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Let it go, Willis Tower will no longer be No. 1 in U.S.: Brown

 
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Willis Tower left One World Trade Center. | AP

Willis Tower, left, and the One World Trade Center. | AP

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Updated: December 14, 2013 6:36AM



By the end of next year, Chicago’s Willis Tower will likely not even rank in the top 10 of the world’s tallest buildings.

By the end of the decade, it will have fallen out of the top 20, perhaps even the top 25.

That’s if all the mega-tall skyscrapers currently under construction around the world meet their scheduled completion deadlines. At best, Willis Tower will hang in there just a few years longer.

The point is that if falling behind New York’s One World Trade Center on the whose-is-bigger list causes you civic performance anxiety, then it’s time to give it up.

As much as Chicagoans took pride in the world’s tallest label and then found solace in the fallback of being tallest in the U.S., we might as well get used to the fact that the world economy has moved such distinctions in another direction.

In fairly short order, the skyscraper formerly known as Sears Tower will have gone the way of the Empire State Building as a man-made marvel whose time has passed yet hopefully retains its ability to fascinate and inspire.

Destined soon for the world’s tallest list, Kingdom Tower, currently being built in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is supposed to be 3,281 feet tall when completed in 2019 — more than twice as tall as a suddenly puny Willis Tower at 1,451 feet. It’s hard to imagine.

So don’t begrudge New Yorkers for their beacon-topped “spire” that isn’t an antenna atop One World Trade Center (even though it is expected to function as an antenna), which supposedly makes it taller than Willis Tower.

If the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, the self-appointed arbiter of how skyscrapers are measured, says One World Trade Center is taller at a patriotically symbolic 1,776 feet, then who are we to argue.

If we choose, we can still stand on the Skydeck and look down our noses at an imaginary spot below where One World Trade Center’s roof will top out.

Yet, this is one instance where Mayor Rahm Emanuel might want to be a little less pugnacious than he was Tuesday.

After all, I think we all realize New Yorkers paid an unfathomably heavy price for this “opportunity” to build anew atop the site of the original World Trade Center complex destroyed in the terrorist attack of 9/11.

I, for one, am happy to concede the mantle, because let’s face it, once you’ve lost the title of world’s tallest, everything else is intramurals.

We regard ourselves as a global city these days, so it would be improper to contemplate pressuring IIT to replace Antony Wood, the Brit who serves as the Council on Tall Building’s executive director, with a local more skilled in rigging a vote to favor the home team.

Wood, a native of Manchester, England, and now seven and a half years a Chicagoan, admitted taking the “tallest” designation very seriously but argued Chicago is no worse off by being surpassed.

“Does that really change Chicago as a city?” Wood told reporters gathered for the announcement. “I mean, is London any less of a city because it doesn’t have the world’s tallest? I don’t think so.”

Actually, I always have thought there was nothing wrong with London or Paris that a few Chicago skyscrapers couldn’t cure.

I don’t really think that, but if it will start an online fight, run with it.

Willis Tower will fall to 10th on the world’s tallest list when One World Trade Center is completed early next year. Then it will drop to 11th when the 2,073-foot Shanghai Tower in Shanghai, China, is finished, also scheduled for 2014.

Of the 15 other skyscrapers under construction that are expected to surpass Willis Tower by 2019, China has 11.

There’s nothing on the construction horizon to challenge One World Trade Center as the tallest building in North America.

But if you’re determined not to let go so easily, Wood has a suggestion: Willis Tower could reapply to the Council on Tall Buildings and argue that its antennae are now a permanent part of the structure.

“I would argue that the antenna on top of Sears [see, even the experts do it] has become an important part of the iconography of that building,” Wood said.

Sorry, but no. Either build something taller or let it go.



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