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. 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. 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. 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, which means the roof can provide at least semi-permanent protection from the elements.
The practice remains common in the United Kingdom and assorted Commonwealth countries such as Australia and Canada, 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. 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.
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. 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.
Topping out (wiecha) in Poland
The final section of the Warsaw radio mast (in foreground) is decorated and ready to raise
Topping out in Norway (1959)
Topping out of Xibeiwang MIXC in Beijing, China with celebration banners (2021)
Topping out of the National Library of Latvia
- The Hoary Tradition of Topping Out Archived 2017-01-09 at the Wayback Machine. The New York Times, 21 October 1984.
- "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.
- Engineering News, early 1970s[full citation needed]
- Topping Off the Frame Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine, 26 November 2008.
- Drying In, Part 2 Archived 2009-11-09 at the Wayback Machine, 6 November 2009.
- 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.
- "The Telegram". www.thetelegram.com.
- "Putting the cherry on top". Stuff. 20 April 2015. Retrieved 2016-08-10.
- "Topping Out - A Timber Frame Tradition". www.vermonttimberworks.com. Archived from the original on 2017-08-05.
- John V. Robinson (2001). "The 'topping out' traditions of the high-steel ironworkers". Western Folklore, Fall 2001.
- "Topping Off!" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 June 2006. Retrieved 9 August 2008.. Carpenter Magazine, Sep/Oct 2001.
- https://web.archive.org/web/20070311032321/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, 28 July 2003; accessed 11 February 2007.[dead link]
- "Topping Off". National Review. Archived from the original on September 28, 2008. Retrieved August 9, 2008.. National Review, December 23, 2003