The Stories Behind 11 Iconic Skyscrapers

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You may have snaked through a long line of fellow tourists to trek to the observation deck for a breathtaking view from the top of the city, but do you know the stories behind many of the world's most iconic skyscrapers? In honor of Skyscraper Day, we've stacked up some of the details.

1. Willis Tower // Chicago

A picture the Willis Tower in Chicago from the view of a local neighborhood.
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In 1969 the world’s largest retailer, Sears Roebuck and Company, decided they needed an office space for their roughly 350,000 employees. Four years, 2000 workers, and enough concrete to build an eight-lane, five-mile highway later, the 110-story Sears Tower was complete. (In 1988, Sears moved out of the building; 21 years later it was renamed the Willis Tower after global insurance broker Willis Group Holdings.) As a memorable finishing touch, 12,000 construction workers, Chicagoans, and Sears employees signed the building’s final beam.

2. Bank of China Tower // Hong Kong

Low-angle view of Bank of China Tower
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When famed Chinese architect I.M. Pei was tasked with designing this 70-story structure, he was dealt a number of challenges. He needed to craft a tall building (it stands at 1209 feet) in a typhoon zone and create a design that was pleasing to local residents. His masterpiece—opened in 1990 after a five-year construction—is supported by five steel columns meant to resist high-velocity winds, and is inspired by bamboo shoots, which symbolize strength and prosperity.

3. Chrysler Building // New York City

New York City's Chrysler Building
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A mere 11 months after it gained the title of tallest building in the world in 1930—thanks to the last minute addition of a 186-foot spire—this art deco wonder surrendered its title to the Empire State Building. But it has long been known as one of the world’s prettiest structures. When automobile tycoon Walter P. Chrysler took over financing, he strove to add glamour to New York’s East Side. The design already featured a multi-story section of glass corners and a stainless steel crown, but he requested the addition of eagle-esque gargoyles designed like the hood ornaments on his cars.

4. The Gherkin // London

London's The Gherkin, 30 St. Mary Axe
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Known informally as "The Gherkin" for its pickle-esque shape, 30 St. Mary Axe was dreamed up after a 1992 explosion in London’s financial district destroyed the Baltic Exchange building. Plans for the original design—the much taller Millennium Tower—were scrapped for fear it could affect air traffic into the Heathrow Airport and the sightlines of St. Paul’s Dome. It turns out that the pickled inspiration was a winner; when the cylindrical building opened in 2004, it gained quick notoriety, and was soon used as a symbol for London on bid posters for the 2012 Olympic Games.

5. Petronas Twin Towers // Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Petronas Twin Towers the famous landmark of Malaysia
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The world’s tallest twin towers (88 floors each) were completed in 1996 after a three-year build. The steel-and-glass façade was created to reflect elements found in Islamic art, while the sky bridge—between the towers’ 41st and 42nd floors—was crafted with safety in mind. It’s not bolted to the main structure, but rather designed to be able to slide in and out of the buildings to keep it from snapping during high winds.

6. Hotel & Casino Grand Lisboa // Macau, China

Night Macao Skyline, including Casinos such as, The Grand Lisboa and Wynn
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When crafting this 58-floor hotel and casino, the Hong Kong architects didn’t take any chances. The $385 million structure, which opened in 2008, was built to resemble a bottleneck—the idea being that it would keep any cash from leaking out, according to feng shui. The outlandish exterior, meanwhile, was intended to look like a combination of crystals, fireworks and the plumes of a Brazilian headdress—all thought to symbolize prosperity.

7. Empire State Building // New York City

Skyline of New York with the Empire State Building
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For four decades, the famed Manhattan skyscraper held tight to the distinction of being the world’s tallest. (It was eclipsed by the World Trade Center towers in 1972.) But the $41 million structure—featured in movies such as King Kong (1933) and Sleepless in Seattle (1993)—also scored another record: It was built in just one year and 45 days, the quickest for a building of its size. Each week, 3000 workers erected four-and-a-half new floors.

8. Shanghai World Finance Center // Pudong, Shanghai

Jin Mao, Shanghai Tower and Shanghai World Financial Center at Lujiazui
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This 101-floor behemoth was built to withstand destruction. There are fireproof floors, wind dampeners, and a glass skin to protect against lightning. (It can reportedly survive a magnitude 8 earthquake.) The building has also weathered adversity. Slated for construction in 1997, progress was delayed due to the Asian financial crisis before it was finally completed in 2008. And the initial design, which featured a circular opening at the top rather than the now rectangular one, had to be reconfigured when critics complained it too closely resembled the rising sun on the Japanese flag.

9. Tapei 101 // Tapei, Taiwan

Taipei, Taiwan downtown skyline at the Xinyi Financial District
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Fashioned to resemble a growing bamboo stalk—a Chinese sign of everlasting strength—this $1.8 billion building boasts two records. When it was opened in 2004 (construction took five years), it was the first skyscraper to surpass the half-kilometer mark. It also claims the title of fastest passenger elevator. After boarding on the fifth floor, riders reach the 89th floor observation deck in a speedy 37 seconds.

10. CN Tower // Toronto, Canada

Toronto Skyline with the CN Tower apex at sunset
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In a bid to demonstrate the strength of Canadian industry, railway company Canadian National set out to build the tallest tower in the world. For 40 months, 1537 workers toiled 24 hours a day, five days week, reaching completion in April 1975. (A 10-ton helicopter dubbed "Olga" was commissioned to bolt the 44 pieces of the antenna in place.) In 1995, the American Society of Civil Engineers deemed it one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, but 15 years later, its height was surpassed by China’s Canton Tower.

11. Burj Khalifa // Dubai, United Arab Emirates

An aerial view of Dubai's Burj Khalifa
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At 2716 feet (more than twice the height of the Empire State Building!) and half a million tons, the gleaming desert structure holds a number of records. Among them: tallest building in the world and the tallest freestanding structure. The $1.5 billion, state-of-the-art mega skyscraper was designed by the same firm that dreamt up the Willis Tower and New York’s One World Trade Center, and it opened in 2010 after six years of work. The opening ceremony featured a light and water effects show and some 10,000 fireworks!

This article has been updated for 2019.

2020 World Monuments Watch: 25 Historic and Cultural Landmarks That Are At Risk

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Razvan/iStock via Getty Images

Whether it's due to their age, size, or ubiquity in pop culture, certain landmarks can feel invincible. But that's far from the case: Each year, some of the most famous places on Earth are faced with new threats, including war, urban development, and climate change. In an effort to boost awareness of these vulnerable sites, the World Monuments Fund (WMF) has released its biennial roundup of 25 historic and cultural monuments around the world that need protection.

To finalize entries for its 2020 World Monuments Watch, the WMF evaluated more than 250 nominations from various groups and individuals. The final list includes monuments and cultural sites from five continents. Some, like Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, are threatened by weakened conservation laws, while others—like Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris—have been damaged by recent disasters.

The WMF plans to partner with the local communities around each site on the list to develop specific conservation plans to help save these landmarks. In spring of 2020, the program's founding sponsor, American Express, will donate $1 million toward the initiatives of a select group of sites from the list. To see every place included in the 2020 World Monuments Watch, check out the list below.

  1. Koutammakou, the Land of the Batammariba // Benin and Togo

  1. Ontario Place // Canada

  1. Rapa Nui National Park // Chile

  1. Alexan Palace // Egypt

  1. Notre-Dame de Paris // France

  1. Tusheti National Park // Georgia

  1. Gingerbread Neighborhood // Port-au-Prince, Haiti

  1. Historic Water Systems of the Deccan Plateau // India

  1. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium // India

  1. Mam Rashan Shrine // Iraq

  1. Inari-yu Bathhouse // Japan

  1. Iwamatsu District // Japan

  1. Canal Nacional // Mexico

  1. Choijin Lama Temple // Mongolia

  1. Traditional Burmese Teak Farmhouses // Myanmar

  1. Chivas and Chaityas of the Kathmandu Valley // Nepal

  1. Anarkali Bazaar // Pakistan

  1. Sacred Valley of the Incas // Peru

  1. Kindler Chapel, Pabianice Evangelical Cemetery // Poland

  1. Courtyard Houses of Axerquía // Spain

  1. Bennerley Viaduct // United Kingdom

  1. Bears Ears National Monument // USA

  1. Central Aguirre Historic District // USA

  1. San Antonio Woolworth Building // USA

  1. Traditional Houses in the Old Jewish Mahalla of Bukhara // Uzbekistan

A 120-Year-Old Denmark Lighthouse Rides Away From Coastal Erosion on Rollerblades

Carlo Alberto Conti/iStock via Getty Images
Carlo Alberto Conti/iStock via Getty Images

Beachgoers know all too well what happens when you plop down near the ocean during low tide—it creeps slowly closer until one enthusiastic wave soaks all your towels and escapes with your flip-flops. Luckily, you can to relocate your belongings farther inland, or simply check the tide tables before settling down to sunbathe.

For a 120-year-old Danish lighthouse, it’s not that simple. When Northern Denmark’s Rubjerg Knude lighthouse was built in 1899, there was more than 650 feet of land separating it from the coast. According to Condé Nast Traveler, that seemingly safe expanse of sand had eroded to fewer than 20 feet by the 2000s.

To rescue the 1000-ton landmark from imminent destruction, local mason Kjeld Pedersen approached the Danish government with an innovative proposition: Slide the lighthouse to safety on a pair of custom-sized rollerblades. Since a similar plan had succeeded in moving a gun repository in Skagen, a town about 45 miles from Rubjerg Knude, the government gave the green light (and 5 million kroner, or about $743,000) to Pedersen.

Last week, Pedersen and his team mounted Rubjerg Knude on a pair of roller blades attached to a track, and scooted the structure about 263 feet inland. It wasn’t exactly a rip-roaring ride—they moved it 0.001 mph. At that rate, the entire operation took almost 50 hours.

As one can imagine, Pedersen was a bit tired after such an epic undertaking.

“It’s been overwhelming for him,” Visit Denmark’s Nina Grandjean Gleerup told Condé Nast Traveler. “I think he’s told Denmark ‘Don’t use me anymore’ because of all the attention!”

Gleerup also explained that Pedersen’s humble diligence and creativity reflected the spirit of the neighboring fishing towns, Løken and Lønstrup, which are known for quaint coffee shops, galleries, and beautiful natural landscapes.

Starting to think a lighthouse would make the perfect beachfront getaway? While Rubjerg Knude itself isn’t open for overnight visitors, there are plenty of other lighthouses near the sea—book a stay in one here.

[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]

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