Topping out

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Topping out in southern Denmark

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 construction. Nowadays, the ceremony is often parlayed into a media event for public relations purposes.[1] It has since come to mean more generally finishing the structure of the building, whether there is a ceremony or not. It is also commonly used to determine the amount of wind on the top of the structure.


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.[2] The tradition also served a functional purpose: a pine tree was used, and after the needles had fallen off the tree, the builders knew the wood frame below had cured/dried out so they could enclose the building.[3] Long an important component of timber frame building,[4] 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.[citation needed]

In some cases a topping out event is held at an intermediate point, such as when the roof is dried-in, which means the roof can provide at least semi-permanent protection from the elements.[5]

The practice remains common in the United Kingdom and assorted Commonwealth countries such as Australia[6] and Canada,[7] as well as Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Iceland, Chile, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and the Baltic States. In the United States the last beam of a skyscraper is often painted white and signed by all the workers involved.[6] In New Zealand, completion of the roof to a water-proof state is celebrated through a "roof shout", where workers are treated to cake and beer.[8]

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.[9] Since the workers are treated to free beer as long as the flag is raised, the workers are considered greedy if they fly the flag for more than a few days.[citation needed]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Hoary Tradition of Topping Out Archived 2017-01-09 at the Wayback Machine. The New York Times, 21 October 1984.
  2. ^ "CUSSW: News:: History of the 'Topping Out' Ceremony". Columbia University School of Social Work. Archived from the original on 11 June 2012. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
  3. ^ Engineering News, early 1970s[full citation needed]
  4. ^ Topping Off the Frame Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine, 26 November 2008.
  5. ^ Drying In, Part 2 Archived 2009-11-09 at the Wayback Machine, 6 November 2009.
  6. ^ a b Vanhoenacker, Mark (19 December 2013). "What Is a Tree Doing on Top of That Construction Site?". Slate. Archived from the original on 16 September 2017.
  7. ^ "The Telegram".
  8. ^ "Putting the cherry on top". Stuff. 20 April 2015. Retrieved 2016-08-10.
  9. ^ "Topping Out - A Timber Frame Tradition". Archived from the original on 2017-08-05.


External links[edit]