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The ‘Topping Out’ Tradition

Topping out, or topping off, ceremonies are a time-honoured tradition that signify the successful completion of the structural phase of a project. For centuries, these ceremonies have celebrated the moment a structure reaches its highest point, marking this milestone of construction and granting the opportunity for the individuals involved in the construction of the project to celebrate the progress made.

We recently celebrated the topping out of our Malvern project, Vanguard. The ceremony was complete with an evergreen tree, champagne and the presence of the development’s key contributors and future residents.

While many individuals in the property development and construction industries may have organised and attended these events, how many of us understand the history and tradition behind it?

The history of topping out ceremonies

It appears that topping out ceremonies have been occurring for many centuries, across all manner of cultures. During the pagan era, it is said that an evergreen tree would be hoisted to the tallest point of a building to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck to its occupants. Another aspect of the tradition involves the ancient Scandinavian rite of placing a tree atop a new building to appease the tree-dwelling spirits displaced in its construction. In Egyptian times, it has been evidenced that a tree was placed atop the country’s first stone building to pay respects to those who had lost their life throughout its construction. Along with the erection of a tree or branch that would remain until the building’s completion, a party among the construction workers, the building’s owner and future occupants would also take place.

Whatever the take on this ceremony, it is clear that it was carried out as a way to impart good fortune for the building’s future inhabitants and offer recognition for a great accomplishment.

Modern topping out ceremonies

Modern day, topping out ceremonies are celebratory affairs that bring together project teams to observe the progress made on site, as well as an opportunity to thank the people involved in erecting the structure. In honour of tradition, often an evergreen tree or sapling branch are still included in these ceremonies.

Placing the final structural beam in place on a building is a significant project milestone. It’s important that we continue traditions that commemorate not only the completion of a project, but that also celebrate the process of building it. These ceremonies not only serve as a nod to the past, but are an acknowledgement of this pinnacle of achievement.