Discontinuity from the Burj Khalifa

The Burj Khalifa represented a large (175 year) discontinuity in the trend of maximum building heights over time. It did not represent a particular discontinuity in the trend of maximum structure heights over time.


Height records distinguish between structures and buildings, where buildings must be regularly inhabited or occupied. The following diagram from Wikipedia illustrates the relationship between the two.

Herostratus, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE, has been the tallest structure and the tallest building since 2010.

The Burj Khalifa

Discontinuity in building height

The Burj Khalifa represented a large discontinuity in the height of the tallest building over time, according to data from Wikipedia. It stands 828m tall, for a 318.8m increase over the previous record holder, Taipei 101. The tallest buildings had been becoming taller at an average rate of about 3m/year since 1890, prior to which there had not been progress in hundreds of years. The Burj Khalifa represents 181 years of progress at that past rate, six years after its predecessor, for an overall discontinuity of 175 years of past progress.1

Heights (m) of tallest buildings to date over time, known to Wikipedia. This figure excludes two early churches, before 1400, and numerous buildings that were the tallest for their time but shorter than earlier buildings.

Discontinuity in structure height

The data in this section comes from Wikipedia’s figure of structure heights over time, reproduced below. Burj Khalifa was 199m taller than the previous tallest structure and 182m taller than the tallest structure ever—the 646m Warsaw Radio Mast, built in 1974.

Structure heights over time, according to Wikipedia.

Leading up to the Warsaw Radio Mast, the previous 182m height increase took since before 1954, or over 20 years2, suggesting that the Burj Khalifa was around 20 years of progress at previous rates. However, it was finished 36 years after the previous tallest structure, so represented surprisingly slow progress, relative to this 56-year trend. Relative to a one-hundred year trend, the Burj Khalifa is exactly the predicted height for its year.3

The Eiffel Tower does appear to have produced a discontinuity in structure height, to be discussed elsewhere.


Beth Barnes and Katja Grace contributed research and writing.

  1. We could measure the ‘rate of past progress’ in several different ways, for somewhat smaller estimates of the discontinuity.

    Prior to the Burj Khalifa, it had taken 95 years (from 187m in 1909 to 509m in 2004) for the tallest building to increase in height by 319m.

    If we consider only the fifteen years immediately preceding Burj Khalifa, we get a faster rate. In 1995 the tallest building was 442m tall and in 2010 it was 509m. This is a rate of increase of about 4.5m/year. Compared to this, Burj Khalifa was around 71 years of previous progress.

  2. Interpolating between earlier and later buildings to approximate exactly 182m, leads to an estimate of 23.5 years.
  3. St Nicholas’ Church was 147m tall in 1874; The Warsaw Radio Mast was 646.4m tall in 1974. The rough slope between these points is therefore 5m/year.