Shanghai World Financial Center, the third-tallest building in the world, resembles a bottle opener.
Some call it the "bottle opener" building, but the architects aimed for great serenity and grace in the chaotic Lujiazui skyline. Nancy Zhang takes a look at the world's third-tallest skyscraper Shanghai planners like things big and splendid. So they decided to build the Shanghai World Financial Center in Pudong rising to 492 meters, so far the world's third-tallest building.
For better or worse, sheer height gives buildings landmark status. And the SWFC certainly is a 101-story stunner, notable for a huge trapezoidal opening at the top (the "bottle opener") and scimitar-like curved sides.
It seems to have a shape-shifting quality. Curved and covered entirely in glass, the US$1 billion building that opened in August reflects the sky by day and the lights of Pudong by night. Architects aimed for "a great serenity," grace and elegance.
The statistics: At 492 meters, it surpasses Jin Mao Tower, now the second-tallest building in Shanghai. It has the world's highest observation deck at 474 meters, floor space of 381,600 square meters, 64 elevators and escalators. Rent is US$3 per square meter per day - the most expensive in town.
It was funded by Japanese developer Minoru Mori and took 11 years to complete. It was halted twice, once during the Asian financial crisis, and again for a redesign to make it taller.
Records come and go, and next year the Burj Dubai in the United Arab Emirates will hold the record for both occupied and unoccupied buildings - over 800 meters.
Fortunately, the architectural design of the SWFC is also a league above the rest.
The building's strongest claim to fame is its all-surpassing height. It is rich in symbolism. Its height represents the success of Shanghai's development and confidence in the future.
When it was commissioned by the Shanghai Municipal Government in 1993, the financial center was planned to be the tallest building in the world. Mori brought in veteran skyscraper architects, the American firm Kohn Pedersen Foxx. KPF designed the World Bank Headquarters in Washington, DC, the Grand Hyatt Tokyo, and Plaza 66 in Shanghai.
Despite their high-profile portfolio, KPF brings a surprisingly low-key ideology to the art of building highrises.
"Our firm is characterized by our efforts to make a building fit with its surroundings. We hope the building is not recognized as a KPF building, but as one that's right for Shanghai," says architect Eugene Kohn, one of the founders.
The building is planted in Lujiazui, which is saturated with around 80 big-budget buildings of multiple architectural styles. The 88-story Jin Mao Tower, evocative of a complicated pagoda, is right next door. KPF chose to emphasize simplicity.
"Pudong ... (is) a visually chaotic, competitive environment ... The SWFC was to be largest building, so we wanted it to have a great serenity, to be graceful and elegant rather than active," says William Pedersen, chief architect and KPF cofounder.
To the architects, height was not important. The SWFC, dramatically simple in appearance, is rich in Chinese symbolism.
The original circular opening at the top represented a traditional Chinese moon gate - a circular gate in the walls of a rectangular garden. Pedersen calls a tall building "a link between the earth and the sky, so what better place to have a moon gate than where you can see the real moon through it?"
That design didn't last long. Back in 1995 when Pedersen first pitched the design to the Lujiazui Development Corp, a judge told him cryptically: "Perhaps this building is acceptable, but certainly not desirable."
Only a month later when he read a Hong Kong magazine did he realize that the moon gate somewhat resembled the rising sun of the Japanese flag.
KPF compromised by putting a bridge across the lower half of the circular opening, then changed it to a trapezoid.
As it turned out, the trapezoid was easier and cheaper to build. It created a spectacular, glass-floored observation deck that would not have been possible with the original design.