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One World Trade Center Ruled Taller than Willis Tower, But Rahm Disagrees

By  Emily Morris Quinn Ford and Ted Cox | November 12, 2013 10:02am | Updated on November 12, 2013 1:08pm

 A committee of architects announced Tuesday that New York City's One World Trade Center would usurp Willis Tower as the nation's tallest building.
Willis Tower
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THE LOOP — On the strength and height of its decorative spire, New York's One World Trade Center officially topped Chicago's Willis Tower Tuesday for the title of the nation's tallest building.

But Mayor Rahm Emanuel is not buying it.

"I would just say this to all the experts they gathered in one room: If it looks like an antenna, acts like an antenna, guess what? It is an antenna," Emanuel said.

Emanuel suggested he'd rather be inside at the Willis than on top of the "antenna" at the New York skyscraper.

"At the Willis Tower, you have a view that's unprecedented in its beauty and its landscape and its capacity to capture something, something you can't do from an antenna. Not that I'm competitive."

The Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, a recognized group that determines the height of skyscrapers, announced the decision at a morning news conference at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Bronzeville.

One WTC was built to to be a symbolic 1,776 feet from head to toe, 325 feet higher than Willis Tower's 1,451 feet.

The technical question was whether the 408-foot structure atop the One WTC was a spire, which would count toward the height, or whether it was an antenna, a structure that the committee would not consider to count toward a building's total height.

In a five-hour meeting on Friday, the council's Height Committee decided that the structure was, in fact, a spire.

Explaining why a spire counts towards a building's total height, the council's executive director, Antony Wood, said the "key word is permanence."

Antennas are ruled "technical equipment" that can be altered as the building's needs change. For example, the structures atop the Willis Tower, which are considered antennas, were extended in 2000.

On Tuesday, Wood said the height committee reached a consensus that the One World Trade Center's spire was a "permanent feature."

"And we know that it's a permanent feature because of the sacrosanct aspect of the 1,776 height," Wood said. "In other words, the crowning structure is never to be added to, never to be taken away."

That point was echoed by the building's architect, David Childs.

"The height is important in that it symbolizes that moment [of] our democracy — 1776. Can't be much more important than that," said Childs, architect of One WTC. "The thing about race for the height, that will always change. This one will always be 1,776."

For Chicagoans griping that antennas should be counted in the height of the building, Wood said if that were the case, the Willis Tower would never have held the title of the nation's tallest tower. That title would have gone to the original One World Trade Center.

The height committee was made up of 25 people from 13 countries, 19 cities and 22 different architecture companies. Peter Weismantle, who headed the committee, said the diversity ensured no bias would enter into the decision.

When asked why the distinction ultimately mattered, Wood and Weismantle said the label of tallest skyscraper increasingly gives distinction to a city.

"These buildings mean something," Weismantle said, adding the record-breaking skyscrapers in places like Dubai helped put those destinations on the map. "I really think it's aspirational, inspirational in a way, [moreso] than vanity."

If the spire had not been counted, One WTC would have been considered third tallest in the country behind Chicago's Trump International Hotel & Tower.

Construction on One WTC was started in 2006 on the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the building is expected to be opened in 2014. Once it's completed and occupied it will officially hold the title of America's tallest.

Some disagreement arose last year whether or not the structure atop the building was a spire or an antennae when the original plans to enclose the spire was changed to leave it open for functional purposes.

Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower, was completed in 1973 and was once the tallest building in the world. Before Tuesday's decision, Willis Tower was considered the ninth-tallest building in the world.

But committee members said they do not believe losing the title of the nation's largest tower will hurt the city.

"Are any less people going to come to Chicago or even travel and visit the Willis Tower because it no longer holds the title of the U.S. tallest? No, I don't think it does," he said. "Do any less people go to the Empire State Building in New York?"

Midge Tranchita, who has worked in the Willis Tower for three years, was OK on Tuesday with losing the distinction, but only because of what the New York tower symbolizes.

"If it were to another building I might be [angry], but to the building that beat us out I think it's a beautiful tribute," Tranchita said. "I'm fine with it. I think there couldn't be a better building that beat out the Willis Tower."

Other workers in the building were far less accepting.

"That sucks," said Susan Kowalski, a 47-year-old from Naperville whose daughter's third-grade class had recently visited the building.

"They got to see where mommy works and she was bragging to her class about how big the building was," Kowalski said. "Now I have to tell her it's not the biggest anymore."

Kowalski thought of a solution as she put her cigarette out in front of the tower before returning to work for United Airlines.

"We'll just put a spire on top. That sounds like a plan,"

See the full announcement from the council here.