Space-wasting "vanity" skyscrapers


News: the world's vainest skyscrapers have been revealed in the latest report from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, which reveals the unnecessary "vanity space" added to the top of the world's tallest buildings.

Of the top ten tallest buildings in the world at present (pictured), at least 27 percent of each structure is superfluous, according the report.

Without its 244-metre spire, the 828-metre Burj Khalifa - currently the tallest building on earth - would drop to a substantially smaller 585-metre height without any reduction in usable space. As the report states, the spire "could be a skyscraper on its own".

"We noticed in Journal 2013 Issue I's case study on Kingdom Tower, Jeddah, [currently under construction] that a fair amount of the top of the building seemed to be an unoccupied spire," reads the report. "This prompted us to explore the notion of 'vanity height' in supertall buildings, i.e. the distance between a skyscraper's highest occupiable floor and its architectural top, as determined by CTBUH Height Criteria."

Space-wasting vanity skyscrapers revealed
Vanity heights, organised by country, date of completion, and architectural height.

The Ukraina Hotel in Moscow, Russia, is revealed as the world's vainest skyscraper, with 42 percent of the building's 206-metre height identified as useless space. Meanwhile the vainest "supertall" building - a term given to structures over 300 metres - is identified as the 321-metre Burj Al-Arab in Dubai, whose curving spire makes up 39 percent of the overall height.

The report identifies the United Arab Emirates as the nation with the highest number of vain skyscrapers, with an average of 19 percent useless height across all of its tallest buildings. However it also contains the world's humblest skyscraper, as the 328-metre Index in Dubai has a vanity space of just four metres.

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) is the world's leading authority on the skyscrapers. Recent reports by the organisation have predicted the 20 tallest buildings in the world by the year 2020 and revealed the number of skyscrapers completed last year.

See more reports from the CTBUH »
See more stories about skyscrapers »

  • Simon

    This is a bit meaningless to be honest unless you add in context – what else is in that non-habitable space?

    • rohtmuz

      Agree, presumably structure and services, both of vital importance to the building.

    • Colin Lacey

      Agree, a bit meaningless & definitely depends on context. In some cases 1/3 “vanity” space is actually a huge improvement over much older “let’s-build-tall-structures-just-because” projects. For example, the CN Tower in Canada or the Effiel Tower in Paris. They would rank at 95-100% of “unusable” space… but iconic and beautiful all the same.

      • The CN Tower was purpose built for telecommunications reasons. The ‘aesthetic’ appeal was secondary.

        • Colin Lacey

          Yes, that was the reason given for building the CN tower (mind you, most major cities around the world with a lot of highrises avoided the need to build something similar) but I was referring to the percentage of unusable space. From the base of the tower to the comm equipment located under the observation deck + the spire above, there is a lot of space that is not really being used at all. Contrast that with Burj Khalifa in Dubai, there are far more types of uses that were built into the design besides just comm transmission & tourism.

  • Dave

    I hope they’ve conducted the same test on all those old cathedrals – there are an awful lot of completely uninhabited towers and spires out there. And don’t get me started on the Chrysler Building.

  • Charlie9940

    What’s the top graphic about? What does the 0m’ line signify?

    • dmmd247

      The beginning of the non-occupiable space.

  • Anrika

    The pyramids were also vain and now they are national treasures.

  • Joe Black

    Interesting (new) way of looking at it. Perhaps there’s a correlation/ implication to all the wasted/ distracting space on web pages that delimit the occupants intended utility of the pages versus the tenants desire for the iconic branding that accompanies the buildings in which they lease.

  • nether_k

    The male ego and the size of phallic objects… everyone wants to have the biggest phallus. The true lesson is that it’s not the size that matters but what you do with it, and clearly not much has been done besides sheer size.

  • Steve H

    Winner of the Most Flawed Premise of the Month Award. In what world is “space” measured in one dimension?

  • John

    So what’s the tallest building in terms of highest occupiable floor? Still the Burj Khalifa?

  • dick_c

    To paraphrase Jimmy Reed, they ain’t so big, they’re just tall… that’s all.

  • jess

    Wasted?! Only a Developer would consider it “Wasted”…

  • V

    Vainest, not veiniest.

  • Lucy Hoodless

    Architects making up for smaller things!

  • Mumford

    “Of the top ten tallest buildings in the world at present (pictured)” …

    These are not the top 10 tallest buildings in the world. The Burj Al Arab is the 57th tallest building in the world.

    This article is poorly researched.

  • Definitely a flawed study with a questionable representation. In more than one of those buildings, the “stuff” on top of occupiable floors is mechanical space that would be there whether or not there was a screen wall around it. That’s not the same as building mass into the sky for no reason.

    What is the “top ten of the world’s tallest buildings” supposed to mean as well? Those aren’t the top ten. They’re clearly just the ten that made for the best graphic.

  • Ultra_Orange

    Unless you are figuring by square meter of space this is meaningless. If I were to add a 200m radio mast to my house I wouldn’t be adding 200m of uninhabitable space.

  • getrealorgoaway

    The spire may be 30% of a building’s height, but only 1% of a building’s volume and habitable space is measured by volume, not height.

  • jlgrobe

    Self explanatory: every space that is not habitable.

    In terms of efficiency of its purpose, (habitation) the more you need non-habitable space by habitable space, the less efficient it is.

    More money wasted to serve less people. That’s why it’s referred to as vanity.

  • jlgrobe

    In the case of Eiffel tower it would be 100% vanity. And this would not be contrary to what the article is trying to measure.

    It’s important to read the tendency in skyscrapers is becoming less efficient, and wasting more and more money in non-habitable space (money, energy, resources).

    All that is being spent in the structure that maintains a super fancy lifestyle, of less and less people.

    You have to consider that, in a world where 20% of the population lives in homes made of cardboard.
    The “values” of the person who made the report made him state that “vanity” equals “waste”.

  • jlgrobe

    Developers made that, and they’re not considering it as waste because they can sell it to someone. Environmentalists and people concerned about social equality will consider that as “waste”.