CHICAGO — For years now, it has seemed a foregone conclusion that One World Trade Center, the skyscraper that has arisen on the site of the destroyed Twin Towers in lower Manhattan, would rise to a symbolic height of 1,776 feet and dethrone Chicago’s Willis Tower as the nation’s tallest building.
But with the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks approaching Wednesday, new twists in the arcane game of measuring skyscraper height have raised the unlikely — and, for some, unthinkable — possibility that One World Trade Center won’t be No. 1 and that Willis would retain the coveted titles of the tallest building in the U.S. and the Western Hemisphere.
The widely recognized arbiter of skyscraper bragging rights, the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, will consider in November whether to knock more than 400 feet off One World Trade Center’s official height, owing to a technical distinction between spires and antennas.
Such a call would disrupt the carefully calibrated symbolism, envisioned by ground zero master planner Daniel Libeskind, of a tower rising to 1,776 feet — a reference to the year the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence and an expression of American resolve in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
“I think the common perception and the common wisdom … is that it’s 1,776,” Nina Libeskind, the architect’s wife and spokeswoman, said Monday in a telephone interview. “I don’t know how one suddenly dictates that it isn’t because they don’t consider antennas to be part of the building. I would say it’s the wrong call.”
According to the tall building council’s rule book, spires can be counted in a tall building’s height but broadcast antennas, like flagpoles, are superfluous add-ons. In 1996, that distinction doomed the bid of Willis Tower, then known by its original name of Sears Tower, to retain the world’s tallest building crown. Instead the council ruled in favor of the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, whose spires made them a scant 33 feet taller than Sears.