The tradition of topping-out ceremonies

The tradition of topping-out ceremonies

The pageantry and superstition of topping-out ceremonies has always fascinated me, taking place, as they do, in the no-nonsense world of construction.

The topping-out ceremony is held when the last beam or equivalent is put in place within the structure. Alternatives can include a ceremonial pour of the last section of concrete or laying the last block or brick. Essentially it signals the frame of the new building reaching its maximum height and while at this stage, much of the rest of the construction is still unfinished, an important milestone in the project has been attained.

The origins of the ceremony can be traced back many centuries across multiple cultures, including ancient Egypt and Native American. However, most sources reference the Scandinavian practice of placing an evergreen tree atop a new building, in a bid to rehouse any tree spirits displaced when the required timber was lumbered. The tradition then migrated across Northern Europe and then the Americas.

Today the practice provides a great PR opportunity for the client, contractor, subcontractors and design team, as well as celebrating the achievement of reaching the highest point of a new building. Given that buildings seem to be getting ever taller, this is no mean feat.

One footnote to this story is that a long time ago, I worked for a main contractor which was running behind programme on a significant and high-profile building. Because of the programme-slippage, it was decided not to have a topping-out ceremony. The construction was challenging throughout the process and the building continued to have issues following its completion. One senior and very experienced construction professional I worked with actually considered the building to be cursed and they thought not having a topping-out ceremony was a very bad idea indeed…