Shanghai World Financial Centre

by Agence-France Presse, Sep 9, 2009 | Destinations: China / Shanghai

The dizziness strikes within the first steps onto the world's highest public walkway as the view of fast-changing Shanghai unfolds from more than 100 storeys up.

China's tallest building, the 492-metre (1,614-foot) Shanghai World Financial Centre, opened to the public in August 2008 with the aim of providing unparallelled views of the city.

The 1.4-billion-dollar bottle opener-shaped skyscraper, which took 14 years to build, is the latest testament to Shanghai's -- and China's -- growing financial might.

"It's like painting the iris in the eye of the dragon that ascends to heaven," said the building's owner, Japanese developer Minoru Mori.

From the top, visitors can gaze down on the Oriental Pearl television tower and the Jinmao tower -- previously Shanghai's highest.

Sliver-like barges ply the Huang Pu river while on the opposite shore, the Bund's colonial buildings -- also at one time the city's tallest -- seem pea-sized. People on the ground are specks.

Those who can bear to look straight down at the base of the tower in the Pudong area can see it is ringed by cranes on more than a half dozen building sites out of which more megatowers will sprout.

"Ten years ago there was nothing around in this area," said Mori. "What human beings can achieve and how a city can truly transform itself in 10 years is truly amazing. The pace of change is going even faster here in Shanghai."

Through sections of glass floor, visitors can look through the skyscraper's distinct 30-meter (100-foot) wide trapezoidal opening, which reduces the wind pressure, a risk greater than earthquakes for a building this height.

Instead of resisting the wind, the building lets it pass through, said David Malott, the tower's lead designer for US architects Kohn Pedersen Fox.

The building is also home to the world's highest hotel, a Park Hyatt occupying floors 79 to 93. The hotel posed design challenges for architects because the building can sway up to one metre in high winds. This is almost unnoticeable when standing, but when lying on a bed it becomes apparent.

To counter the sensation, there are two 150-tonne computer-controlled counterweights on the 90th floor. There are springs below the hotel's pool so that water doesn't spill over the edges when the building sways.

Another feature is an elevator specially designed to carry cars up the building vertically to a showroom in the sky.

Originally architects had planned a Ferris wheel that would revolve around the edge of the wind gate, he said, but planning officials vetoed the proposal.

Visitors can now make a similar journey around the opening, but on foot at their own pace.

"The point with this building has always been how do you get people to the very top," Malott said. "We always wanted to get people up as high as they can go."

For most, any dizziness disappears within seconds. Then visitors feel like they are in a bright hall with vistas of the sprawling city of 18.6 million.

The Ferris wheel design was also controversial because it had a circular opening. The US architects called it a moon gate that would frame the Oriental Pearl's pink spheres, establishing a relationship between the two buildings.

But some Shanghai residents feared it was an attempt by Mori to embed the Japanese flag into the skyline, and the debate reopened wounds from Japan's brutal World War II occupation of the city.

Mori changed the design. But the controversy was only one of the problems he had to overcome to complete the enormous project.

He began the building in 1994 with a 30-percent stake but had to buy out his partners as they fled during the Asian financial crisis in 1997. His current stake is 70 percent.

The tower currently has 45 percent occupancy, and Mori expects it to be 90 percent full within a year. He thinks that his company can recoup its investment within 12 years.

Banks including Japan's Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp., France's BNP Paribas and Germany's Commerzbank have already signed on as tenants.

The Asian crisis stopped construction for five years. As other other crises -- the September 11 attacks, the outbreak of SARS in 2003 -- battered the optimism about Shanghai's future.

Mori, however, said his faith never wavered -- even during the current global economic slowdown.

"Shanghai has just started its true development into transforming itself into a world financial centre," Mori said. "I don't see any possibility of it shrinking."

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The world's highest sightseeing hall

The world's highest sightseeing hall is located on the 100th floor of China's tallest skyscraper, the Shanghai World Financial Centre.

The hall is 474 metres (1,555 feet) above the ground.

Sightseers who want a bird's eye view of the city will have to pay 150 yuan (22 dollars) each for the experience.

The building, finished in 2008 has 101 floors for a total height of 492 metres, making it the tallest in China.

As well as the observation deck, the building also has a luxury hotel (the Park Hyatt), shops and 70 floors of office space.

Until now, the highest similar venue has been the Sky Pod of the CN Tower in Toronto, at 447 metres high.

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