China gives a new twist to world’s 2nd-tallest build­ing


The world’s sec­ond tallest build­ing, Shang­hai Tower, will soon open in the Chi­nese fi­nan­cial cap­i­tal with a twist — a 120-de­gree twist, to be ex­act.

A soft­ened tri­an­gu­lar “outer skin” is lit­er­ally twisted around a cir­cu­lar core, send­ing the glass and steel tower spi­ral­ing 632 me­ters into the grey sky above the city.

State-backed devel­oper Shang­hai Tower Con­struc­tion and De­vel­op­ment Co. views the mod­ern de­sign as a sym­bol of China’s fu­ture, a su­per­tall build­ing in the city’s gleam­ing Pudong fi­nan­cial dis­trict, which did not even ex­ist 25 years ago.

Peo­ple in­volved with the pro­ject said the build­ing will open this sum­mer, with of­fice ten­ants mov­ing in first, but the devel­oper de­clined to com­ment.

“This twist is an iconic sym­bol of look­ing for­ward for the Chi­nese peo­ple,” said Grant Uh­lir, prac­tice area leader and prin­ci­pal for Gensler, the U.S. ar­chi­tec­ture firm whose de­sign was cho­sen for the build­ing which broke ground in 2008.

“It’s been re­ferred to as a strand of DNA. It’s also been re­ferred to a place where the ground con­nects with the sky,” he said.

Although still dwarfed by the reign­ing cham­pion Burj Khal­ifa in Dubai, which stands at 828 me­ters, and with new chal­lengers un­der con­struc­tion, the US$2.4 bil­lion Shang­hai Tower can still lay claim to a host of su­perla­tives.

Be­sides be­ing the tallest dou­ble­fa­cade build­ing, the world’s fastest el­e­va­tors trav­el­ing 18 me­ters per sec­ond will whisk peo­ple up and down while the globe’s sec­ond high­est ho­tel will be lo­cated on the 84th to 110th floors.

An es­ti­mated 16,000 to 18,000 peo­ple will pass through the Shang­hai Tower ev­ery day. The build­ing will sway up to a me­ter in high winds, with a 1,000-tonne “damper” weight near the top re­duc­ing the ef­fect.

‘It has to be unique’

“When you do these iconic, su­per­tall build­ings, it can’t be a copy of some­thing else. It has to be unique,” said Amer­i­can chief ar­chi­tect Mar­shall Stra­bala, who par­tic­i­pated in the pro­ject while at Gensler.

Now the head of his own firm, he spent part of his three-decade ca­reer work­ing on some of the world’s tallest build­ings in­clud­ing the Burj Khal­ifa.

He said the dou­ble skin plays other roles be­sides pure de­sign, pro­vid­ing in­su­la­tion to keep the build­ing cool in sum­mer and warm in win­ter and re­duc­ing wind stress.

“This build­ing is a gi­ant Ther­mos bot­tle, that’s all it is,” he said.

But the vac­uum flask metaphor masks the mind-numb­ing com­plex­ity in­volved in bal­anc­ing the de­sign, safety re­quire­ments, build­ing codes and client de­mands that shaped the tower.

De­spite the fu­tur­is­tic look, con­cepts ow­ing to Chi­nese cul­ture are present.

A golden canopy at the base of the build­ing was orig­i­nally meant to be green, the color of weath­ered cop­per, but the devel­oper re­jected the idea be­cause in Chi­nese, the ex­pres­sion “wear­ing a green hat” means be­ing a cuck­old.

“It’s not a good thing. Gold is a color of pros­per­ity,” Stra­bala said.

A white stone struc­ture dubbed the “River Wall” on the lower floors con­cep­tu­ally cuts the build­ing into west and east, like Shang­hai it­self is di­vided into Puxi and Pudong on ei­ther side of the Huangpu River.

“Pudong side is busi­ness, Puxi side is fun. The re­tail, restau­rants (in the build­ing) are on the fun Puxi side,” Stra­bala said.

The devel­oper is ex­pected to shun us­ing floor num­bers with the num­ber four, which sounds like the Chi­nese word for death.

Gensler says the build­ing has 121 “oc­cu­pied” floors, while the to­tal num­ber has been given as 127 or 128 sto­rys depend­ing on how they are counted.

‘Curse’ of Tall Build­ings

Of­fice space will take up much of the 573,000-square-me­ter build­ing, while the re­tail space is small com­pared to a shop­ping mall — just four floors.

The build­ing’s ar­rival on the Shang­hai of­fice mar­ket could po­ten­tially pull down rents and drive up the va­cancy rate, an­a­lysts said.

“It re­mains to be seen whether the pool of ten­ants cur­rently in Pudong is large enough to fill the build­ing or whether Shang­hai Tower will need to start of­fer­ing dis­counts to at­tract oth­ers,” said Michael Stacy, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Cush­man & Wake­field’s ten­ant ad­vi­sory group in China.

Prop­erty agents are quot­ing rental rates in a range of 9 to 16 yuan (US$1.45 to US$2.56) per square me­ter a day depend­ing on lo­ca­tion, but they say the devel­oper is of­fer­ing rent-free pe­ri­ods.

Stra­bala be­lieves the pres­tige of the ad­dress will draw ten­ants though he jokes about the “curse” of tall build­ings, which seems to fol­low eco­nomic strife.

Work­ers broke ground on Shang­hai Tower in Novem­ber 2008, just weeks af­ter the col­lapse of Lehman Broth­ers, which helped spark the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis, and it will open at a time when China’s econ­omy is slow­ing.

Stra­bala, how­ever, is not wor­ried, stress­ing that recog­ni­tion of the build­ing as the world’s sec­ond tallest will at­tract ten­ants.

“This build­ing will fill up be­cause peo­ple will want to be here,” he said.


This pic­ture taken on May 8 shows a view of the Shang­hai World Fi­nan­cial Cen­ter, cen­ter, from the new Shang­hai Tower, which is still un­der con­struc­tion.

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