A new “world’s tallest” building seems to crop up every year, with a frequency that calls to mind the home-run champs of the nineties, each attaining new, unthinkable heights with less and less meaning. Since 1998 alone, Petronas Towers 1 and 2, the Shanghai World Financial Center, and the Taipei 101 have all briefly claimed the title. But even among this craze of ascendance, the opening of Dubai’s reigning world’s-tallest, the Burj Khalifa in January 2010, did, in fact, seem meaningful. For one, the Burj is dramatically taller than the nearest world’s-tallest contender (if you stacked the Chrysler Building on top of the Empire State Building, the resulting behemoth would still not equal the Burj’s height). It is also beautiful. Many skyscrapers, while yearning quite obviously for style points, serve a clear utilitarian mission: to maximize office space in a crammed chunk of commercial real estate. This is true of the Empire State Building, the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower, and Shanghai’s World Financial Center. This is deeply untrue of the Burj, which houses even less commercial space than the much shorter World Financial Center and must fend for room not in the heart of midtown Manhattan or downtown Shanghai, but in the middle of a vast desert.
more from Jacob Rubin at n+1 here.