When it was built in 2560 BC, the Great Pyramid of Giza, with an original height of 147 metres, was the tallest structure in the world. This stayed the case for about 4000 years until the Lincoln Cathedral of England was built in 1311, reaching a height of 160 metres. In other words, it took the rest of the world about four whole millennia to surpass the ancient Egyptians, which is quite an achievement, if you think about it.
When the cathedral’s central spire collapsed in the mid-16th century and was not rebuilt, the Great Pyramid returned once again to rank first for 300 more years until Monsieur Gustave Eiffel decided to turn his sophisticated design into a reality and build the Eiffel Tower. This particularly occurred in 1889 and the famous French Landmark was made 330 metres tall from base to tip.
Ever since then, more and more tall buildings have emerged, and the time gaps between them have shrunk noticeably. Currently, skyscrapers are just as common in many countries as TikTok‘s flexibility challenges or YouTube’s What-I-Eat-In-A-Day-To-Get-Those-Abs videos. This commonality created so much competition, and countries have been racing to construct the tallest buildings, which are soon surpassed by other even taller ones.
Such a race often results in a huge development in architecture and engineering in general. That is why undergoing such massive projects has become a sign of economic growth, prosperity, and prestige.
In this article, we will look into this competition by exploring the world’s five tallest buildings which are all located in Asia by the way. Everything about those record-breaking towers is pretty much mind-blowing, especially in terms of structure, innovation, sustainability, and, of course, construction cost. So grab yourself a cup of coffee, and let’s hop into it.
1. Burj Khalifa (UAE)
When it was officially opened on 4 January 2010 after only six years of construction, which is considered a really short period compared to how magnificent the building turned out to be, Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, broke the record for the tallest building in the world and has been staying on top of the list ever since.
The tower was named after the president of the United Arab Emirates at the time, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and the opening date was his concession day. Since then, Burj Khalifa has become a famous landmark of Dubai and a must-visit tourist attraction.
With a construction cost of $1.5 billion, Burj Khalifa is actually part of a big-scale, city-branding project that was mainly intended to make the economy of Emirates more based on tourism than oil and turn Dubai into one of the most famous, well-regarded and lavish cities in the world, which it did. As of 2022, for instance, Dubai became the fourth most visited city in the world after Bangkok, Paris and London, with over 14 million tourists.
Burj Khalifa was, in fact, designed by American architect Adrian Smith and structured by American engineer Bill Baker with South Korea‘s Samsung C&T being the main contractor. It is 828 metres tall from base to top and 830 metres to the very tip. It has a total of 200 floors, 160 of which are habitable. Those are occupied by residences, offices and hotel rooms—yes, there is a hotel up there!
The last occupied floor is at a height of 535 metres, and each floor is as big as 309,473 square metres!
Visitors can climb up the tower in any of its 57 lifts which travel up the longest distance in the world with a speed of 10 metres per second, becoming among the fastest lifts ever built.
This incredible tower has two observation decks. The first one, called At The Top, is at a height of 452 metres, which is the 124th floor. Back in the day, it was the highest in the world, but when the Canton Tower in China was opened in September 2010, its observation deck surpassed it with a height of 488 metres.
This has apparently both outraged and challenged the developers of Burj Khalifa, so they built another observation deck on the 148th floor at 556 metres four years later and called it the Top Sky. Unluckily for them, this, again, was surpassed by the observation deck of the 2016 Shanghai Tower, whose height reached 561 metres. Yet, no other higher decks were added to Burj Khalifa.
Still, an observatory at 488 metres is insanely high and scary, especially when you step on its glass floor and look down to see the entire country beneath your feet. It is even said one can see as far as the Iranian coast on the other side of the Arabian Gulf when weather conditions are right.
This tower is a mixed-use luxurious, sophisticated top-class building. There is the Armani Hotel which has a large number of rooms, residences and luxury suites. The tower also has 900 other magnificent residences ranging from small studios to large four-bedroom penthouses. This is all besides five swimming pools, a library, a health club, a fancy restaurant called At.Mosphere on the 122nd floor, a health club and a spa, but the latter belongs to the hotel.
Burj Khalifa is open from Saturday to Friday from 10:00 am to midnight local time. The prime hours, during which the sun sets and the observation decks get super crowded, are between 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm. The unprime hours, however, are from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm, where there is not usually so much of a crowd.
2. Warisan Merdeka Tower (Malaysia)
Also known as Merdeka 118, the Warisan Merdeka Tower in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, yet to be opened sometime in the second half of 2023, is the world’s second tallest building and the tallest ever in Southeast Asia. It is 680 metres tall from the base to the very tip with the spire alone measuring 160 metres.
There happen to be many interesting things about this megatall skyscraper, such as its name, for instance. Merdeka means independence in Malaysian, and the tower is located very near the stadium where the country’s independence from the British Empire was announced on 31 August 1957 and where people also shouted Merdeka over and over again.
That said, the number 118 just refers to the number of floors the tower has—that is like adding your credit card PIN to your email address because you forget it, only if the number of floors was just as confidential!
Secondly, the design of the tower is also pretty unique. The overall shape was made to mimic Malaysia’s first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman’s standing gesture with his right hand outstretched up in the air during the declaration of independence.
In addition to that, the tower’s facade is made of many sides of diamond-shaped triangular glass panels, which is said to represent the diversity of Malaysian people. Malaysia actually has so many ethnic groups, including the Malays, who make up the majority of the population, in addition to Chinese, Indians, Organ Asli and many others. Around 80% of those speak Malay, which is the official language of the country. English, Chinese, Tamil, Thai, Japanese, and Vietnamese are spoken at different levels.
Like Burj Khalifa, the Warisan Merdeka Tower is also a mixed-use lavish building occupied mainly by hotels, retail outlets and offices. For instance, there is the 118 Mall, the Park Hyatt Kuala Lumpur Hotel, a luxury restaurant on the 114th floor, a VIP lounge, an indoor gym, a spa, a swimming pool belonging to the hotel as well as several office zones and sky lobbies.
Five of the tower’s 118 floors are below the ground, all reserved for parking and comprising 20,000 parking bays. Each of the remaining floors is as wide as 292,000 metres square. The highest floor is at 503 metres, and the roof is 519 metres high.
A total of 87 lifts operate in the tower to take visitors up to the observation decks. Merdeka 118 has two of those. One is located on the 117th floor at a height of 513 metres, and the other is located in the spire at a height of 566 metres.
3. Tokyo Skytree (Japan)
Since everything about Japan is unique, this very tower ranking third in the world’s tallest buildings list is also quite unalike.
Located in the heart of Japan’s capital city, Tokyo Skytree has a height of 634 metres and was opened in May 2012. Unlike all the other towers we are demonstrating in this article, Tokyo Tower is not a mixed-use structure, nor does it provide services to people, at least not in a straightforward way.
Tokyo Skytree is, in fact, the main television and radio broadcast tower for Kantō, a region in Japan comprising Tokyo and six other cities. It replaced the Tokyo Tower, for the latter ended up surrounded by other tall buildings which often affected the signal. For that very purpose, the Tokyo Skytree was made that tall; to provide better broadcasting coverage.
Unlike the other towers, this one was designed and developed by Japanese architects and companies. The main contractor was the Obayashi Corporation, which is a major construction company in Japan. Given the unstable nature of the island of Japan, Tokyo Skytree was made earthquake-proof. That means it is constructed in a way that makes it absorb about 50% of an earthquake’s shock.
Another super interesting fact about this tower is that its name was not assigned by the government but rather by the crowds. At first, many suggestions were gathered, and a special committee chose six. Those were later presented to the people to choose from and the Tokyo Skytree name received the maximum votes.
That is one reason why it is called Planet Japan.
Since it functions differently, this tower has way fewer floors, only 35 in total, with three being underground. The roof is located at 495 metres while the antenna, it is a broadcasting site after all, reaches a height of 634 metres.
That said, the tower still has an observation deck, well, two, to provide some recreational activity since it is the tallest structure in all of Japan. The first one is called Tempo Deck and is found at 350 metres, and the other one is Tempo Galleria, located at 450 metres. Both decks provide a fantastic view of Tokyo. When conditions are good, visitors can see as far as Mount Fuji which is at a distance of 151 kilometres.
4. Shanghai Tower (China)
Coming fourth in line is the Shanghai Tower, which opened on 1 February 2015, with a height of 632 metres.
You can think of Shanghai Tower more as an engineering challenge, mainly to construct the most sustainable, highly functioning building, with a construction cost of $2.4 billion. It is also an extension of the massive development of the city’s skyline providing space both for work and leisure through high-class offices and shopping centres.
Since its opening, Shanghai Tower has had an enormous impact on the tourism of Shanghai, which, in a way, gives a glimpse of how powerful the economy of China has become and how even more powerful it will get in the following decades.
This 632-metre-tall tower is broken down to 128 floors above the ground, each with an area of 380,000 square metres, and five others below the ground, but those are a lot smaller, only 170 square metres large. The observation deck is on the 121st floor at 562 metres, while the top floor is the 127th floor at 587 metres.
Shanghai Tower is home to the J Hotel with 165 rooms and suites. There are several office zones, sky lobbies, mechanical layers, a VIP Business Centre and a conference centre, as well as a swimming pool, a fitness centre, a spa, a lounge, Chinese and Japanese restaurants, an exhibition hall and a concert.
The underground floors, on the other hand, have parking spaces, a subway station entrance, and several shops and restaurants.
Open daily from 8:30 in the morning to 10:00 pm, Shanghai Tower surpasses Burj Khalifa in the number of lifts and their travelling speed. It has 97 lifts able to reach a top speed of 20.5 metres per second, becoming the second-fastest lift in the world. The fastest lift is also in China, with a speed of 21 metres per second.
5. Makkah Clock Royal Tower (Saudi Arabia)
Ranking fifth is the Makkah Clock Royal Tower in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. It is part of a complex called Abraj Al Bait, comprising seven skyscraper hotels overseeing al-Masjid al-Haram, the most sacred place in Islam. This complex, in and of itself, is part of the endowment project intended to modernise the city.
Located in the middle of the complex and its tallest structure is the Clock Tower, which is a hotel, too, measuring 601 metres. It was co-designed by a German architecture company and a privately owned Jordanian architecture company, while the contractor was the Saudi Binladin Group, the country’s largest construction company.
The Clock Tower cost around $15 billion and was officially opened to the public in 2012. Since it is a hotel, it is operated by Fairmont and Hotels and Resorts, which, besides modernising the city, aims at providing luxury accommodations for worshipers visiting Makkah for Umrah or Hajj.
Using 96 lifts, visitors can move between 120, 310,638-square-metres-wide floors. The observation deck is at 484 metres, the last floor is at 494 metres, and the roof is just as high as 530 metres.
What is striking about this Clock Tower is actually, yes, the clock, which is found on the very top, above the observation deck. This is the tallest and largest clock in the world—clock towers are actually now so common that Big Ben is currently ranking 35 on the list of the world’s largest clock faces.
Each of the Makkah Tower clock faces is 57 metres high and has a diameter of 46 metres. Because it is so big, the clock is visible from a distance of 10 kilometres. All four faces are illuminated by about two million LED lights. Above the north and south faces, there are two gigantic Arabic scripts reading ‘Allah is the Greatest’. The east and west faces read ‘There is No God but Allah’ and ‘Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah’.
Above the clock is a huge 71-metre-tall spire with a base, called The Jewel, made of eight floors. The Jewel is occupied by a scientific centre that is used to observe the motion of the Moon. The observation deck is also found there, at 484 metres, and there is a museum too.
At the very top, above the spire, a gigantic 23-metre-tall crescent was added. As the largest and highest in the world, this crescent was made of fibreglass and decorated with gold mosaics. It also has its own lighting system and networks that make it dazzle in beautiful lights in the evening, huge loudspeakers broadcasting calls for prayer five times a day and an open-air prayer room, the highest habitable space in the world.
Megatall skyscrapers have become must-visit tourist attractions thanks to the amazing, and honestly scary, experience they provide. But besides those, there are so many other attractions people can enjoy, from parks, mountains, forests and beaches to temples, museums and statues, which you can find great guides to and recommendations for on our website.