Tall buildings aren’t always what they appear

Bank of America’s New York tower is 36 percent non-occupiable height.

Council on tall buildings and urban habitat

Bank of America’s New York tower is 36 percent non-occupiable height.

Allowing greater building heights is one way to relieve the city’s space crunch. Turns out, however, not all height is the same.

As many as two-thirds of the world’s tallest building are, well, cheating. A global review by the Council for Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats found that 44 out of 72 skyscrapers vying to be among the loftiest are actually employing so-called “vanity height” — that is, the empty space between the highest occupiable floor and the architectural top. Without tacked-on spires and communications antennas, these towers wouldn’t break the 300 meters, or about 1,000 feet, required to rank among the super-tall.


If more than half of a building is made up of useless vanity height, then it’s actually a “non-building,” per the council. Rest assured: Boston isn’t home to any such “non-buildings.” However, a whopping 36 percent of New York’s Bank of America Tower is unoccupiable, as is a third of The New York Times Building. Vainest of all? Moscow’s Ukraina Hotel, where less than 60 percent of the square footage is functional.

A growing Boston needs more housing and commercial space. No ego necessary.

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