An expert committee has declared New York's new World Trade Center tower the tallest building in the United States. (Associated Press)

An international committee of architectural experts has ruled that Chicago’s Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower, is not as tall as the new World Trade Center in New York. When it is complete, the new tower will be the tallest building in the United States.

The committee decided to include the needle on top of One World Trade Center in the building’s height:

The Height Committee of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat said the needle is not an antenna but a spire, and thus is a permanent part of the building.

The needle, measuring 408 feet tall, was more than enough to confirm Chicago is the Second City when it comes to tall buildings.

With the needle, 1 World Trade Center is a symbolically important 1,776 feet tall. Without it, the building would have been only 1,368 feet tall — well short of the 1,451-foot Willis Tower.

At stake was more than just bragging rights in two cities that feast on superlatives and the tourist dollars that might follow: 1 World Trade Center stands as a monument to those killed in the 9/11 attacks, and its architects had sought to capture the echo of America’s founding year in the structure’s height.

The building’s 1,368 feet height without the needle also holds symbolism; it is the height of the original World Trade Center.

Associated Press

The architects of One World Trade Center had originally planned the needle as a more obviously ornamental spire, but the developer decided to abandon those plans:

Eyebrows were raised at the council last year when it became known that the co-developer of the One World Trade Center, the Durst Organization, had decided not to clad the mast in a tapering, fiberglass and steel enclosure called a radome. The developers insisted the radome would be difficult to maintain. The decision saved an estimated $20 million in construction costs.

Without the covering, the mast, which reached its full height in a “topping-out” ceremony last May, consists of a conventional steel pole surrounded by round catwalks. At the time of the topping-out, it was widely reported that the tower had reached the height of 1,776 feet tall and was America’s tallest building.

But the elimination of the radome raised the issue of whether the mast should be considered an antenna, which would not count in the official height measurements.

It did not help One World Trade Center’s case when the skyscraper’s architect, David Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, said in response to the Durst decision: “We are disappointed that a decision has been made to remove the sculptural enclosure at the top of 1 World Trade Center. Eliminating this integral part of the building’s design and leaving an exposed antenna and equipment is unfortunate.”

Chicago Tribune

The new tower is scheduled to open sometime next year.