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Architecture tells us a lot about economic history, as these charts by Martin Vargic show.

Vargic, a Slovakian artist and designer who runs the blog halcyonmaps.com, created six charts that document the history of the tallest buildings on six continents -- Europe, North America, Asia, Africa, South America and Oceania -- over the last 5,000 years

The charts show the silhouettes of the tallest buildings on the continents through history, running from ancient history on the left to modern times on the right. The labels give the building's name, the year it was built or the years during which it was the continent's (not the world's) tallest building, and its height. (There are several different ways of measuring building height. Vargic uses height to tip, so the list may look a little different than other lists of the world's tallest buildings.)

Here is Europe (click to see a larger version of the image):

Martin Vargic
North America:

Martin Vargic
and Asia:

Martin Vargic

The buildings in red held the record for the world’s tallest building by pinnacle at least once. Vargic also includes many monuments and towers in this chart, which do not qualify to win the record as the world's tallest building.

The John Hancock Building, 1 WTC and Willis Tower were engaged in an antennae arms race for several decades, which kept them at the top of list when measuring a building to tip. Though the Petronas Towers, the Taipei 101 and other buildings surpassed the Willis (Sears) Tower in terms of height to architectural elements, roof and highest occupied floor, the Willis Tower was still measured as the world's tallest building by antennae until the Burj Khalifa was built.

If you follow the buildings in red, you can see a reflection of the world's economic history. While Europe was home to the world’s tallest building from 1240 to 1890, the 20th Century was one of American skyscrapers. The Burj Khalifa in Dubai took over the world record in 2010, perhaps inaugurating the start of an Asian century.

All of the buildings that Vargic marks as having held the record as the world’s tallest are in Europe, North America and Asia, except for the Lighthouse of Alexandria. This ancient structure, which measured 450 feet, held the record between 280 BCE and 1323 AD and is visible in Vargic's chart of Africa:


Martin Vargic
Finally here is South America:

Martin Vargic
And Oceania:

Martin Vargic

Note: Naming the world's tallest building is a contentious business. Vargic is using "height to tip" where applicable, but some of the heights above may be slightly rounded or given to the top of other architectural features. For the most official lists, visit the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

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