Tall buildings have been an ambition of cultures throughout time. The 479-foot Great Pyramid of Giza, built around 2,500 BC, held the record for height until the British built the 525-foot Lincoln Cathedral in the early 12th century. The United States led the push to develop modern steel-and-glass sky scrapers throughout the most of the 20th century. During the first decade of the 21st century, Asia and the Middle East have used their power-house economies to construct the tallest buildings in the world.
At 2,716 feet, or 163 floors, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the tallest building in the world. Designed by the Chicago-based firm, Skidmore, Ownings & Merrill, the Burj Khalifa has a Y-shaped footprint inspired by the petals of the hymenocallis flower. The three wings are constructed around a central core that rises from the top of the building. Those design elements stabilize the Burj Khalifa and give it the strength needed to withstand the desert winds.
The centerpiece of downtown Dubai, the Burj Khalifa’s first 38 floors are luxury suites and residences managed by the Hotel Armani. Private luxury residences and corporate offices fill the rest of the floors with the exception of levels 122 and 124 which are used for a restaurant and an public observatory. The Burj Khalifa is home to the world’s highest mosque which is located on the building 158th floor.
Abraj Al-Bait Towers
The second tallest building in the world, Saudi Arabia’s Abraj Al-Bait Towers, is also the largest in terms to square footage. A complex of buildings set around the 1,972- foot central structure with a massive clock tower, Abraj Al-Bait covers more than 16 million square feet. Built by the Binladin Group in the heart of Mecca yards away from the city’s huge, central mosque, the project was designed by the London-based firm, Dar Al-Handasah. The clock tower, the centerpiece of Abraj Al-Bait, is the tallest in the world and is inspired by London’s Big Ben.
Construction of the Abraj Al-Bait Towers, scheduled to be completed in 2012, has been troubled from the start. To make space for the towers, the Saudi Arabian government razed the Ajyad Fortress, an 18th century citadel constructed to protect the Kaaba, Islam’s most sacred site. Critics around the world condemned that decision. A 2008 fire destroyed nine floors of one of the buildings. A second fire the following year destroyed part of the complex then under construction.
Architect C.Y. Lee originally designed Taipei’s World Financial Center as a 66-story, steel and glass pagoda-style building that would symbolize the city’s growing economic clout. But after breaking ground in 1998, the owners, the Taipei Financial Center Corporation, decided to increase the building’s height to 1,667 feet. Construction stalled as the project was redesigned to meet restrictions imposed by the nearby municipal airport. The project faced more delays when an earthquake hit the city in the spring of 2002 and two large cranes fell from the 56th floor killing five workers. When the building finally opened on New Year’s Eve, 2003, fireworks lit up the sky around the 101-floor building now known as Taipei 101.
Topped by eight sections, each with eight floors, Taipei 101 reflects the Chinese belief that the number eight symbolizes luck and prosperity. A fung shui master worked with the design team on the placement of fountains and other details to create a sense of balance and flow between elements of the structure.
Shanghai World Financial Center
The most unique detail of the 1,614-foot Shanghai World Financial Center is the trapezoid opening at the top. Architects Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates originally designed a circular opening more than 150-feet in diameter, to reduce wind stress, but Shanghai residents felt the circular shape was too close to the Japanese flag. And design issues were not the only problem for the building. Soon after Mori Building Corporation laid the foundation in 1997, the Asian financial crisis hit and shut down construction for six years.
Work started back up in 2003 and the ribbon was cut in August, 2008. The 101-story mixed-use building includes a hotel, museum, conference rooms, shops, office space and observatory decks. The Council on Tall Building and Urban Habitats named the Shanghai World Financial Center the best tall building of 2008.
The Petronas Towers
The 1,483-foot Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, were the tallest building in the world until 2003 when Taipei 101 claimed that distinction. They are still the world’s tallest twin towers. The 88-story buildings are connected by a two-story skybridge on the 41st and 42 floors. Argentine architect Cesar Pelli designed the buildings which are constructed primarily of reinforced concrete with a steel and glass exterior. Tower 1 was built by the Hazama Corporation while Tower 2 was built by Samsung Engineering. Both towers were completed in 1998.
Tower 1 is occupied by Petronas, Malaysia’s government-owned oil and gas company. A number of international tenants have offices on Tower 2. The first six floors of the towers are home to Suria KLCC, a high-end shopping complex which also includes a science museum, aquarium and concert hall.
The Greenland Financial Center
Nanjing’s Greenland Financial Center, now called the Zifeng Tower, opened its doors to the public in 2010. Architect Adrian Smith of Skidmore, Ownings & Merrill designed the 1,476-foot building on a triangular-shaped footprint to provide panoramic views of the nearby Yangtze River, Purple Mountain and Nanjing’s historic downtown neighborhood. The mixed-use building includes offices, a 500-room hotel and retail space in the lower sections.
The glass and steel exterior is divided into two interlocking forms that suggest the traditional Chinese motif of dancing dragons. According to the architects, the separation of the forms, or the building’s “stepping” is functional and reflects the different uses of the interior spaces.
The Willis Tower
Chicago’s Willis Tower, known as the Sears Tower, was the tallest building in the world when it was completed in 1973. It held that record for nearly 25 years. International retailer Sears, Roebuck & Co. hired Skidmore, Owning & Merrill in 1969 to design a building where the company could consolidate it huge workforce. Architect Bruce Graham designed a building that was a collection of nine towers or tubes built to four different heights. The tallest sections of the Willis Tower are 1,452 feet high and have 108 stories.
In 1994, Sears sold the building. The tower has since changed hands several times. In 2004, a New York investor bought the Sears Tower for $840 million.The London-based Willis Group leased a portion of the building in 2009 and acquired the naming rights. In July, 2009 the building name was officially changed to the Willis Tower.
International Finance Center
Construction began on the International Finance Center in Guangzhou, China late in 2005. Designed by the London-based firm Wilkinson Eyre and developed by the Yue Xiu Group, the 1,444-foot super tower is a triangular shaped building with diagonal supports. The smooth, curved dark blue façade of this 103-story building is unique among Asia’s super towers.
Completed in 2010, shops and offices are located on the first 66 floors of the International Finance Center. A Four Season hotel occupies the upper levels with a lobby on the 70th floor. Also known as the “West Tower” a sister building of similar design, but taller, is under construction.
Jin Mao building
Completed in 1999, the Jin Mao building in Shanghai was the last skyscraper of the 20th century. Designed by Skidmore Owings & Merrill, the 1,380-foot tower was the first super-tall building in China and architects worked closely with local officials to create a set of building codes for super structures. Like other Asian towers, the Jin Mao building incorporates the number 8 into the basic design. The 88-story pagoda-style building is tapered and sections are reduced by one-eighth of the base as the tower rises.
Constructed by the Jian Gong Group, the first Chinese company to take on this large a challenge, the Jin Mao building set the standard for other towers in China. Retailers lease the lower levels for shops. Businesses have the mid-level floors and the top 38 floors are occupied by the Grand Hyatt.
International Finance Center
Hong Kong’s International Finance Center, known as the IFC, is waterfront complex with two towers. The second tower, IFC2, is an 88-story building and at 1,361 feet, it is the tenth tallest building in the world. Designed by Cesar Pelli, the IFC was developed by a consortium that includes Sun Hung Kai Properties, Henderson Land and Towngas. Construction began in 2000 and took three years to complete. Financial analysts predicted the IFC2 would send commercial lease rates tumbling as owners tried to find tenants for the tower. However, the IFC2 managed to fill its offices. In 2003, a 50-story advertising banner was hung on the building’s blue glass exterior.
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