World’s Highest Observation Decks

Earlier this month, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) released some fascinating data on the world’s highest observation decks and the history of humanity’s obsession with height. Let’s take a look at the findings.
CTBUH_TBINObservation_History

Following the chart above (click to enlarge), we start our journey to the clouds at the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. during the latter half of the 1800’s. From 1884 to 1889, the Washington Monument’s observation deck ruled the sky at 152 m (499 ft.). From there, the title went to Paris, home to the Eiffel Tower‘s observation deck at 276 m (905 ft.) from 1889 to 1931. Even today, the Eiffel Tower is the most visited observation deck in the world, averaging six million visitors every year!

The United States reclaimed the title from 1931 to 1976 starting with the Empire State Building in New York City (NYC) at 373 m (1,223 ft.). A unique feature of the Empire State Building is that from its observation deck, it is possible to see across four state lines to New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. This observation deck ruled America’s skies from 1931 all the way until 1973.

Two World Trade Center (also in NYC) had the highest observation deck twice. First from 1973 to 1974 at 395 m (1,295 ft.) then again from 1975 to 1976 at 415 m (1,361 ft.). Why twice you ask? Competition. Willis Tower in Chicago (then the Sears tower) surpassed Two World Trade Center with the highest observation deck at 413 m (1,354 ft.) from 1974 to 1975. NYC wanted the title back so it opened its new and higher deck in 1975. Both One and Two World Trade Center buildings were destroyed in the attacks on September 11, 2001. The new One World Trade Center opened in June 2015 and has an observation deck at 386.5 m (1,268 ft.). The new Two World Trade Center is currently still under proposal.

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Historic Increases in Observation Height in NYC

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Historic Increases in Observation Height in Chicago

From here we must leave the United States and go to Canada — Toronto to be precise. The CN Tower had the highest observation deck from 1976 to 2008 at 447 m (1,466 ft.).
Since then however, Asia and the Middle East have entered into their own era of building tall, which makes for some impressive observation decks.

First up is Shanghai World Financial Center in Shanghai, China. Located just 20 m (65 ft.) from its topping out height, its observation deck held the title of world’s highest from 2008 to 2010 at 474 m (1,555 ft.). Canton Tower in Guangzhou, China just beats out the Shanghai WFC at 488 m (1,601 ft.). Canton Tower also holds another record, as it is home to the highest semi-Ferris Wheel in the world. On top of the tower (at 452 m), cars travel around the building on an inclined track.

CTBUH_TBINObservation_Shanghai

Historic Increases in Observation Height in Shanghai, China

The Middle East finally takes the title with the incredible Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Its observation deck is 555.7 m (1,823 ft.) off the ground and, as of this writing, is the current world’s tallest observation deck.

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The Burj Khalifa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Records, as they say, are made to be broken, and who knows what the future holds? Well CTBUH knows, actually. They give us the projected heights of super-talls, and their observation decks, that are currently under construction. The first on this list takes us back to China — Shanghai Tower. Piercing the sky with its beautiful, spiral-shaped design, it opened in September of 2015 and its observation deck should be the world’s tallest through 2018 at 561.25 m (1,841 ft.).

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The spiral-design of Shanghai Tower.

The year 2018 holds something quite remarkable — the completion of the (future) world’s tallest building, Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The design and sheer height — 1,000 m (3,280 ft.) — are simply breathtaking. My breathing stopped and my heart raced back in June when I visited Willis Tower’s observation deck, so I would imagine Kingdom Tower’s at 634 m (2,080 ft.) would quite literally take my breath away.

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Many believe that Kingdom Tower will mark the beginning of a new era of building high, as humanity will have reached the 1,000-m mark.

CTBUH puts it best:

“Perhaps no element of a tall building is more closely related to the pure pleasure of standing high in the sky and taking in the view of one’s surroundings than observation decks.”

Pure pleasure indeed….

The cliche "Don't look down" was completely irrelevant.

Thanks for reading,

– Caleb

P.S. Some of these tall buildings have their own Instagram Accounts, such as Willis Tower and One World Trade Center, so be sure to follow and share your own photos of the cities you stand above!

5 thoughts on “World’s Highest Observation Decks

  1. THE HIGHEST OBSERVATION DECK IN THE WORLD IS THE SHANGHAI TOWER, SINCE 2015. LONG MAY IT STAY THAT WAY. IT IS ALSO THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SUPER TALL BUILDING. YOU ALSO MENTION THE WTC IN NEW YORK, WHICH IS NO COMPARISON. WHY DO YOU NOT INCLUDE THE SHANGHAI TOWER?

  2. Where is the Taipei 101?

    he building was officially classified as the world’s tallest in 2004, and remained such until the completion of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai in 2009. Moreover, it is still the worlds tallest green building, after being the highest award according to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system.

    other facts.
    Architectural 509.2 m (1,671 ft)
    Tip 509.2 m (1,671 ft)
    Roof 449.2 m (1,474 ft)
    Top floor 439.2 m (1,441 ft)
    Observatory 391.8 m (1,285 ft) which is a larger than the one you mentioned in in the time frame circa 2004-2009.

  3. ^ edit the observatory was not highest at that time, I stand corrected.

  4. As someone who has visited a lot of the high points in the world (man made that is) I reckon the one that made the biggest impact on me was the Eiffel tower overall. So many don’t get a mention, the highest real bar in the world in Hong Kong for example – they are all impressive and I never miss an opportunity – but if you visit CN tower in Toronto don’t forget to pay the little bit extra to visit the ‘nacelle’ – the really high viewing deck

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