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The never-ending race to build the world’s tallest structure

Still Waters

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Ever since humans began building, they’ve been building up. Throughout the millennia, our constructions have reached higher and higher into the sky, spurred by various motivations: religion, democracy, nationalism, commerce and design, to name a few.

Ancient Egyptians built enormous pyramids to protect the mummified bodies of their pharaohs. Christians used Gothic engineering innovations like flying buttresses and vaulted arches to build cathedrals that stretched toward their heaven. Industrious Americans built the World Trade Center to bring international business to New York; when that center was struck down, they built an even taller replacement—a symbol of resilience.

Around the globe, many human-made structures have enjoyed, for a time, the distinction of the tallest building in the world. From over 4,500 years ago to the present, here is a timeline detailing the record holders, from Giza to Dubai.


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