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New York's Empire State Building is no longer the tallest building in the world. According to the organization that officially designates the world's highest buildings, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, there are more than a dozen structures that are higher than the Empire State Building.

From 60 miles away, people can see the top of the spire of the Burj Khalifa, a United Arab Emirates building measuring 2,722 feet (830 m) high. The Dubai skyscraper is the tallest free-standing structure in the world, with the world's highest observation deck (on the 123rd floor).

World's tallest buildings

Burj Khalifa replaced Taipei 101, also known as the Taipei Financial Center which, at 1,671 feet (509 m), formerly held the world record for height. In 2016, Pudong City's 1,900-foot (579 m) Shanghai Tower in Lujiazui became the second highest skyscraper in the world.

When it is finished, the world's first kilometer-high building, the Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia, will be an estimated 1,000 meters (3,281 feet) high. It will then become the tallest building in the world.

Aerial view of Empire State Building
Aerial view of Empire State Building
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Other high buildings include the Shanghai World Financial Center, at 1,610 feet (492 m) and, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the twin Petronas Towers, at 1,483 feet (452m).

Nanjing Greenland Financial Center, in China, Willis Tower, in Chicago (originally named Sears Tower), Jin Mao Building in Shanghai, Two International Finance Centre in Hong Kong, CITIC Plaza in Guangzhou, China, and Shun Hing Square in Shenzhen, China, are all higher than the Empire State Building in New York.

Highest building in the Western Hemisphere

When it opened in May 2015, One World Trade Center in New York (previously called the Freedom Tower) became the highest building in North and South America, at 1,776 feet (541 m). The observatory-topped skyscraper stands on the site of the World Trade Center.

Although the Empire State Building has lost its position as the world's highest building, it has something that the others don't have—a fascinating history.

Back in 1799, the site was a farm, belonging to John Thompson. A hundred years later, the original Waldorf Astoria sat here—until 1929, when it was demolished so construction could begin on the Art Deco Empire State Building.

Skyscraper statistics

In a record-breaking 18 months, the skyscraper rose at an average rate of 4 1/2 stories per week. Workers erected 60,000 tons of steel frames, laid 10 million bricks and installed 97 kilometers of water pipe. More impressive, however, was the fact that the building cost less than half the predicted $50 million.

But disaster as well as success has painted its history. Thirty people have jumped to their deaths on the concrete below. And 14 people were killed in July, 1945, when a B-25 bomber, traveling at 322 kilometers per hour, crashed into the 79th floor. The building miraculously withstood the impact.

A potential disaster was averted in 1931 when the idea of using the building as a mooring base for dirigibles was squelched. High winds and erratic air currents could have easily thrown the huge airships into an uncontrolled frenzy.

Snow and rain fall up

Updrafts are also responsible for near-magical phenomena. Visitors can see snow and rain fall up. A conical paper cup filled with just the right amount of water will swirl mysteriously outside the window without going either up or down!

And since water drips up, window-washers have to clean the building's 6,500 windows from the bottom up!

Empire State Building in movies

But it is the magic of Hollywood that has immortalized the Empire State Building. It was the backdrop for Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer's Love Affair. Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra danced here in On the Town.

Deborah Kerr promised to meet Cary Grant on the observatory floor in An Affair to Remember. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan had their fateful meeting here in Sleepless in Seattle. Few can forget the scenes of Superman flying off its lofty heights or King Kong pounding his chest above the concrete canyons of Manhattan.

View from Empire State Building south to Midtown and Lower Manhattan, NYC
View from Empire State Building south to Midtown and Lower Manhattan, NYC
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Views from top

On a clear day, you can see for 129 kilometers into the neighboring states of New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Manhattan spreads out like a giant relief map a quarter mile below.

To the east, bridges span the East River, joining Brooklyn and Queens to Manhattan. To the south lies the Financial District and the harbor. To the west is Macy's, Madison Square Garden, the Hudson River and New Jersey. And Fifth Avenue heads straight north towards the Rockefeller Center and the greenery of Central Park.

Each year over 3.5 million people gaze down from the 86th-floor open-air observation deck, at 1,050 feet (320 meters). The building itself rises to 1,453 feet (443 meters). The observatory has a glass-enclosed area and an outdoor walkway on four sides of the building.

There are 73 elevators in the building, which that travel at speeds of up to 366 meters a minute. Two elevators take passengers from the 80th floor to the 86th floor Observation Deck. It takes less than one minute to go from the lobby to the 86th floor.

How to avoid long waits

On busy days, the wait can seem interminable. All visitors must go through security. You can avoid the ticket office line by purchasing your tickets online in advance.

You can also shorten your wait by going on a weekday, rather than a weekend or arriving when it opens or late in the evening after 9 pm. (The building is open until midnight.) Call ahead to check the visibility and go only if it's clear.

If you don't mind the wait, or if you select a quiet day, the ideal time to go is about one hour before sunset. This allows you to enjoy the daytime view as well as the breathtaking spectacle at sunset when the buildings turn to burnished gold.

As the sky darkens, lights flicker on and sparkle like diamonds against a black velvet sky. Only the most jaded can remain unmoved by the sight.

Shocking kisses and lightning strikes

Few scenes are more romantic. But be forewarned. Sparks may fly when lips meet. Such shocking kisses are due to the static electricity produced by atmospheric conditions at these levels. (The building was designed as a lightning rod for the surrounding area. Lightning strikes it about 100 times per year.)

If you feel the floor moving beneath your feet, it may not be that powerful kiss. The building actually moves six millimeters on windy days! But don't worry about its safety. The building's foundation extends for two stories underground. And its broad five-story base covers nearly a hectare!

Colored lights

The Empire State Building is illuminated at night, giving it the appearance of a giant inland lighthouse. The colors change with the seasons, national holidays and special events. Fortunately, the floodlights have been carefully focused so they don't interfere with the dazzling nighttime views.

One more tip: Bring a sweater to the outdoor observation deck in the evening. The winds can be chilling, even in summer.

For 40 years, the Empire State Building held the world's record for the highest building on earth. The National Historic Landmark was called the giant upended pencil, the cathedral in the sky and the eighth wonder of the world. Its picture was sold on thousands of postcards and its name became synonymous with New York City.

Today, the Empire State Building is no longer the highest building in the world. But for the millions of visitors who have been here, it will always be the most famous.


Empire State Building: www.esbnyc.com

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