The Great Pyramid of Cheops, Ulm Cathedral, St. Peter’s, the Empire State Building, the Sears Tower….for millennia, the world’s tallest buildings have been occidental.
As we approach the first quarter of the new millennium, however, the tallest buildings in the world are no longer in Africa, Europe and the United States, but in the rapidly growing cities of the Far East (Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur, Kaohsiung, Hong Kong and Chongqing) and the Middle East (Dubai) are shooting skywards at a pace that makes the great New York and Chicago building booms of 1900-1930 appear almost tame.
Not only are the tallest buildings soaring but brand new cities are also reaching for the sky. Shenzhen, to the north of Kowloon, is a special economic zone in the People’s Republic of China. It is also one of the fastest growing cities in the world.
The scale of these skyscrapers is astonishing. The Petronas of Kuala Lumpur is designed by Cesar Pelli, the Argentine-born, New York-based architect, these twin peaks rise to 1,475 ft – some 25 ft higher than the Sears Tower, in Chicago. Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s Prime Minister wanted to capture the record from the Americans. Dr. Mohamad wants to make the point that Malaysia is at the heart of Southeast Asia’s economic miracle. Pelli is also the architect of Canary Wharf Tower, the tallest building in Britain. At 800 ft it is dwarfed by its Malaysian cousins.
The Chinese, however, have no intention of letting the Malaysians rest on their laurels. After the completion of the Petronas Towers, the Chongqing Tower is built at 114-storey building, partly office block and partly hotel, looms 1,500 ft over the Yangtze and Jialing rivers. The tower – not the prettiest – has been designed by Haines Lundberg Waehler, a firm of New York architects. The building makes an overt display of the geomantic principles of Feng Shui. What this means in practice is that the building is based on the Chinese lucky number, eight. Offices are located on the eight to the 80th floors above an eight-storey entrance lobby, and the office floors are punctuated by eight-storey atria. As with the Petronas Towers, the building’s height is symbolic.
The Japanese are talking of building even higher. The Millenium Tower designed by Sir Norman Foster and Partners for Tokyo will be more than 2,600 ft tall. Although vast, it is, however, quite beautiful when contrasted with the muddled profiles of the Petronas Towers, Chongqing Tower and the Sears Tower.
Architects, engineers and building contractors face relatively few difficulties when building into the clouds. Skyscraper technology is long established.
When Frank Lloyd Wright, the flamboyant American architect, designed a mile-high skyscraper – the Illinois – 70 years ago, he was not simply being silly. The tower could have been built. The question to be asked when such vertiginous schemes are planned is not how, but why.
Other Important Information:
1) Salisbury Cathedral – 404 feet in 1320
2) Canary Wharf, London – 800 feet in 1989
3) Empire State Building, New York – 1,250 feet in 1931
4) Jin Mao Building, Shanghai – 1,380 feet in 1997
5) Sears Tower, Chicago – 1,454 feet in 1974
6) Petronas Tower, Kuala Lumpur – 1,475 feet in 1996
7) Chongqing Tower, Chongqing China – 1,500 feet in 1997
8) Millenium Tower, Tokyo Japan – 2,600 feet