It's official: One World Trade Center to be tallest U.S. skyscraper

New York City has needled out Chicago for the title of America's tallest building.

By Chris Boyette and Katia Hetter, CNN

(CNN) -- New York City has needled out Chicago for the title of America's tallest building.

One World Trade Center in New York will be the United States' tallest building when completed, beating out Chicago's Willis Tower, according to an announcement Tuesday by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

The main issue was whether a 408-foot needle atop the One World Trade Center would be counted in the total height of the tower.

The council's height committee met on November 8 in Chicago to rule on the height of the new skyscraper. On Tuesday, the council announced that the needle, which was completed in May, was in fact a "spire" -- a "vertical element that completes the architectural expression of the building and is intended as permanent."

One World Trade Center's height to its architectural top is 1,776 feet (541.3 meters), according to the ruling. The Willis Tower's architectural height is 1,451 feet (442.1 meters).

Confused? It's a bit technical.

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The council, an independent organization that certifies the official height of skyscrapers and acknowledges record-setting buildings, counts spires and structural elements its height calculations. But it doesn't count antennas, signage or flagpoles, which are considered "functional-technical equipment subject to change."

"It's about the authorship of the architect in some ways, and the permanence of the piece to reinforce the role of design," said council spokesman Daniel Safarik.

As the building was originally designed, the needle atop the tower was to be enclosed in a radome, an architectural structure made of fiberglass and steel. But the proposed radome -- short for radar dome -- would not be able to be serviced or maintained, so the cladding plan was nixed.

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Project chief architect David Childs and the rest of the One World Trade Center team convinced the council's height committee that the spire was, itself, architectural. The designers noted that the top of the new building's steel parapet is located at 1,368 feet, the height of the original World Trade Center Tower 1. The spire reaches from that parapet to the new building's height of 1,776 feet.

"I feel completely satisfied that this building achieved what it set out to do," Childs said. "We used the council's rules and designed around them. It's an important statement for all of us to make."

"With respect to the events of 9/11 and what this building commemorates with 1776 and democracy and freedom ... we were very happy to find that the building fit our criteria to be 1,776 feet tall," said Timothy Johnson, the council's chairman.

Because One World Trade Center isn't yet finished and hasn't received its certificate of occupancy, it cannot be ranked as a "completed building," but "its height is no longer in dispute," the council said in a Tuesday press release.

Upon completion, which is expected in early 2014, the New York skyscraper is expected to rank as the world's third-tallest building, after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and the Makkah Royal Clock Tower in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

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