Booming Far East Reaches for the Sky

By Glancey, Jonathan | The Independent (London, England), July 1, 1994 | Go to article overview
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Booming Far East Reaches for the Sky


Glancey, Jonathan, The Independent (London, England)


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 end of the Christian 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. Cities such as Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur, Kao-hsiung, Hong Kong and Chongqing are shooting skywards at a pace that makes the great New York and Chicago building booms of 1900 to 1930 appear almost tame.

Not only are the tallest buildings soaring from the Far East, but brand new cities are also reaching for the sky there. Shenzhen, to the north f 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. Here, several skyscrapers - none of them beautiful - are rising every month as China invests massively in a Far Eastern trading empire that will make the European Union look small beer 20 years from now.

The scale of these latest skyscrapers is astonishing. The Petronas Towers, being built in Kuala Lumpur, will be the tallest construction on earth when completed in 1996. Designed by Cesar Pelli, the Argentine-born architect based in New York, these twin commercial peaks will rise to 1,475ft - some 25ft higher than the Sears Tower, in Chicago, which has held the record for the past 20 years.

The decision to go those extra 25ft was a deliberate one, encouraged by Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia's Prime Minister, who wanted to capture the record from the Americans. His is a symbolic act. Dr Mohamad wants to make the point that Malaysia is at the heart of South-east Asia's conomic miracle.

The towers rise from Kuala Lumpur like a huge cruet set. The stainless steel and glass- clad constructions are linked by a bridge at the 44th floor so that, together, they form a titanic gateway. Mr Pelli has made free use of Islamic motifs in the external design of the towers. Inside, the floor plans are based on a pattern of superimposed squares and circles symbolising unity, harmony and strength. The interiors will be dressed in local stone, timber and fabric to root the enormous salt and pepper shakers in local culture. So Mr Pelli says.

Mr Pelli is also the architect of Canary Wharf Tower, the tallest building in Britain. At 800ft it is dwarfed by its Malaysian cousins. And where Canary Wharf Tower has only gradually gained tenants, the Petronas Towers will be occupied immediately, half the floor space being taken up by Petronas, the Malaysian state oil company.

The Chinese, however, have no intention of letting the Malaysians rest on their laurels. A year after he completion of the Petronas Towers, the Chonqing Tower is expected to open in Chonqing. This 114-storey building, partly office block and partly hotel, will loom 1,500ft 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 eighth 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 Millennium Tower designed by Sir Norman Foster and Partners for Tokyo will be more than 2,600ft tall, if built. Though design has been taken to a detailed stage, it may yet prove to be a magnificent publicity stunt on the part of the Japanee. Although vast, it is quite beautiful when contrasted with the muddled profiles of the Petronas Towers, Chonqing Tower and the Sears Tower in Chicago.

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