New York's One World Trade Centre tower ruled tallest building in US
One World Trade Centre, on site of Ground Zero, takes title from Chicago landmark after experts agree that its antenna should count in calculation
They set out to build the tallest skyscraper in the world - a giant that would rise a symbolic 1,776 feet, in an echo of the nation's founding year, from the ashes of Ground Zero.
Those aspirations of global supremacy fell by the wayside long ago.
But New York received a consolation prize on Tuesday when an international architectural panel said it would recognise One World Trade Centre - at 541 metres - as the tallest skyscraper in the United States.
The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat announced its decision at simultaneous news conferences in New York and Chicago, which is home to the 442-metre Willis Tower, now being dethroned as the nation's tallest building.
Measuring the height of a building would seem to be a simple thing, but in the case of the new World Trade Centre tower it is complicated by the 124 metre needle on its roof.
The council's verdict rested on a conclusion that the needle should be counted as part of the building's total height.
Without it, the tower would be just 417 metres tall, the same height as the original World Trade Centre.
Council chairman Timothy Johnson, an architect at the global design firm NBBJ, said the decision by the 25-member height committee had more "tense moments" than usual, given the skyscraper's importance as a patriotic symbol.
"I was here on 9/11. I saw the buildings come down," he said.
The council has a history of disallowing antennae in height calculations.
The Empire State Building's 62.18-metre needle isn't counted in its height measurement.
Neither are the two television antennae on the Willis Tower, which has been the country's tallest building since it was completed - and named the Sears Tower - in 1974. But in the end, there was unanimity on the committee that One World Trade Centre's reach for 1,776 feet was an artistic architectural expression.
"This was a quest to put something meaningful and symbolic on that site because of the horrible history of what happened," said Antony Wood, the council's executive director.
Tourists at the skyscraper on Tuesday agreed that when it comes to height measurements, this spire should count.
"For any other building, no. But for this one, yes," said Cary Bass, of Florida, as he waited to enter the National September 11 Memorial at the new skyscraper's base. "Those people deserve it," he said, referring to the victims.
And Paul Schlagel, visiting from Longmont, Colorado, said: "It's a special building."
If they were to stand side by side, the Willis Tower would probably appear to be the larger building to most bystanders. In fact, someone standing in the Willis Tower's observation deck would have to look down to see One World Trade Centre's roof.
But Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel made light of Tuesday's decision. "I would just say to all the experts gathered in one room: If it looks like an antenna, acts like an antenna, then guess what? It is an antenna," he said.
The new World Trade Centre tower remains under construction and is due to open next year.
When it does, it will be the world's third-largest skyscraper, behind the 828-metre Burj Khalifa in Dubai and the 601-metre Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
But another six even taller towers are under construction in Asia. The International Commerce Centre in Kowloon, the world's seventh tallest skyscraper, is 484 metres high.