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The Tallest Fictional Buildings, From Star Wars to Lord of the Rings

Date Published: 30th October 2023

Category Study & Research

Author: Robyn

The Tallest Fictional Buildings, From Star Wars to Lord of the Rings

For two thousand years, this construction gave employment to mankind and a purpose to history. But there was a sky, We reached it. Everyone knows what happened after that…

In Alasdair Gray's short story, "The Start of the Axletree," an emperor dreams up a construction project to reinvigorate his empire, intimidate his enemies and kick-start the economy: a building that reaches up to heaven.

Needless to say, it doesn't end well. But Gray's fantasy tale captures much of what makes massive great buildings such an irresistible trope in fiction. How many times have we witnessed the mighty doom vibes of an architectural whopper, from the beggar at the doorstep to the action hero reluctantly taking the stairs to the cloaked villain falling a thousand metres to their death?

Giant fictional buildings continue to stir the imagination since we can never truly know everything that goes on inside. Indeed, floor after floor of fiction's tallest buildings remain unmapped even by their authors. Only the age of the never-ending franchise offers the hope that we might see what goes on in every room.

In the meantime, we invite you to stand among us, gazing up at the relative height of these imaginary whoppers. Buildworld has researched the tallest fictional buildings in movies, books, TV and video games and lined them up next to each other on a new series of charts so you can see how they compare.

Key Findings

  • The tallest fictional building is the International Space Elevator in Ace Combat at 100,000,000 metres high.
  • 500 Republica in Star Wars: Episode I is the tallest movie building (4,040 m).
  • The tallest fantasy building is Barad-dûr in The Lord of the Rings (1,500 m).
  • The Jefferson Street Credit Union Building is the tallest in Grand Theft Auto (438 m).

Strangereal Space Elevator Crushes Star Wars Apartment Complex as Fiction’s Tallest Building

To fit the whole of Ace Combat's International Space Elevator onto this chart, we'd need to make the chart around 12,000 times bigger. Because that's roughly how much taller the Elevator is than the second-placed Citadel from Half-Life 2.

Existing offshore from the Usean city of Selatapura in the game's Strangereal alternate universe, the elevator is a "titanic tower [that] reaches up to pierce the heavens," according to a promotional in-universe article for the game. "The cable which extends from its terminus disappears into the morning light, leading on to the lands of the stars so remote. It is the space elevator: humanity's first full-scale attempt at a highway to space."

Tallest fictional buildings

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Video games are intended to stretch their users' limits - and video game buildings account for seven of the 15 tallest in fiction. Genre-wise, science fiction produces the tallest buildings, including ten of the top 15, led by The Phantom Menace's posh 500 Republica residential building. The Korin Tower from the Dragon Ball anime is the tallest fictional building outside of video games. Built in honour of an unnamed hero, the tower is a hermitage atop an 8,000-metre stone-plated tree, which makes it possibly the only building in our study that is literally still growing.

Star Wars vs. Blade Runner For Cinema's Tallest Building

Tallest fictional buildings in Films

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One of the poshest pads in the Star Wars universe, 500 Republica appears in the Phantom Menace. Wookiepedia claims it to be 1,010 storeys high, and taking the usual story to be 4.3 m, Buildworld calculated the height of 500 Republica to be 4,040 m. Closer to Earth, the Tyrell headquarters in Blade Runner comprises of two buildings, of which the largest is 700 storeys tall and six LA blocks wide.

"Our biggest challenge was to develop a sense of immense scale the idea of having something like New York with a lot of fifty or sixty storey buildings that are part of the landscape and then above that these mega structures the occupy several blocks and go up many hundreds of stories," explains Blade Runner's effects supervisor, Douglas Trumbull. The film's production designer, Syd Mead, says that he modelled the proportions on the disparity between street-level New York City and the World Trade Towers and then "expanded everything vertically about two and half times."

Lord of the Rings Fortress is Fantasy's Biggest Building

Tallest fictional buildings in Fantasy Books

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Orcs can't operate cranes. Everyone knows that. Perhaps that is why fantasy's tallest buildings are among the shortest in our study - shorter even than those of the relatively Earth-bound Grand Theft Auto. One glaring exception is Barad-dûr in The Lord of the Rings, first described by Tolkien as "wall upon wall, battlement upon battlement, black, immeasurably strong, mountain of iron, gate of steel, tower of adamant." The subject of some of the quintessential "tall building" shots in Peter Jackson's films, even the 'miniature' model the film crew used for special effects was over eight metres tall.

Half-Life's Citadel is Gaming's Second-Tallest Structure

Tallest fictional buildings in Video Game

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As mentioned in Strangereal Space Elevator above, Ace Combat's International Space Elevator is fiction's tallest building, 12,000 times higher than Half-Life 2's Citadel. But the Citadel is no slouch at 8,406 m, in turn, more than three times the height of Halo's Space Elevator.

The Citadel is Half-Life's 'baddies lair' - the centre of control for the alien Combine empire on Earth. Located in Eastern Europe, it is said not to be the only such structure on Earth - although, at five miles high, surely it's the biggest. More precisely, the Citadel measures some 8,406 metres from top to toe, extending a further 750 feet below ground, making it just a little smaller than Mount Everest.

Grand Theft Auto's Tallest Buildings Dazzle with Dismal Vibes

Tallest fictional buildings in GTA

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The Grand Theft Auto universe is nothing if not a grand architectural project, re-imagining iconic American cities, including (fictionalised as "Liberty City"), San Francisco ("San Andreas") and Los Angeles ("Los Santos"). While the social critique in these mock environments is nuanced, the scale of the buildings alone has something to say, from the flawed good intentions of Los Santos' low-rise housing to the variously withered or gleaming skyscrapers of Liberty City.

The latter is home to the tallest of all, the Jefferson Street Credit Union Building - a banking building, like many of the finance-themed whoppers on GTA's high streets. The Mile-High Club in Grand Theft Auto V is distinctly less than a mile high, although that could be because it's still under construction. A special mention goes out to the tallest building in San Fierro, a spoof of San Francisco's Transamerica Pyramid, for being named The Big Pointy Building.

Know Your Limits

Fictional skyscrapers allow designers to realise structures that would never get off the drawing board in reality. Some require the slow tilt of a movie camera up a never-ending tower; others require a book's reader to perform mental gymnastics just to picture the scale of the thing. How does the plumbing work? How do the windows get cleaned? It doesn't matter. A near-infinite - Babylonian, even - configuration of possible rooms and encounters lives inside, waiting to be explored.

But when conceiving a construction project in real life, size isn't everything. In fact, as our study shows, as often or not, size is indicative of evil lurking within - and often a satire of the "idolatry of exponential growth" or the hubris of the vanity project, too.

All things considered, maybe it's time to put that backyard skyscraper on hold and think about putting that energy and imagination into renovating a bungalow. Nothing evil ever happens in bungalows. Right?!

METHODOLOGY & SOURCES

We researched the tallest fictional buildings represented in movies, books, TV and video games.

We began with a list compiled by MetaBallStudios in 2019 and supplemented it with additional findings from sources such as the GTA/Half-Life/Halo Fandoms and the Towering Fiction blog.

We included buildings such as the Maze Bank Tower in GTA that are based on real-life buildings but aren't identical.

The 500 Republica height for Star Wars was estimated based on the knowledge that there are approximately 1,010 stories according to Wookipedia, and the typical average height of a storey in architecture is 4.3m

  • Did you know? Facts & Figures about the Burj Khalifa | Burj Khalifa. (n.d.). burjkhalifa.ae
  • Acepedia, C. T. (n.d.). International Space Elevator. Acepedia. acecombat.fandom.com
  • Jefferson St. Credit Union building - Grand Theft Wiki, the GTA wiki. (n.d.). grandtheftwiki.com
  • Wiki, C. T. H. (n.d.). Citadel. Half-Life Wiki. half-life.fandom.com
  • Wookieepedia, C. T. (n.d.). 500 Republica. Wookieepedia. starwars.fandom.com
  • Gateway, T. (2023). Barad-dûr - Tolkien Gateway. Tolkien Gateway. tolkiengateway.net

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