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Shanghai Goes Back to Work on 101-Story Skyscraper

Times Staff Writer

Much of the planet might be wary of skyscrapers after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but ambitious Shanghai is charging ahead with plans to construct the world’s tallest building.

At 101 stories and 1,624 feet tall, the Shanghai World Financial Center would be another symbol of a metropolis whose can-do spirit and robust growth stand in contrast to jittery economies and worries about war elsewhere.

“With China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, more and more multinational companies are investing in China, investing in Shanghai,” Deputy Mayor Zhou Yupeng said Thursday as construction resumed on the building. “The Shanghai World Financial Center will add new vitality and splendor to Shanghai as it strives to become a world-class city.”

Despite this positive outlook, the grandiose plan has already had its share of setbacks. Groundbreaking for the skyscraper, which some have compared to a giant bottle opener because the design calls for a huge hole at the top, took place in 1997. But construction was halted the next year as the developer, Japan’s Mori Building Co., ran into cash-flow troubles during the Asian financial crisis.

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There also was a cultural clash over the original design. Chinese critics said the round space near the pinnacle resembled the Japanese flag, and reminded them of Japanese occupation and the long years of war and poor relations with Tokyo.

By the time terrorists crashed planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York in 2001, the thought of another mega-skyscraper seemed out of sync with the times.

But not in Shanghai, where the economy was humming and demand for office space was rising. The Japanese developer cobbled together a new team of investors and a revised plan that will make Shanghai’s tower even taller.

There is relatively little opposition here to another huge high-rise -- partly because of Asia’s physical distance from the World Trade Center site and partly because of the continent’s love of vertical monuments of modernity. The Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, currently rank as the world’s tallest buildings at 1,483 feet. They are followed by Chicago’s Sears Tower at 1,450 feet and the Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai’s new financial center at 1,381 feet.

“It’s my sense that you don’t worry about terrorism here the way you do in New York at the moment,” said A. Eugene Kohn, founder and principal of New York-based Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, which designed the structure. “Most targets are not targets because they are tall buildings, but because they are icons. The World Trade Center stands for capitalism. The Pentagon stands for the military. Just because we have a tall building in Shanghai doesn’t mean it will be targeted.”

The revised blueprint for the estimated $800-million addition to Shanghai’s skyline anticipates a mix of uses: office space, hotel rooms, retail floors, a museum and an observation deck consisting of an open-air bridge that cuts through the tower’s formerly offensive hole in the sky.

The building is expected to be completed in 2007, in time for the 2008 Summer Olympics that will be held in China.


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