By Randy Boswell www.montrealgazette.com
The CN Tower, Canada’s most iconic piece of architecture and — after 30-plus years as No. 1 — now the world’s second tallest structure, appears likely to avoid being taken down another notch after financing for the proposed Chicago Spire collapsed this week.
At a planned 609 metres in height, the corkscrew-style residential-office-hotel tower tapped for a site along the Lake Michigan shore would have surpassed the sky-piercing Toronto landmark, which towers 553 metres above the city, as the Western Hemisphere’s tallest free-standing structure.
But the Chicago project — which currently consists of a sprawling cement foundation and a huge hole where the building was to be situated — is on indefinite hold after a key financial backer, the Anglo Irish Bank, filed a foreclosure suit against would-be Spire-maker Shelbourne Development over a $77-million U.S. loan.
The Chicago Sun-Times noted earlier this year, amid reports that the project was in trouble, that the only thing to show at the site of what was supposed to be North America’s tallest building was a giant “man-made crater.”
The 2008 global financial crisis is widely believed to have undermined the 124-story, 1,200-unit project — and, in effect, given the CN Tower an extended lease on hemispheric bragging rights.
Until Dubai’s 828-metre Burj Khalifa was completed in January, the CN Tower had reigned for more than three decades atop the world’s list of super-tall architectural creations. (Technically, when the still-under-construction Burj hit 554 metres in September 2007, the Toronto tower surrendered the title it had held since its completion in 1976.)
However, several planned vertical megaprojects around the world — including the 601-metre Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel, slated to open next year in Mecca, Saudi Arabia — are expected to push Toronto’s signature building further down in the global height rankings in the coming years.
For the foreseeable future, though, the downtown T.O. telecom tower will retain its superlative position in the Americas. Even if New York’s One World Trade Center is completed as expected in 2013 and becomes the tallest building in the U.S., the so-called “Freedom Tower” near the site of Ground Zero will stop just short of the CN Tower’s 1,815-foot-high tip.
That’s because, in an effort to pay tribute to America’s founding fathers and the 1776 date of the country’s independence from Britain, One World Trade Center will top out at 1,776 feet (541 metres, counting the spire above its 417-metre-high roof).
However — and this is more bad news for Chicago — the completed Manhattan skyscraper will edge out the Windy City’s 442-metre Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) as the tallest building in the U.S., which reaches 527 metres with its spire.
According to SkyscraperPage.com, an online site that specializes in tracking international developments in the tall-building industry, within five years, the CN Tower will also be surpassed in height by three new Chinese mega-structures.
The Pingan International Finance Centre in Shenzhen, an office tower scheduled for completion in 2015, would have a spire height of 648 metres. The Shanghai Tower mixed-use office-condo, to be built by 2014, would be 632 metres tall. And the Goldin Finance 117 skyscraper in Tianjin, with a completion date of 2014, would reach 597 metres.
But nothing in the mega-building construction business is set in stone, figuratively speaking.
In May 2007, when the unfinished Burj Khalifa was nearing the height of the CN Tower, a host of super-sized office towers in Asia were also on the books to overtake Toronto’s pointy wonder within a decade or so.
George Efstathiou, managing partner of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill — the Chicago-based design and engineering firm behind the Burj Khalifa — told Postmedia News at the time that he doubted any of the proposed projects would be realized.
“There are a lot of towers that are planned,” he said, emphasizing the last word. “It’s interesting to see how many are actually being built.”
The 2007 proposals included the 1,200-metre Al-Burj in Dubai, the 1,022-metre Manama Tower in Bahrain, the 1,001-metre, Mubarak al-Kabeer in Kuwait, the 649-metre Tower of Russia in Moscow and the 615-metre Korean Rail Corp., Tower in Seoul, South Korea.
Today, those projects are all still waiting to get off the ground.
Meanwhile, the CN Tower — a sturdy fixture on the Lake Ontario shore since Toronto high-schooler Stephen Harper was a Young Liberal — still stands pretty tall.