It looks as if the emperor may have lost some clothes. The as-yet unbuilt 408-ft-tall spire atop One World Trade Center in New York City has been "stripped" of its cladding, at least in concept, triggering a controversy over whether the completed building will be considered 1,776 ft tall or whether it will be considered 1,368 ft tall. (Is a spire unclad an antenna? If so, the Council on Tall Buildings & Urban Habitat would not consider the building height 1,776 ft, even though the top would still be 1,776 ft above grade. )

Same height, as far as I am concerned. Can't a spire be unclad and still be a spire?

This reminds me of the controversy sparked by the Petronas Towers in the 1990s. Its spire is taller than the architectural top of the Sears Tower (now named Willis). So Petronas bumped Sears off the chart as the world's tallest building.

That was very upsetting to Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the architect-engineer of the Sears Tower, especially after ENR's cover line: "So Long, Sears; Hello, Kuala Lumpur."  SOM wrote a letter to the council protesting the loss of the title and sent a copy to ENR.

The council's late founder, Lynn Beedle, told me he was absolutely thrilled to receive the letter complaining about the council's height criteria. There was a controversy. He could hold a press conference (on the top of the Sears Tower) and get tons of publicity, the world over, for the council, which hadn't been in the limelight much in that decade.

After due consideration, the council elders came up with four categories for height records. I won't go into them here but they are available on

I thought, at the time, that the entire flap was a bit unnecessary. As for the four categories—why stop there? Why not five, I thought? Shouldn't there be a category for the highest flush toilet (kidding)? 

The council now has another opportunity to get publicity and to render a decision. Whatever that decision is, the top of the structure, by any name, would still be at 1,776 ft, unless there is a plan to lop off the top of the tower. Time will tell.