In building construction, topping out (sometimes referred to as topping off) is a builders' rite traditionally held when the last beam (or its equivalent) is placed atop a structure during its erection.
After topping out, numerous elements of construction remain, including interior finish and most mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems.
The practice of "topping out" a new building can be traced to the ancient Scandinavian religious rite of placing a tree atop a new building to appease the tree-dwelling spirits displaced in its construction. Long an important component of timber frame building, it migrated initially to England and Northern Europe, thence to the Americas.
A tree or leafy branch is placed on the topmost wood or iron beam, often with flags and streamers tied to it. A toast is usually drunk and sometimes workers are treated to a meal. In masonry construction the rite celebrates the bedding of the last block or brick.
In some cases a topping out event is held at an intermediate point, such as when the roof is dried in.
The practice remains common in the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and the United States, where the last beam of a skyscraper is painted white and signed by all the workers involved.
The tradition of "pannenbier" (literally "(roof) tile beer" in Dutch) is popular in the Netherlands and Flanders, where a national, regional or city flag is hung once the highest point of a building is reached. It stays in place until the building's owner provides free beer to the workers, after which it is lowered. It is considered greedy if it remains flown for more than a few days.
The final section of the Warsaw radio mast (in foreground) is decorated and ready to raise
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- The Hoary Tradition of Topping Out. The New York Times, October 21, 1984
- "CUSSW: News:: History of the 'Topping Out' Ceremony". Columbia University School of Social Network. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
- Topping Off the Frame, November 26, 2008
- Drying In, Part 2, November 6, 2009
- John V. Robinson (2001). "The 'topping out' traditions of the high-steel ironworkers". Western Folklore, Fall 2001.
- http://www.carpenters.org/carpentermag/Topping910_01.pdf Topping-Off! (goes into ancient Scandinavian religious roots); Carpenter Magazine; Sep/Oct 2001; accessed 2007-02-11
- http://www.stp.uh.edu/vol68/160/news/news4.html Tree symbolizes campus' growth (tree is still a part of the ceremony); The Daily Cougar; Volume 68, Issue 160, Monday, July 28, 2003; accessed 2007-02-11
- Richtfest.info A German language site about the topping out ceremonies.