike the stairways in the Twin Towers – encased in sheetrock so they collapsed stopping people from getting out of the building – the staircases

in 1WTC are encased within the concrete core.

• The bottom 20 storeys – of a total of 104 – are a solid, steel-reinforced concrete block.

• The exterior comprises 1,000,000 sq ft of glass. The 50ft-high lobby uses marble from the same source as the Twin Towers.

• The building only uses renewable energy and 90 per cent of occupied space uses natural light.

Behind the scenes, and 101 floors up, at New York’s most poignant structure

The last time I had this view was on 8 September 1997. The last time any member of the public had this view was 11 September 2001. It’s the view of New York City from a structure higher than the Empire State Building. It’s quite the view, for more than one reason.

Back in 1997 I saw it from the Top Of The World Observation Deck, 110th floor, South Tower, World Trade Centre; today I’m on the 101st floor of One World Trade Centre (formerly known as ‘The Freedom Tower’), the ultimate phoenix from the flames.

But despite its location and numerically symbolic 1,776ft height – not just a nod to the year American independence was declared but bigger and bolder than the Twin Towers – this is more than just a glass finger raised in defiance to those who dared stab the heart of the US’s proudest city. It’s the definition of ‘superstructure’ and, as this is the USA, it’s also a financial proposition.

“Fifty five per cent of the building has been let,” says Jordan Barowitz of The Durst Organisation, charged with filling the 3,000,000 sq ft of office space. “For overseas companies who want to establish a presence in the US, it’s perfect. A premium address, a great location.”

And very easy to find. One World Trade Centre is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, towering over the Empire State by more than 300ft.

A concrete core is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling glass, providing a reflective façade which lets the building glow a little more than its neighbours. It also lets a lot of light in; it’d be a lovely place to work. Yet it’s impossible to escape what happened nearly 13 years go.

“Security isn’t the first question people have,” says Barowitz. “But if it comes up, I tell them the resiliency in this building is second to none. And no, there aren’t missiles on the roof.” This summer, the streets directly below will be completely open to the public for the first time since 2001, and the building will be just months behind. I’m not a New Yorker. I can’t pretend to know what that’ll be like for the locals. But Barowitz is, and can.

“It’ll be a moment of triumph, to retake this space,” he says. “People will work here, eat here and remember here. It’ll become part of New York again.”


THE one with the 40mph lift

Taipei 101, Taipei

• At 508m, it was officially ranked as the world’s highest building upon completion in 2004 until the opening of Tom Cruise’s climbing frame, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (828m), in 2010.

• The lifts, installed by Toshiba, are the fastest in the world. With a top speed of 37.7mph, they can get you from level B1 to the 89th floor in 39 seconds.

• A 730-tonne steel pendulum serves as a tuned mass damper. It’s suspended from the 92nd to 87th floor and sways to offset earthquakes and typhoons.

• The aim of the building was to withstand winds of 134mph and the strongest earthquakes likely to occur in a 2,500-year cycle.

• Using an adjacent park, the building doubles as the world’s tallest sundial.

• The building is supported by 36 columns, including eight ‘mega-columns’ made from 10,000psi concrete.

• Four is seen as an unlucky number in Chinese culture, so there is no 44th floor – just 42A and 43.


THE typhoon-proof one

Canton Tower, Guangzhou

• Completed in 2010. At 600m, it was once the world’s tallest tower before being overtaken by Tokyo’s Skytree (634m). It’s still the tallest structure in China.

• The 488m rooftop contains the world’s highest public observation deck – and the largest outdoor one. Sixteen transparent cars (think London Eye) circumnavigate the top of the building, like a lopsided Ferris wheel.

• If that’s not vertiginous enough for you, at 170m, the ‘waist’, is an open-air staircase called the Skywalk which climbs a further 200m. In places, the Skywalk has a glass floor.

• The tower includes a ‘4D’ cinema and, at 428m, a post office.

• It weighs almost exactly 100,000,000kg.

• The tower’s design and material make-up – predominately high-tensile steel – helps it withstand the region’s typhoons and winds.

(Images: Alamy; Getty)