NYC's World Trade Center height debated in Chicago

It could be nation's

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CHICAGO -- Rising from the ashes of 9/11, the new World Trade Center tower has punched above the New York skyline to reach its powerfully symbolic height of 1,776 feet and become the tallest building in the country. Or has it?

A committee of architects recognized as the arbiters on world building heights was meeting Friday to decide whether a design change affecting the skyscraper's 408-foot needle disqualified it from being counted. Disqualification would deny the tower the title as the nation's tallest.

But there's more than bragging rights at stake; 1 World Trade Center stands as a monument to those killed in the terrorist attacks, and the ruling could dim the echo of America's founding year in the structure's height. Without the needle, the building measures 1,368 feet, a number that also holds symbolic weight, as the height of the original World Trade Center.

What's more, the decision is being made by an organization based in Chicago, whose cultural and architectural history is embodied by the Willis -- formerly Sears -- Tower that would be knocked into second place by a vote in favor of the New York structure.

"Most of the time these decisions are not so controversial," said Daniel Safarik, an architect and spokesman for the nonprofit Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. The 30 members of its Height Committee were meeting to render a judgment behind closed doors in Chicago, where the world's first skyscraper appeared in 1884. The committee, comprising industry professionals from all over the world, will announce its decision next week.

The question over 1 World Trade Center, which remains under construction and is expected to open next year, arose because of a change to the design of its tower-topping needle. Under the council's current criteria, spires that are an integral part of a building's aesthetic design count; broadcast antennas that can be added and removed do not.

The designers of 1 World Trade Center had intended to enclose the mast's communications gear in decorative cladding made of fiberglass and steel. But the developer removed that exterior shell from the design, saying it would be impossible to properly maintain or repair. Without it, the question is whether the mast is now primarily just a broadcast antenna.

According to the architecture firm behind the building, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, the needle will have a communications platform for radio and television equipment, but it will also be topped with an LED beacon that will fire out a horizontal blaze of light visible from as far as 50 miles away on a clear night -- a feature that has been described as a crowning beacon of hope. The developers planned to test the beacon Friday night.

Mr. Safarik said the committee might consider amending its height criteria during the Friday meeting, a move with much broader implications that could force a reshuffle in the rankings of the world's tallest buildings.


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