Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


TALL BUILDINGS are evidently of the “guy” gender, because so many of them lie about their height. The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat ( has reported that the architectural practice of topping a building with a useless spire is more popular than ever.

“Useless,” that is, unless one wants bragging rights.

In an article titled “Vanity Height: the Use-less Space in Today’s Tallest” (, the CTBUH compared the non-occupiable height of a skyscraper versus its overall height, the latter being the figure often cited in any list of tall structures. Sensibly enough, the Vanity Ratio, defined by this quotient of non-occupiable height/overall height, is a means of judging just how much cheatin’ is taking place.


Burj Al Arab, Dubai, with the current record-holding Vanity Ratio. This and other images from

It turns out there are cheatin’ skyscrapers the world around. The current record-holding VR is Burj Al Arab in Dubai. Of its 1053-ft. overall height, 407 ft. is architectural fillip, thus giving it a VR of 39 percent.


Burj Khalifa, Dubai, the world’s tallest building today.

The world’s current tallest building at 2717 ft. overall, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, has a VR of 29 percent. This, in itself, carries bragging rights of sorts. If the Burj Khalifa’s cheatin’ part were erected as a standalone in Europe, it would be the continent’s 11th tallest building.


Zifeng Tower, Nanjing, China.

The world’s second tallest building, the Zifeng Tower in Nanjing, China, rates a VR of 30 percent in the form of a straightforward communications needle atop other non-occupiable space.


Bank of America Tower, New York City.

New York City’s Bank of America Tower, currently third tallest building in the world, is second only to Burj Al Arab in cheatin’. Its non-occupiable communications spire gives the Bank of America Tower a VR of 36 percent.


Ukraina Hotel, Moscow, 1955, though not particularly tall, is cheatin’ the most. Image from

The current record holder in VR cheatin’ is Moscow’s Ukraina Hotel, built in 1955 with 42 percent of its 676-ft. height as vanity. In fact, the CTBUH sets height criteria concerning extreme VR: A structure with a VR of 50 percent or beyond, typically a communications tower, is considered a “non-building.”

At the opposite extreme, The Index in Dubai, being spireless, has a vanity height of only 13 ft., just 1 percent of its 1076-ft. height.


The Index, Dubai.

If its overall height is beyond 300 meters (984 ft.), a skyscraper is called a “supertall.” Thus far, there have been 74 supertalls, counting the twin towers of the World Trade Center, with others being announced frequently enough to keep CTBUH busy.


One World Trade, under construction in New York City, will be 1776 ft. tall, with 1368 ft. of occupiable height and a VR of 23 percent.

Without vanity height, 44 of the world’s current 72 supertalls (61 percent of them) would lose supertall status. Not surprisingly, supertalls have proliferated in recent time. CTBUH identifies only two built prior to 1950; five between 1950 and 1974; 17 built between 1975 and 1999; and 50 built between 1999 and 2013.

Check out the neat interactive chart at that identifies the history of vanity height from the 1930s’ Chrysler Building and Empire State Building to today’s supertalls.

The Empire State Building, completed in 1931, is exemplary in its use of space. Its occupied height of 1224 ft. compared to overall height of 1250 ft. gives it a VR of a mere 2.1 percent.

The Chrysler Building, completed a year earlier, shows that cheatin’ has been taking place for a long time. The 40 Wall Street Building (now the Trump Building) was going up at the same time, both vying for tallest in the world. The Chrysler Building won by assembling a 125-ft. spire in secret and hoisting this Art Deco fillip into place once 40 Wall was topped off.


The Chrysler Building held its cards close, then cheated fair and square.

Your author, it can be noted, is just a skosh less than 6 ft. in height; no cheatin’. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2013


  1. sabresoftware
    September 11, 2013

    As a structural engineer I always wanted to design a skyscraper, but ended up working in heavy industrial engineering (petrochemical plants and refineries), although I was fortunate to study under the late Professor Alan Davenport at the Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel at the University of Westen Ontario. Many of the workd’s tallest and longest (i.e. bridge) structures were tested at that facility (using scaled models of course).

    The Super Talls are built primarily for bragging rights, and are not particularly efficient structures, as the transportation and utility systems consume significant portions of the floor footprint, with the result that there is less leasable space per floor compared to smaller skyscrapers.

    They are frequently likened to a symbol that represents a part of the male anatomy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: