Magazine article ROM Magazine

Modern Chinese Architecture: A Cocktail of Transcendence and Money for the New Millennium

Magazine article ROM Magazine

Modern Chinese Architecture: A Cocktail of Transcendence and Money for the New Millennium

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The tallest building I have ever slept in, Jin Mao Tower in the Pudong district of Shanghai, rises 421 metres into the smoggy sky of China's largest city, its upper half a Grand Hyatt hotel. Designed to resemble a traditional Asian pagoda, Jin Mao was at the time the third-tallest building in Asia, after Taipei 101 in neighbouring Taiwan (509 metres, also in pagoda style) and the Petronas Towers double-corncob in Kuala Lumpur (452 metres--a building I have only ever seen from an airplane on my way to Australia). Chicago's Wills Tower, formerly the Sears, flew the American flag at 442 metres.

It was 2004 and Shanghai was busy hauling itself into the 21st century with a combination of unstinting finance and political focus that defines its special form of postmodern capitalism. The height race was a runaway free-for-all. In the years since, two buildings even taller than Jin Mao have joined it in Shanghai alone, on the otherwise denuded Pudong flats, once a tangle of fishing villages and shanties.

Unfortunately for Chinese ambition, even taller buildings have been erected elsewhere, especially the astonishing Burj Khalifa (828 metres of reinforced concrete framing), in the over-leveraged fantasyland of Dubai. The Burj may be the world's biggest white elephant as well as its tallest building, a riot of cost overruns (final tally US$1.5-billion) that had to be bailed out by neighbouring Abu Dhabi and Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, who scored the honour of the building's name in a surprise last-minute switch.

This architectural race for the sky has always been a race to the bottom, of course. In 1931, when the Empire State Building opened its modest Fifth Avenue doors, its interior office spaces were mostly unoccupied and would remain so for decades. The Empire State enjoyed the world's-tallest standard for four decades, but it never made much sense as an office building. …

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