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, which means the roof can provide at least semi-permanent protection from the elements.[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, Chile, 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.[5] 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.[7]

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.[8] It is considered greedy if it remains flown for more than a few days.


See also


  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. ^ Topping Off the Frame Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine., 26 November 2008.
  4. ^ Drying In, Part 2 Archived 2009-11-09 at Wikiwix, 6 November 2009.
  5. ^ a b "What Is a Tree Doing on Top of That Construction Site?". 19 December 2013. Archived from the original on 16 September 2017 – via Slate. 
  6. ^ "The Telegram". 
  7. ^ "Putting the cherry on top". Stuff. Retrieved 2016-08-10. 
  8. ^ "Topping Out - A Timber Frame Tradition". 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! at the Wayback Machine (archived 2 June 2006). Carpenter Magazine, Sep/Oct 2001.
  • 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 at the Wayback Machine (archived September 28, 2008). National Review, December 23, 2003

External links

  • A German language site about the topping out ceremonies.
  • Topping out Roberts Pavilion Topping out the new athletic building at Claremont McKenna College.
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