00:32 - Source: EARTHCAM.COM
2012: Time-lapse: New WTC tower

Story highlights

One World Trade Center is now 1,271 feet, the tallest building in New York

Plans call for it to become the nation's tallest at 1,776 feet as construction continues

But a design change could jeopardize that plan

The design change involves a 408-foot needle to be placed atop the building

New York CNN  — 

A design change to One World Trade Center might jeopardize its plans to become the tallest U.S. building.

As the building is designed now, a 408-foot needle atop the tower will be enclosed in a radome, an architectural structure made of fiberglass and steel. This design element would elevate the tower to its symbolic height of 1,776 feet and make it the tallest building in the country, according to building developers.

But the proposed radome – short for radar dome – would not be able to be serviced or maintained, so the cladding was rejected.

Without the cladding, the needle could be classified simply as an antenna added to the structure, and not part of the true height of the skyscraper.

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, an independent organization that certifies the official height of skyscrapers and acknowledges record setting buildings, counts spires and structural elements such as radomes in its height calculations, but not antennas, according to its website,

“The only reason it’s coming out of the design is because it’s hard to maintain,” Jordan Barowitz, spokesperson for the developer Durst Organization Inc., said of the radome. He referred to its maintenance as “stuff out of Mission Impossible.”

Barowitz explained that to replace broken or missing panels, a free climber would have to scale the spire, attach a cable to the top, somehow lower it within the 9/11 memorial, and then attach a 2,000 pound, 40-feet-long piece of fiberglass to the cable and hoist it to the top of the building.

“It is still an architectural structure, it is not an antenna,” said Barowitz

In statement Thursday, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat said it would wait to make a judgment until after construction is completed.

“At this point, since the building is far from completion, there is no final determination on the height of One World Trade Center. A final determination will be made by the CTBUH Technical Height Committee based on analysis of the drawings and other information submitted by the building owner, development and consultant team. Building designs often change during construction and final ratification of the height and formal recognition on the list of 100 Tallest Completed Building in the World occur after the building is officially completed and application details submitted,” the council said.

A spokesman for the building owner, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said they are not worried that the design change will significantly alter the structure’s height.

“If truth be told, this discussion is irrelevant. One WTC will be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere,” said Steve Coleman, the port authority’s spokesman.

The tower became the tallest building in New York in April when the placement of a column of the 100th floor brought it to a height of 1,271 feet, surpassing the frame of the Empire State Building by 21 feet.

CNN’s Michael Martinez contributed to this report.