The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat has recently come up with a new term—vanity height—to describe the vertical distance from a skyscraper’s highest occupiable floor to its architectural top, as determined by CTBUH height criteria.

Here are some findings of the council’s study on VH: 

At 244 meters, the VH of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai could be a skyscraper on its own. It would rank as Europe's 11th tallest building.

The Burj Al-Arab, also in Dubai, has the greatest vanity ratio of any supertall building – 124 (39%) of its 321 meters are devoted to non-occupiable space above the highest occupiable floor.

Without their vanity height, 44 (61%) of the world’s 72 supertalls (a noun coined by CTBUH) would measure less than 300 m – thus losing their supertall status.

United Arab Emirates has the most “vain” supertall buildings, with an average vanity height of 19%.

New York City has two of the tallest 10 VHs, and is set to gain a third with the completion of One World Trade Center in 2014.

According to CTBUH height criteria regarding telecommunications towers, a 50% VH would deem any structure a “nonbuilding.”

The vainest building overall in the CTBUH database, though not a supertall, is the Ukraina Hotel in Moscow. 42% of its 206-m height is not occupiable.

This study takes me back to the mid-1990s, when ENR’s cover line, “So Long, Sears; Hello Kuala Lumpur,” for a project story on the Petronas Towers (ENR 1/15/96, p.36), triggered a letter to the council from SOM—the designer of the Sears Tower, which, according to CTBUH, was losing its status as the world’s tallest to Petronas Towers.

The letter expressed disappointment about the way the council measured height. SOM argued that the spire of Petronas should not be counted in the height and that the spireless Sears should still hold the record because it had the highest occupied floor. A copy of the letter was sent, snail mail, to ENR.

Soon after, the council elders held a meeting that resulted in the creation of the council’s four height categories. Sears would still hold the height record for the highest occupied floor. Petronas Towers would still be the tallest in the world.

The categories were announced at a Saturday afternoon press conference held at the top of the Sears Tower, if memory serves. (I happen to have the radio on at the time and heard the news quite by accident.)

Soon after the press conference, which apparently was picked up around the world, I saw the Lynn Beedle, the founder of the council, and talked to him about the brouhaha. I felt indirectly responsible for triggering the controversy for I had written the cover line that had sparked the SOM letter.

I thought Lynn, who died in 2003, would be cross. But instead, he smiled. Then he thanked me for the cover line, and said something like. “All publicity is good publicity.”

In those pre-Internet days, the council was not known outside of construction-industry circles. The media attention over the height criteria might have been the first time the council had ever gotten global press coverage. Lynn absolutely loved it!

Back to the CTBUH VH study. One could argue that the architecture of supertall buildings, especially at their tops, has indirectly been influenced by the council itself. It started the tall building lists, which fueled the "competition" for the world's tallest.

In a way, one could say the council is an indirect inspiration for vanity height!