‘Topping out’ is the term used by contractors to refer to the installation of the final piece of structure, or the completion of the roof on a building, bridge or other large construction. It signifies that the structure has reached its maximum height rather than the project has reached completion. In the UK, the topping out stage may be marked by the installation of a plaque or other feature recording the event and is often used as a PR event for the media.
The significance of topping out is believed to date back to pre-Dark Age Scandinavia, where folklore suggested there was a wide practice of placing a tree on top of a new building to appease the tree dwelling spirits of their displaced ancestors. It became a celebration due to the fact that large numbers of the community would often assist with completing a new building, and as such it was a way that the building owner could show their appreciation. The Scandinavian invaders of the mid-to-late 8th century, introduced the practice to England.
In 14th century England, topping out ceremonies were marked by a yew tree branch being placed at the highest point of the building. Such occasions were included in the writings of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer. Often the personal flag of the owner would be hoisted to the building’s top once the shell was complete.
In modern construction, topping out ceremonies are celebrated in different ways around the world:
- Jordan: Builders hold a religious ceremony followed by a feast.
- Denmark: The roof of the building is decorated with evergreen garlands.
- America: The final structural piece is often painted white and signed by members of the construction team.
- Germany: Laurels are hung around the chimney of a new house to acknowledge its ‘birth’.
- Brazil: Branches and leaves are fixed to the building.
Media representatives are often present at the topping out ceremonies of major projects, invited to attend in order to generate interest in the project, as well as celebrate its progress and the achievement of the construction team.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Activity schedule.
- Certificate of non completion.
- Completion date.
- End of stage report for construction.
- Final certificate.
- Key dates.
- Handing over possession of the construction site to the contractor.
- Handover to the client.
- Practical completion.
- Programme for building design and construction.
- Scheduling construction activities.
- Sectional completion.
 External references
- Kimmel - Topping out
Featured articles and news
Read about RSHP's British Museum extension which has been shortlisted for the 2017 Stirling Prize.
Read our introductory article to building a house extension.
More updates from DCMS about the large-scale testing of cladding systems and the number of buildings affected.
UandI secure resolution to grant planning consent for major new regeneration project.
IHBC article considers how heritage is dealt with when infrastructure schemes are authorised.
It was the tallest structure in the world for 3,800 years, but to this day the exact construction techniques are a mystery.
Shortlist for the industry's most coveted award announced.
Government responds to Mark Farmer's review of industry, rejecting the call for a levy on clients.
Peter Hansford to examine what wider lessons can be learned from the fire.
Every project is subject to uncertainty. How can construction better understand uncertainty for performance improvement?
MAD Architects reveal their designs for a futuristic campus for electric car manufacturer.
Homebuyers could borrow more with better forecasting of energy bills, according to industry consortium's new report.
Read our introductory article on carbon capture and storage.