September 17, 2007
Shanghai World Financial Centre rises above China’s skyline
After more than a decade of delays, China’s tallest building is slicing through Shanghai’s hazy, skyscraper-studded skyline, a new trophy built by Japanese property tycoon Minoru Mori.
The 101-storey Shanghai World Financial Centre, a 492-metre wedge-shaped tower with a rectangular hole at the very top, was to be topped out on Friday as its last beam was laid.
In a city whose skyline evinces the belief “the taller the better,” the building is bound to be a major tourist destination and landmark.
With China’s economy growing nearly 12 per cent a year and stock and real estate prices soaring, “the timing is just about the best it could be,” Mori said.
“When I saw the building this morning, at its full height, I thought it’s really beautiful. I think we’ve really succeeded,” he told reporters at Shanghai’s Jinmao Tower, a silver spire next door to the World Financial Centre that at 420.93 metres was China’s tallest building until now.
Mori’s visions of a “vertical garden city” have transformed his hometown Tokyo’s landscape with mammoth, mixed-use redevelopment projects such as Roppongi Hills, Ark Hills and Atago Green Hills.
The 115 billion yen (US$1 billion) Shanghai project by the developer’s flagship Mori Building Co., due for completion in time for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, is a massive monument to the city’s ambitions to reclaim its status as a key international centre.
It’s also evidence that despite the political tensions that flare up between China and Japan at regular intervals, business is business.
Mori acquired the land for the huge project, in the city’s Lujiazui financial district, in 1994. Piling work began in 1997, and then halted for six years after the Asian financial crisis wiped out demand for new office space.
By the time the project was revived in 2003, Mori had proposed and won approval from the Shanghai authorities to expand its size to make it the world’s tallest, a trophy for China and symbol of its growing affluence and economic might.
The tower, buttressed by a conference centre and shopping mall, will eventually house 70 floors of office space meant to accommodate 12,000 people, with a hotel, restaurants and an observatory at the top.
Taiwan’s Taipei 101, at 508 metres beat the building’s height, taking the tallest sweepstakes in 2004.
Developers of a skyscraper in oil-rich Dubai recently declared theirs the world’s tallest building, and construction is still far from completion. The Burj Dubai has now reached 555 metres, surpassing the CN Tower in Toronto which stands at 553 metres.
The Shanghai World Financial Centre faced other hurdles, including a fire just weeks ago. Sparked by welding work, it broke out in an elevator shaft on the 40th floor of the building and was extinguished after more than an hour, without any reported casualties.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, the building was redesigned into a so-called “megastructure,” with four huge pillars to make it stronger, Mori said.
Later, the builders altered another key design feature - a circular cutout near the top - after complaints that it resembled the rising sun on Japan’s flag, a symbol reviled by many Chinese because of Japan’s brutal occupation of the country in the Second World War. Mori obliged, changing it to a rectangle.
“For us it wasn’t such a big deal to change it and it pleased the Shanghai authorities,” he said. “We were happy to do it because it didn’t cause any real delays.”
Mori shrugged off the issue of political tensions, real enough that they flared into sometimes violent anti-Japanese protests in Shanghai and other Chinese cities in 2005.
Construction never halted because of the protests or any other political problems, he says.
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