Do Builders of Some of the World Highest Skyscrapers Lie About How Tall They Are?

Douglas A. McIntyre

Is a residential building in New York City 95 stories tall, or is it 86 stories? Many of the richest people in the world opt to buy apartments for the prestige of living at the top of some of the world’s tallest buildings. However, several are not as tall as the builders say they are.

The New York Post recently investigated moves by developers to market buildings with almost 100 floors. The ultrarich want to say they live near the top of the world. What the writers found is “that developers are fudging numbers to accommodate them.” The writers also found that the practice was widespread, particularly among the very tallest buildings. The most egregious case may be at what is probably the highest residential building in the world. In New York City’s 432 Park Avenue, the 96th floor is really the 88th.

How do developers “add” floors to buildings? One way is lobby height. Some buildings have lobbies that are several stories tall and take up several floors. A story can be as little as 10 feet or as many as 15, depending on who is measuring. Developers have used ceiling heights of as little as eight feet to measure how high a skyscraper is, although the actual floors are taller.

Another way that developers add floors to a building is to include floors with building mechanical systems like air conditioning, electricity, and systems that support infrastructure. These can be several stories tall but are not habitable. Yet another trick is the typical elimination of the 13th floor to accommodate people who believe that 13 is an unlucky number. All of a sudden, the 13th is the 14th.

The first use of the trick to make buildings seem taller than they are in terms of floor count may have begun when developer Harry Macklowe built the Metropolitan Tower on New York’s Central Park in 1985. The Post reports, “Macklowe advertised the building as having 78 floors when it really has 66.”

How much money is at stake?  Billionaire hedge fund owner Ken Griffin paid $238 million for the penthouse at 220 Central Park earlier this year. It was the most ever paid for a residence in the United States. The building is 950 feet tall, which makes it one of the tallest in New York but not quite one of the tallest buildings in the world, which are in places spread from Taiwan to several cities in China. Griffin may want to check what floors he is buying.