Iowa doesn’t have the tallest buildings in the world (or country, or region), but we do have a few skyscrapers. Most are in Des Moines, Iowa’s capital and largest city (but not all). One was even (for a time) the tallest building in the upper Midwest!
Here are the top ten tallest buildings in Iowa (excluding church spires, which I am not counting), and how many of them it would take to reach the height of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE—the current tallest building in the world at 2,717 feet.
10. Iowa State Capitol, Des Moines
This Renaissance Revival structure stands at 275 feet and is built on the tallest hill near downtown. The capitol’s golden dome can easily be seen anywhere in downtown.
The cornerstone of the Iowa State Capitol was laid on November 23, 1871 before the building was completed in 1886, according to its National Register of Historic Places nomination form.
In addition to being the place where legislators come together, each year since 1987 the World Food Prize laureate award ceremony takes place in the House of Representatives.
How many to reach the height of Burj Khalifa? 9.9 Iowa State Capitols.
How long would it take me to climb to the top? While riding the Tornado at Adventureland is too high due to my fear of heights, for the sake of the article, it is time to do some bootstrap reporting and climb this building. The Iowa State Capitol has lots of easy-to-grab structures along the walls, making it easier to climb. Give me time to stretch, and it will take me two hours.
9. Alliant Tower, Cedar Rapids
The tallest building in Cedar Rapids, the Alliant Tower is the only non-Des Moines building on this list, and it was built in 1972.
Residing in the City of Five Seasons, the Alliant Tower stands at 285 feet, towering over the rest of downtown Cedar Rapids. It was designed with an International architectural style.
Throughout its 21 stories, it serves a variety of businesses. At night, it lights up downtown Cedar Rapids with a variety of colors to bring awareness and to celebrate different holidays, according to Alliant Energy.
How many to reach the height of Burj Khalifa? 9.53 Alliant Towers
How long would it take me to climb to the top? With few easy-to-grab pieces on this slick-looking building, I will need my extra sticky gloves. It will take me seven-and-a-half hours.
8. Equitable Building, Des Moines
Standing at 318 feet in the heart of downtown Des Moines, the Equitable Building was the first skyscraper in Iowa, and the tallest building in Des Moines for 49 years, according to the Des Moines Register.
This Gothic Revival building was built in 1924 and was named after the insurance company, Equitable of Iowa.
In 2016, the Equitable Building was renovated to mostly apartments. If you’ve got a keen eye, there are distinctive corbels at the third floor featuring physically straining gnomes holding up the building. according to the Iowa Architectural Foundation.
It was also named by the Iowa chapter of the American Institute of Architects as one of the 50 Most Significant Iowa Buildings of the 20th Century.
How many to reach the height of Burj Khalifa? 8.54 Equitable Buildings
How long would it take me to climb to the top? There’s lots of structure jutting out randomly, making for different spots to use while climbing—including those overtaxed gnomes. It will take me five-and-a-half hours.
T6. EMC Insurance Building, Des Moines
Tied with the next building on the list at 325 feet, the EMC Insurance Building was completed in downtown Des Moines in 1997.
It has a Postmodern design, and like the Equitable Building, was also named one of the 50 Most Significant Iowa Buildings of the 20th Century. It is part of EMC’s headquarters.
How many to reach the height of Burj Khalifa? 8.36 EMC Insurance Buildings
How long would it take me to climb to the top? Due to its new-ish architectural design, it does not have the beautiful features sticking out which make it easier to grab on to the building. This will make it a seven-hour climb.
T6. HUB Tower, Des Moines
Completed in 1986, the HUB Tower office building also stands at 325 feet in downtown Des Moines, and also was designed in a Postmodern style.
It’s also owned by EMC Insurance, though the company recently put this one up for sale, if you’re in the market for Iowa’s sixth tallest building.
It does have a unique façade comprised of metal and brick with a gabled front hipped roof tower, and a distinctive green roof.
How many to reach the height of Burj Khalifa? 8.36 HUB Towers
How long would it take me to climb to the top? With the combination of brick and glass, it gives me the opportunity to grab different textures to help my ascent. It will take six-and-a-half hours.
5. Plaza Building, Des Moines
Built in the heart of downtown Des Moines, the modernist Plaza Building with elements of the Postmodern was completed in 1985.
Rising above the skyline at 340 feet, it currently has 183 condominium units across 25 stories, according to Apartments.com.
It was built with 45-degree angles to provide better views and sunlight to more residents.
You can buy your own condo for the low, low price of $317,500.
How many to reach the height of Burj Khalifa? 7.99 Plazas
How long would it take me to climb to the top? The balconies will make this an easy climb. It will take three-and-a-half hours.
4. Financial Center, Des Moines
Finished in 1974, The Financial Center was the one that knocked the Equitable Building from its 49-year post for the tallest building in Iowa. (It was immediately knocked off the next year by No. 2 on this list.)
At 345 feet, this downtown Des Moines building was built in a late Modern, International style. The Financial Center’s development helped lead the revitalization of downtown Des Moines.
Keep one eye always opened in this building, however, as its address is 666 Walnut Street. (Not one, but two buildings on this list have the devil’s number.)
How many to reach the height of Burj Khalifa? 7.88 Financial Centers
How long would it take me to climb to the top? There is no place to hold onto on this building. It will take me extra time to rent an extra-tall scissor lift. It will take me five days.
3. Des Moines Marriott Hotel
Standing at 365 feet, the Des Moines Marriott Hotel opened in 1981 with over 400 rooms.
In 2016, it was sold for nearly $34 million, according to the Des Moines Register.
It has a Modern architectural style and—no surprise—it is the tallest hotel in the state of Iowa. It’s also quite popular for conferences.
How many to reach the height of Burj Khalifa? 7.44 Des Moines Marriotts
How long would it take me to climb to the top? I will need extra-sticky gloves for these windows, and I hope the Marriott’s guests enjoy watching a sweaty man make his way to the top. It will take me 12 hours.
2. Ruan Center
Completed in 1975 in the heart of downtown Des Moines, the 457-foot tall Ruan Center claimed the tallest spot from the Financial Center and held it for 16 years.
Built in the International style, the Ruan Center is home to offices as well as Des Moines Embassy Club’s restaurant.
With its “interesting” rusted look, it is also a building to watch your back in, as its address is 666 Grand Avenue.
How many to reach the height of Burj Khalifa? 5.91 Ruan Centers
How long would it take me to climb to the top? This building looks as slick as Iowa ice, making for a tough climb. It will take me 13 days.
1. 801 Grand
Number one on this list made sure it far exceeded the height of the next-tallest building by more than a third.
Opened in 1991 by Principal Financial Group, this 630-foot-tall building reigns supreme over the Iowa landscape.
It’s so tall, it held the record for the “tallest building in the upper Midwest” (read: excluding Chicago) for 11 years, until Omaha’s First National Bank Tower took that title in 2002.
It has a Postmodern design with more than 2,000 stair steps. The building is topped by an eight-sided pyramid clad with copper.
In addition to being a part of Principal’s Financial Group’s campus, it has retail and a restaurant on its first three floors. 801 Grand was also named one of the 50 Most Significant Iowa Buildings of the 20th Century by AIA.
How many to reach the height of Burj Khalifa? 4.3 of Iowa’s tallest skyscrapers
How long would it take me to climb to the top? Due to its unique shape, it will be easier to climb up where the corners come together. Unfortunately, the height will make it tougher. It will take me nine hours.
By Sean Dengler
If you enjoy stories like these, make sure to sign up for Iowa Starting Line’s main newsletter and/or our working class-focused Worker’s Almanac newsletter.
Iowa Starting Line is part of an independent news network and focuses on how state and national decisions impact Iowans’ daily lives. We rely on your financial support to keep our stories free for all to read. Find ISL on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.