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]


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] Long an important component of timber frame building,[3] 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.[4]

The practice remains common in the United Kingdom and assorted Commonwealth countries such as Australia,[5] and Canada[6] as well as Germany, Austria, Iceland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, the Baltic States, and the United States, where the last beam of a skyscraper is painted white and signed by all the workers involved.[7] 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] It is considered greedy if it remains flown for more than a few days.


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