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The 16 Tallest Buildings in History: From Ancient Wonders to Modern Marvels

Image of the Eiffel Tower from across the Seine River for a blog post about the tallest buildings in history

Get ready to have your mind blown as we dive into the fascinating world of the tallest buildings in history.

From ancient wonders to modern-day marvels, we’ve compiled a list of the 16 most awe-inspiring structures that have held the coveted title of “World’s Tallest” throughout the ages.

These architectural giants not only pushed the boundaries of engineering and design but also served as symbols of human ambition, innovation, and the relentless pursuit of reaching new heights (pun intended!).

The 16 tallest buildings in history from the Great pyramid of Giza to the Burj Khalifa:

Historical StructureCountryHeightDates As World’s Tallest
Great Pyramid of GizaEgypt146.5 m (481 ft)c. 2560 BC – c. 1311 AD
Lincoln CathedralEngland160 m (525 ft)1311 – 1549
St. Olaf’s ChurchEstonia159 m (522 ft)1549 – 1625
Strasbourg CathedralFrance142 m (466 ft)1625 – 1874
St. Nikolai’s ChurchGermany147 m (482 ft)1874 – 1877
Rouen CathedralFrance151 m (495 ft)1877 – 1880
Cologne CathedralGermany157 m (515 ft)1880 – 1884
Washington MonumentUSA169 m (555 ft)1884 – 1889
Eiffel TowerFrance324 m (1,063 ft)1889 – 1930
Chrysler BuildingUSA319 m (1,046 ft)1930 – 1931
Empire State BuildingUSA381 m (1,250 ft)1931 – 1954
World Trade CenterUSA417 m (1,368 ft)1972 – 1974
Sears TowerUSA442 m (1,450 ft)1974 – 1998
Petronas TowersMalaysia452 m (1,483 ft)1998 – 2004
Taipei 101Taiwan508 m (1,667 ft)2004 – 2010
Burj KhalifaUAE828 m (2,717 ft)2010 – present

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So, sit back, relax, and join us on a thrilling journey through time as we explore the incredible stories behind these iconic structures that have left an indelible mark on our skylines and our imaginations.

One more thing…

Authors note:

When examining the list of the tallest buildings in history, it’s important to note that the order is based on the chronological progression of when each building held the title, rather than being sorted solely by height. This means that some shorter buildings may appear earlier in the list than taller ones.

Several factors have contributed to the changes in the order of the list over time. One major factor is the occurrence of natural disasters or structural failures. For example, the Lincoln Cathedral in England was once the tallest building in the world, but after its central spire collapsed in 1549 due to strong winds, it lost its title to the shorter St. Olaf’s Church in Estonia. Another factor is the lack of clear documentation and varying estimates of building heights, particularly for older structures. This has led to some debates and uncertainties regarding the exact heights of buildings like St. Olaf’s Church, which has affected its position on the list.

Lastly, as architectural techniques and building materials have advanced over time, the heights of the tallest buildings have increased significantly. This is evident in the latter part of the list, where modern skyscrapers like the Burj Khalifa and Taipei 101 have surpassed the heights of earlier structures by hundreds of meters. By considering these factors, we can better understand the fascinating history behind the world’s tallest buildings and appreciate the incredible feats of engineering and human achievement they represent.

More on the 16 Tallest Buildings in History

Kicking off our list of the 16 tallest buildings in history is none other than the iconic Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.

This ancient wonder, standing at an impressive 146.5 meters (481 feet), held the title of the world’s tallest man-made structure for an astonishing 3,800 years, from its completion around 2560 BC until the construction of Lincoln Cathedral in 1311 AD.

Image of the vastness of the Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the tallest buildings in history.
The iconic Great Pyramid of Giza (pictured) was the tallest building in the world for 3,800 years

1. Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt, 146.5 m (481 ft)

Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt, 146.5 m (481 ft), c. 2560 BC – c. 1311 AD Built during the reign of Pharaoh Khufu, the Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids in the Giza pyramid complex.

It was the tallest man-made structure in the world for more than 3,800 years.

The pyramid was built as a tomb for Pharaoh Khufu and constructed of limestone blocks weighing an average of 2.5 tons each.

Image of the facade of Lincoln Cathedral
Lincoln Cathedral (pictured) overtook the Great Pyramid
of Giza in 1311 to become one of the tallest buildings in history

2. Lincoln Cathedral, England, 160 m (525 ft)

Lincoln Cathedral, officially known as the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln, is a stunning example of Gothic architecture.

The central spire was added in 1311, making it the tallest building in the world until 1549, when the spire collapsed due to strong winds.

The cathedral has been an important center of worship and pilgrimage for centuries.

Image of St. Olaf's Church in Tallin, Estonia
An illuminated St. Olaf’s Church in Tallin, Estonia – one of the tallest buildings in history

3. St. Olaf’s Church, Estonia, 159 m (522 ft)

St. Olaf’s Church in Tallinn, Estonia, was once the tallest building in the world.

The church was originally built in the 12th century and has undergone several reconstructions due to fires and war damage.

Its towering spire served as a landmark for ships on the Baltic Sea and a watchtower for the city.

Image of the facade of Strasbourg Cathedral the River Ill
Strasbourg Cathedral on the banks of the River Ill

4. Strasbourg Cathedral, France, 142 m (466 ft)

The Strasbourg Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg, is a magnificent example of Romanesque and Gothic architecture.

The cathedral’s north tower, completed in 1439, made it the world’s tallest building from 1625 to 1874.

The intricate astronomical clock inside the cathedral is a popular attraction.

Image of St. Nikolai's Church in Hamburg.
St. Nikolai’s Church in Hamburg, Germany became one of the tallest buildings in history in 1874

5. St. Nikolai’s Church, Germany, 147 m (482 ft)

St. Nikolai’s Church in Hamburg, Germany, was the tallest building in the world from 1874 to 1877.

The Gothic revival church was heavily damaged during World War II but was later restored.

Today, visitors can climb the tower for panoramic views of the city.

Image of Rouen Cathedral undergoing renovations for a blog post covering the tallest buildings in history
Rouen Cathedral in Normandy, once the tallest building in the world, undergoing renovations in 2021

6. Rouen Cathedral, France, 151 m (495 ft)

The Rouen Cathedral in Normandy, France, held the title of the world’s tallest building from 1877 to 1880.

The cathedral is known for its stunning Gothic architecture and was famously painted by Claude Monet in a series of works that capture the changing light on the facade.

Image of Cologne Cathedral at night
The view of Cologne Cathedral from across the Rhine

7. Cologne Cathedral, Germany, 157 m (515 ft)

The Cologne Cathedral, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, was the tallest building in the world from 1880 to 1884.

Construction began in 1248 but was halted in 1473, leaving the cathedral unfinished.

Work resumed in the 19th century, and the cathedral was finally completed in 1880, featuring intricate stonework, stunning stained-glass windows, and twin spires that dominate the city skyline.

Image of the Washington Monument at dusk.
The Washington Monument at dusk in Washington D.C.
joined the ranks of the tallest buildings in history in 1884

8. Washington Monument, USA, 169 m (555 ft)

The Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. was the tallest building in the world from 1884 to 1889.

The obelisk-shaped monument honors the first U.S. President, George Washington.

Construction began in 1848 but was halted due to lack of funds and the Civil War, finally concluding in 1884.

Image of the Eiffel Tower in Paris for a blog post about the tallest buildings in history
The world-famous Eiffel Tower on a sunny Paris afternoon

9. Eiffel Tower, France, 324 m (1,063 ft)

The iconic Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, held the title of the world’s tallest building for an impressive 41 years, from 1889 to 1930.

Designed by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 World’s Fair, the wrought-iron tower was initially criticized by some Parisians for its appearance.

However, it quickly became a beloved symbol of the city and a popular tourist attraction.

Image of the Chrysler Building in NYC for a blog post covering the tallest buildings in history.
The facade of the art deco style Chrysler Building in New York City

10. Chrysler Building, USA, 319 m (1,046 ft)

The Chrysler Building in New York City was the world’s tallest building for a brief period in 1930-1931.

The Art Deco skyscraper features a distinctive spire and ornamental details inspired by Chrysler automobiles.

The building’s height was surpassed by the Empire State Building just 11 months after its completion.

Image of the Empire State Building and the NYC skyline
The iconic Empire State building in New York City

11. Empire State Building, USA, 381 m (1,250 ft)

The Empire State Building, an iconic New York City landmark, held the title of the world’s tallest building from 1931 to 1954.

The Art Deco skyscraper was designed by Shreve, Lamb & Harmon and completed in just 410 days during the Great Depression.

It has been featured in numerous films and TV shows and remains a popular tourist attraction.

Image of the former World Trade Center in New York.
The original World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan

12. World Trade Center, USA, 417 m (1,368 ft)

The original World Trade Center in New York City, consisting of the iconic Twin Towers, was the world’s tallest building from 1972 to 1974.

The complex was designed by Minoru Yamasaki and became a symbol of New York’s financial power.

Tragically, the towers were destroyed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Image of the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower in Chicago.
The Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) on the banks of the Chicago River

13. Sears Tower, USA, 442 m (1,450 ft)

The Sears Tower (now known as the Willis Tower) in Chicago was the tallest building in the world from 1974 to 1998.

Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the 110-story skyscraper features a distinctive “bundled tube” structure and black aluminum and bronze-tinted glass exterior.

The observation deck on the 103rd floor offers stunning views of the city.

Image of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The Petronas Towers among the Kuala Lumpur skyline

14. Petronas Towers, Malaysia, 452 m (1,483 ft)

 The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, held the title of the world’s tallest buildings from 1998 to 2004.

The twin skyscrapers, designed by Cesar Pelli, feature a postmodern Islamic style and are connected by a sky bridge on the 41st and 42nd floors.

The towers symbolize Malaysia’s economic growth and modernization.

Image of the Taipei 101 tower for a blog post covering the tallest buildings in history.
The magnificent Taipei 101 tower in Taipei, Taiwan

15. Taipei 101, Taiwan, 508 m (1,667 ft)

 Taipei 101 in Taipei, Taiwan, was the world’s tallest building from 2004 to 2010.

The postmodern skyscraper, designed by C.Y. Lee & Partners, features a distinctive green glass curtain wall and a series of eight pagoda-like sections.

The building incorporates many traditional feng shui elements and is designed to withstand typhoons and earthquakes.

Image of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai for a blog post covering the tallest buildings in history.

16. Burj Khalifa, UAE, 828 m (2,717 ft)

The reigning champion among the tallest buildings in history is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which has been the tallest building in the world since 2010.

Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the skyscraper boasts 163 floors and a total height of 828 meters (2,717 feet).

The building’s design incorporates Islamic influences and Y-shaped floor plans to optimize views and natural light. It has become a symbol of Dubai’s ambition and rapid development.

Image of the Great Pyramid of Giza with the Sphinx in the foreground
The Great Pyramid of Giza, also known as the Pyramid of Cheops
(or Khufu), the 4th Dynasty Pharaoh who was its only resident for a short time

Wrap-up: Tallest Buildings in History

In conclusion, the history of the world’s tallest buildings is a fascinating journey through time, showcasing the ingenuity, determination, and aspirations of human civilization.

From the ancient Great Pyramid of Giza to the modern-day Burj Khalifa, these structures have not only pushed the boundaries of engineering and design but have also become iconic symbols of the cities and cultures they represent.

Throughout the centuries, we’ve seen a shift from religious and memorial structures to office buildings and multi-purpose skyscrapers, reflecting the changing needs and values of society.

Each building on this list has its own unique story, from the challenges faced during construction to the impact it has had on the surrounding community and the world at large.

As we look to the future, it’s exciting to imagine what new heights we’ll reach and what innovative designs will emerge.

One thing is for certain: the quest to build the tallest, most impressive structures is far from over, and we can expect to see even more awe-inspiring buildings in the years to come.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this journey through the tallest buildings in history and have gained a newfound appreciation for these remarkable feats of human engineering.

Whether you’ve had the chance to visit any of these buildings in person or simply admire them from afar, there’s no denying the impact they’ve had on our world and the way we perceive what’s possible when we dream big and reach for the sky.

Image of a concept drawing of the Kingdom Tower for a blog post covering the tallest buildings in history.
Artist’s concept drawing of the Kingdom Tower
(or Jeddah Tower) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, now under construction

FAQs: Tallest Buildings in History

1. What is the tallest building currently under construction?


As of 2023, the tallest building under construction is the Jeddah Tower (also known as the Kingdom Tower) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.


Designed by the American architecture firm Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, this supertall skyscraper began construction in 2013 and is expected to be completed by 2024.



Upon completion, the Jeddah Tower is projected to reach a height of over 1,000 meters (3,281 feet), making it the first building to surpass the 1-kilometer mark.


The building will have more than 200 floors and will feature a mix of residential units, office spaces, luxury condominiums, and a hotel.


The tower’s design is inspired by the folded fronds of young desert plant growth, with a sleek, aerodynamic shape that tapers as it rises.



One of the most impressive features of the Jeddah Tower will be its observation deck, which is expected to be the highest in the world, offering stunning views of the Red Sea and the surrounding city.


The building will also boast state-of-the-art elevator systems, advanced sustainable technology, and a high-performance exterior wall system to minimize energy consumption.



As an unprecedented engineering and architectural feat, the Jeddah Tower is set to become an iconic symbol of Saudi Arabia’s growth and prosperity, much like the Burj Khalifa has become for Dubai and the United Arab Emirates.




2. What technological advancements have made it possible to build taller buildings?


Several technological advancements have made it possible to build taller skyscrapers:

High-strength materials: The development of stronger, lighter materials like high-performance concrete and advanced steel alloys has allowed builders to create taller structures with less weight, reducing the load on the building’s foundation and allowing for more height.



Pumped concrete: The invention of pumped concrete has made it easier to transport concrete to higher levels of a building during construction, enabling the creation of taller structures.



Damper systems: The introduction of damper systems, such as tuned mass dampers and viscous dampers, has helped to counteract the effects of wind and seismic activity on tall buildings, increasing their stability and allowing for greater heights.



Elevator technology: Advancements in elevator technology, such as the development of high-speed, double-deck, and sky lobby elevators, have made it possible to efficiently transport people and goods to higher floors, a crucial aspect of tall building design.



Computer-aided design (CAD) and modeling: The use of advanced CAD software and 3D modeling has allowed architects and engineers to design and test tall building structures virtually, optimizing their design for strength, stability, and efficiency before construction begins.



Curtain wall systems: The development of high-performance curtain wall systems has allowed for better insulation, improved energy efficiency, and increased natural light in tall buildings, enhancing their sustainability and livability.



These technological advancements, along with others in fields like foundation design and wind engineering, have pushed the boundaries of what is possible in tall building construction, enabling the creation of structures that were once thought impossible.




3. How do tall buildings cope with natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes?


Tall buildings are designed to cope with natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes through a combination of advanced engineering techniques and stringent building codes.



Here are some ways in which tall buildings are designed to withstand these natural forces:

1. Earthquake resistance:

Base isolation systems: These systems use a layer of flexible bearings or springs to separate the building’s foundation from the ground, allowing the structure to move independently during an earthquake and absorb seismic energy.



Damper systems: As mentioned in FAQ #2, help to counteract the effects of wind and seismic activity.



Reinforced concrete core: Many tall buildings feature a central reinforced concrete core that provides additional stability and helps to distribute the forces of an earthquake evenly throughout the structure.



2. Hurricane resistance:

Aerodynamic shape: Tall buildings in hurricane-prone areas are often designed with an aerodynamic shape that allows wind to flow around the structure more easily, reducing the wind load on the building.



High-strength glass: Windows and facades of tall buildings in hurricane zones are often made of high-strength, impact-resistant glass that can withstand the force of flying debris and strong winds.



Reinforced facades: The exterior walls of tall buildings in hurricane-prone regions are often reinforced with materials like steel or concrete to increase their strength and durability.
Building codes and standards:



Stringent building codes: Cities and regions prone to earthquakes and hurricanes have stringent building codes that require tall buildings to be designed and constructed to withstand these natural forces.



Regular inspections: Tall buildings in areas susceptible to natural disasters are subject to regular inspections and maintenance to ensure that they remain structurally sound and can perform as designed during an event.



By incorporating these advanced engineering techniques and adhering to strict building codes, tall buildings are designed to cope with the forces of earthquakes and hurricanes, minimizing damage and ensuring the safety of their occupants.




References: Tallest Buildings in History

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Empire state building. “Empire State Building.” Empire State Building, 2016, www.esbnyc.com/.

“ENGLAND: LINCOLN MINSTER.” Www.medart.pitt.edu, www.medart.pitt.edu/image/England/Lincoln/Cathedral/Plans/Mainlincolncathplans-2.html.

Guinness World Records. “Burj Khalifa: The Tallest Building in the World.” Guinness World Records, 2009, www.guinnessworldrecords.com/records/hall-of-fame/burj-khalifa-tallest-building-in-the-world.

Handwerk, Brian. “Pyramids of Giza.” National Geographic, National Geographic, 21 Jan. 2017, www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/giza-pyramids.

“PETRONAS Twin Towers | Identical Towers, Identical Wonder.” Petronas Twin Towers, 2019, www.petronastwintowers.com.my/.

Pierre. “Explore Rouen Cathedral, France Tallest Church! – French Moments.” French Moments, 26 Nov. 2012, frenchmoments.eu/rouen-cathedral/.

“Saint Olaf’s Church.” Atlas Obscura, www.atlasobscura.com/places/saint-olaf-church.

“St. Nikolai Memorial and Museum.” Hamburg.de, www.hamburg.com/sights/places-of-worship/11747434/st-nikolai/.

“Startseite | Kölner Dom.” Www.koelner-Dom.de, www.koelner-dom.de/.

“Strasbourg.info – Strasbourg Cathedral.” Www.strasbourg.info, www.strasbourg.info/cathedral/.

Taipei 101. “Taipei 101.” Taipei 101, www.taipei-101.com.tw/en/.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “World Trade Center | Building Complex, New York City, New York, United States | Britannica.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 2019, www.britannica.com/topic/World-Trade-Center.

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Chrysler Building | Building, New York City, New York, United States.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 15 July 2010, www.britannica.com/topic/Chrysler-Building.

“The Eiffel Tower.” The Eiffel Tower, 2017, www.toureiffel.paris/en.

“Washington Monument (U.S. National Park Service).” Nps.gov, 2017, www.nps.gov/wamo/index.htm.

“Willis Tower.” Chicago Architecture Center – CAC, www.architecture.org/learn/resources/buildings-of-chicago/building/willis-tower/.