CHICAGO — Rising from the ashes of 9/11, the new World Trade Center tower has punched above the New York skyline to reach its powerfully symbolic height of 1,776 feet and become the tallest building in the country. Or has it?
A committee of architects recognized as the arbiters on world building heights met yesterday to decide whether a design change affecting the skyscraper’s 408-foot needle disqualifies it from being counted. Disqualification would deny the tower the title as the nation’s tallest.
But there’s more than bragging rights at stake; 1 World Trade Center stands as a monument to those killed in the terrorist attacks, and the ruling could dim the echo of America’s founding year in the structure’s height. Without the needle, the building measures 1,368 feet, a number that also holds symbolic weight as the height of the original World Trade Center.
What’s more, the decision is being made by an organization based in Chicago, whose cultural and architectural history is embodied by the Willis — formerly Sears — Tower that would be knocked into second place by a vote in favor of the New York structure.
“Most of the time these decisions are not so controversial,” said Daniel Safarik, an architect and spokesman for the nonprofit Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. The 30 members of its Height Committee are meeting to render a judgment behind closed doors in Chicago, where the world’s first skyscraper appeared in 1884.
The committee, comprising industry professionals from all over the world, will announce its decision next week.
The question over 1 World Trade Center, which remains under construction and is expected to open next year, arose because of a change to the design of its tower-topping needle. Under the council’s current criteria, spires that are an integral part of a building’s aesthetic design count; broadcast antennas that can be added and removed do not.