Shanghai Tower: A Crown For The City's Futuristic Skyline
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Shanghai is one of the world's most vertical cities, and this year it's becoming even more so. A new skyscraper - the world's second-tallest - is opening. It's called Shanghai Tower. It's more than 2000 feet tall, an exclamation point to Shanghai's futuristic skyline. NPR's Frank Langfitt took a tour and filed this report.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: I'm climbing the stairs around the 121st floor with architects from the U.S. firm Gensler, which designed Shanghai Tower...
...And we kind of lost our way.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I don't know. Where'd they go?
DAN WINEY: We get lost in here, we'll never find our way out.
LANGFITT: This is Dan Winey who oversees Asia-Pacific for Gensler. The building's interior is still a work in progress, so it can be a little confusing. We climb a couple more floors and catch up with the other architects. We come upon a giant steel box.
WINEY: This is an amazing piece of engineering right here.
LANGFITT: It weighs 12,000 tons and is surrounded by pistons. It's called a tuned-mass damper. Winey says it keeps the building from swaying in heavy winds.
WINEY: As the wind comes in from one side of the building, it's computerized, and it senses that movement, and then it moves the weight into the wind. And so what it does...
LANGFITT: To counterbalance?
WINEY: Yes, to counterbalance - so what it essentially does is it dampens the movement of the building.
LANGFITT: Without a damper, the top of the building could sway as much as five feet during typhoons.
WINEY: If you don't have something like this in a building of this height, you can actually get nauseous.
LANGFITT: How'd they get a 1,200-ton weight all the way up here?
WINEY: It's actually steel plates that were brought up and stacked inside this box. So they're brought up by a crane and then stacked.
LANGFITT: Shanghai Tower is so tall, only the Burj Khalifa in Dubai is taller right now. The views can be disorienting. From the observation deck, you look down hundreds of feet to another skyscraper that's taller than the empire state building. And when the air is clear, you can see a long way. Jun Xia is also an architect for Gensler.
JUN XIA: From here, I can all the way see from this direction - you can see the ocean, the sea.
LANGFITT: How far is that?
XIA: 50 kilometer.
LANGFITT: That's about 31 miles. Beyond its height, what distinguishes Shanghai tower is the architecture. As the building rises out of the city's financial district, it twists and tapers like a glass and steel geyser reaching for the sky. The structure's smooth, spiraling form also cuts the wind load. People here seem to like the way it looks. Jason Wang, who's 9, is sitting outside. He likes to draw and is sketching a nearby building. Jason arches his neck to look at Shanghai Tower.
JASON WANG: (Through interpreter) It's pretty grand and a bit futuristic. Normally, the buildings we see here are just square-shaped. This one is rounded. It's pretty creative.
LANGFITT: And inventive - Shanghai Tower is a building within a building. The interior, where offices and a hotel will be located, is a cylinder, wrapped in a skin of glass and steel which creates a series of atriums that run up the sides of the building. Back inside, we step into an atrium 12 stories tall with palm trees, granite benches and a panoramic view of the city. Xia explains.
XIA: The sky lobby basically does a couple of things. Number one, it's really - we call it - created kind of vertical urban communities where people gathering, they sharing, they can meet.
WINEY: You know, you have food service amenities. You might have cultural events. You might just have meeting places - places that people can go so they don't necessarily have to leave the building.
LANGFITT: Could you build this building in the United States?
WINEY: No. The answer is no.
LANGFITT: Why not?
WINEY: 'Cause from an economic standpoint, it would never pencil out.
LANGFITT: For instance, Dan Winey says, the building has 21 sky lobbies, mostly public space that can't be rented out to make money. Shanghai Tower Construction and Development Company, a state-owned enterprise built the structure for around $3 billion. Winey says the return on investment could be a long way off.
WINEY: Most U.S. developers - in fact, I don't think there would be any U.S. developers that would be willing to make that kind of investment.
LANGFITT: But Shanghai Tower isn't a conventional building. It's a statement - a symbol of China's economic rise. From the government's perspective, it's probably worth it. As for Shanghai Tower's reign as the world's second-tallest building - well, that won't last too long. Ping An Financial Center in the Southern Chinese city of Shenzhen will surpass it when it opens as expected next year. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Shanghai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.