Hush, detractors. *=P
Looks like they had the plans upside down.
Hush, detractors. *=P
Far Eastern Economic Review
On Top of the World, for Now
In Taipei, one of the most temblor-prone places on the planet, the world's tallest building is quickly ascending into the heavens. If a big quake strikes, how will Taipei 101's structure stay standing?
By Jason Dean/TAIPEI
Issue cover-dated June 12, 2003
STANDING ONE APRIL afternoon on the partially built 71st floor of Taipei 101, which will soon become the world's tallest skyscraper, this writer was struck by a few observations. The first was just how supremely the building towers over every other inch of Taiwan's capital, save for the mountains surrounding it. The second was relief that this writer wasn't the construction worker dangling expertly out over the concrete ledge, hundreds of metres above the ground. And the third was that such a lofty altitude might not be the best spot to at which to experience Taiwan's next big earthquake.
TAIPEI 101 FACTS
• Height: 508 metres (including spire)
• Highest working floor: 439 metres
• Total cost: $1.67 billion
• Office space: 198,347 square metres
• Retail space: 77,033 square metres
• Parking space: 1,862 cars and 3,045 motorcycles
• Observation-deck elevator speed: Fastest in the world at 1,010 metres per minute, 35 seconds to the top
When construction of Taipei 101 is completed next year, it will stand more than 50 metres taller than the world's current skyscraper supreme, the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, instantly earning Taipei an unfamiliar listing among the locations of the world's great architectural and engineering wonders. Taipei 101 will reshape the Taiwan capital's skyline, and its property market. The shopping centre in its lower floors, to open this November, will house 162 shops and restaurants in 77,033 square metres, and the full 101-storey tower will open in October 2004 with 198,346 square metres of office space.
Taipei 101's reign as top global colossus will not last long. It is but one of several super skyscrapers in the works in Asia--proof that the ego-driven tall-building craze is alive and well in this region in a way that few might have imagined immediately after the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. In China, already home to the world's fourth-biggest building, the Shanghai World Financial Centre is now under construction. Its builders say it will be bigger than Taipei 101 when completed in 2007. Hong Kong and Seoul have plans to construct buildings that will contend with it.
Not to be left out, architects in Japan, have drawn up plans for X-Seed 4000, which would soar a full four kilometres into the heavens--taller than Mount Fuji. Thankfully for the world's acrophobics (this correspondent included), X-Seed 4000 has yet to make it further than the drawing board.
Not surprisingly, the developers of Taipei 101 started thinking about the safety of their structure even before the attacks in 2001 illustrated how big buildings can come down disastrously. One of the most earthquake-prone places on the planet, Taiwan is, after all, hardly the ideal place to build the world's tallest building. It is hit by countless small quakes every year, and the far rarer big ones can be devastating. A quake of magnitude 7.3 centred in the heart of the island on September 21, 1999, killed at least 2,415 people and caused more than $11.5 billion in damage.
Then there are the typhoons that pelt Taiwan several times a year, with winds reaching 180 kilometres per hour or more. It's not surprising that few buildings in Taipei at present stand more than 20-30 storeys tall. The biggest now rises just 51 storeys, or 244 metres, and it towers over its neighbours (though the southern city of Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second largest, has an 85-storey building).
So why build such a behemoth here? In fact, Taipei 101 didn't start out as the world's tallest building on paper. In 1997, the Taipei city government requested bids for a new financial centre to be constructed on a build-operate-transfer basis, meaning private companies would put up the cash in exchange for the right to collect rents for a fixed period of time. It was intended as a trophy tower, to help make Taipei a regional financial centre.
The Taipei Financial Centre Corp., a consortium of 14 businesses including the Taiwan Stock Exchange and several big financial groups, won the tender with a plan for a three-building complex with a 66-storey tower and two smaller buildings on either side. "From there," says architect C.P. Wang, "the building started growing."
Pride was its fuel. When the big-money men backing the project looked at the plans, none of them wanted to be in the smaller buildings. The head of the stock exchange and top executives at Chinatrust Financial Holding, part of Taiwan's giant Koos Group family empire, demanded space in the main tower, says Harace Lin, Taipei Financial Centre Corp.'s president. The blueprint building kept rising until it reached 101 floors, with the blessing of then-mayor, now president, Chen Shui-bian.
Despite the possible seismic risks, Taipei 101's developers, architects, and structural engineers say they are confident that they are building a super-safe skyscraper. They say the jade-green tower will be able to withstand both the wicked gales of summer storms and the kind of quake that comes once every 2,500 years. And, while no building can be completely impervious to terrorist bombs or aircraft impacts, they say Taipei 101 would bear up better in a September 11-style catastrophe than did New York's World Trade Centre.
To make it that way, the builders used a combination of cutting-edge technology, old-fashioned physics, and sheer brute force. "There's no other such building in the world at this time being built in an active seismic zone with such typhoons," says Dennis Poon, a consultant on Taipei 101 from New York-based Thornton-Tomasetti Group, one of the world's leading structural engineering firms. Thornton-Tomasetti helped design Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Towers and helped investigate the collapse of the World Trade Centre. With Taipei 101, "the owner has been very clear to us that this building has to be very safe," he says, "and I'm sure this building is well designed and has a lot of structural integrity."
Ron Klemencic, a structural engineer who heads the U.S.-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, the internationally accepted arbiter of the world's tallest high-rise trophy, agrees. He says, in fact, that skyscrapers in general are "actually about the safest place you could be" in an earthquake, and that Taipei 101's structure seems well designed to tolerate both quakes and powerful winds. He adds: "Taiwan's building codes are even more strict than those in the U.S."
STILL STANDING AFTER A QUAKE
Already, the building has been put to the test. A magnitude 6.8 earthquake in March 2002 toppled two cranes atop the structure, killing the two operators and three other construction workers and injuring about 10 others. Despite the tragedy, however, the structure itself held. "That was proof that the building works," says Thornton-Tomasetti's Poon.
So how does a building that tall stay stable? To begin with, Taipei 101's structure is different from that of many modern skyscrapers, which use variations of the so-called "tube" designs--methods the architects of Taipei 101 rejected as much for aesthetics as for safety reasons.
The World Trade Centre towers, for example, used closely spaced narrow steel columns and beams to form a giant external tube. But that design means windows must be thin (they were just 50 centimetres wide in the New York buildings). The folks in Taipei wanted grand views for their building. The Sears Tower in Chicago uses a bundled-tube structure--clusters of tubes arranged along a ticktacktoe shaped grid--but that requires a lot of structural walls throughout the building that slice up floor space. The Taipei 101 folks wanted to allow for big, open offices. Another option: the 100-storey John Hancock building in Chicago, which has a reinforced-tube structure. That might have worked, except that giant X-shaped exterior reinforcing columns are bad for feng shui--the Chinese form of geomancy that evaluates the shape and position of man-made structures in relation to their environment--so the idea was nixed.
Wang and his associates settled on a structural design whose name also conveys the project's outsized ambitions: a mega-frame. This involves eight mega-columns arranged around the building's perimeter, each one a rectangular tube encasing high-performance concrete in steel plating 50-80 millimetres thick, which makes them both sturdy and fire-resistant. These columns are connected at each floor with special "dog-bone"-shaped joints to numerous interior columns that are similarly constructed. Then, every eighth floor is used to house triangular horizontal trusses that further stabilize the structure. These vacant levels also function as fire-proofed "refuge" floors, where the building's 10,000 or so occupants could gather in the case of a disaster. "It's actually more like an 11-storey building than a 90-plus storey building," says Shaw Shieh, president of Taipei-based Evergreen Consulting Engineering, which led the structural design team on Taipei 101.
So the structure made the tower sturdy against seismic forces. But its designers still had to deal with the wind. All modern skyscrapers are built to bend a bit, but too much swaying can make people on the upper floors sick. To determine how much a building will move, designers build a scale replica and put it in a wind tunnel. With Taipei 101, the designers then decided they needed something called a tuned-mass damper, or TMD--a giant internal weight that shifts against the movement of the building. The technique has become fairly common since it was first used in New York's Citicorp Centre in 1977. But Citicorp's damper was a big concrete block hidden from sight in the building's top floors. The architects of Taipei 101 decided to make the TMD part of the interior. So visitors to the observation deck and restaurant on the upper floors will be able to see the 660-tonne gold-painted pendulum suspended from the 92nd floor.
None of which safety factors this writer understood while standing on the 71st floor. So, having learned about them, this acrophobic journalist now believes Taipei 101 stands a good chance of surviving the next big quake. But he'd still rather be somewhere else when it happens. Preferably far, far away.
Come to think of it, it does look somewhat gaudy.
Do you mean... Gaudi ?
TLOZ, c'mon !
Building the WTB in Taipei 101 is somewhat ridiculous. Accodrding to skyscrapers.com Taipei has only 90 highrise buildings. It's second tallest building is a whole 864ft shorter than the Taipei 101. I like the Taipei 101 but all of this really doesn't satisfy me. We need to build the WTB here in NYC now or small cities like these will take the attention away from NYC. Because we have great architecture but a lot of people are more interested in height. Hey, it's opening the month of my b-day
(Edited by DominicanoNYC at 8:16 pm on June 10, 2003)
Kuala Lumpur was relatively low-rise before the Petronas Towers were finished, as was Shanghai until Jin Mao came along. *I would bet that, once Taipei 101 is finished, many more tall buildings will be erected elsewhere in the city.
I would hope so because a skyline like that is so strange.
nice on/off buttons
Hey ! refrain you impulses.
Let live the new kid in town. It'll be famous one day.
the new kid in what town?
I dont care about Taipei.
I heard that Seoul just approved a 1,900-footer that will be more than twice as tall as the current tallest there.