Taiwan On Top
Designed by C.Y. Lee and Partners, architects of many tall buildings in Taiwan and China, the Taipei 101 Tower is immense, with 101 floor levels above ground. Its perceived size has been increased by its "pagoda-style" design. From ground level, the viewer's eye is drawn up the first section of the building but then back out from the second section upwards, thus exaggerating the building's apparent size.
With a form composed to balance international design with local cultural traditions, the 101 Tower has eight sections (a Chinese number that signifies prosperity and confidence) and also resembles an unfolding bamboo shoot (an auspicious Chinese plant). It dominates the Hsinyi district, the only part of Taipei formed to a master plan.
Structured by Modern Methods
The composite steel/ concrete structure is an impressive feat of engineering. The building not only has to support its own colossal weight but must also withstand typhoons and earthquakes. The subtropical humidity brings clouds that cloak the top of the structure during much of the relatively cool winter.
Built on a site just 650 feet (200 meters) from a fault line, the 101 Tower has been structured with pioneering features. An 800-ton (725,000-kilogram), 18-foot- (5.5-meter-) diameter sphere on the 88th floor is part of a tuned mass dampening (TMD) system. The primary structure is flexible to withstand earthquakes, and the sphere hangs like a pendulum that swings to counteract the movement created in the flexible structure by high winds, thus dampening the resonance in the building and providing stabilization.
The hanging ball of the TMD also forms a tourist attraction in the observatory at the top of the building, which offers spectacular views of the city. One million visitors a year are expected to visit the "Topview Taipei" observatory, reachable by the world's fastest elevator that goes from the ground floor to the 1150-foot- (352-meter-) high viewing area in just 37 seconds. The fastest elevators in the tower travel at 55 feet (17 meters) per second.
The tower's structure is a steel box frame, toward the center of which are 16 steel plate columns, each filled with concrete up to the 62nd floor for added strength. Close to each of the four exterior walls, up to the 26th floor, are two "super-columns," two "sub-super-columns," and two corner columns. The super- and sub-super-columns are filled with reinforced 10,000-psi concrete.
The architects are confident that this structural solidity will not compromise floor layout flexibility. At the top of the building, for example, where the floor plan is much smaller, the loading transfers directly to the core columns, thus providing support while allowing for column-free interior planning.
Constructed with Great Courage
Erecting the building was not easy. It required lifting thousands of tons of steel and concrete into the sky. An earthquake during construction in March 2002 caused a crane to fall, killing several construction workers. The contractors also had to deal with demanding construction directives due to the 101 Tower's proximity to Sungshan Airport. Concern about conflicts with flight paths threatened to limit the height when proposals were issued to increase the original 60-story scheme.
Integral to the tower's composition are the observation decks and restaurant spaces on floors 86 and 88. The intention is to provide tourists and locals with a striking impression of Taipei and with views to the mountains, the Keelung River, and the South China Sea to the north, which will enhance their understanding of the Taipei Basin.
Although this may be the intention of President Chen-Shui Bian, a keen advocate of promoting Taiwan's identity in many different ways, the tower may disappoint in practical terms because the clouds frequently conceal both the tower and the views from it.
Now, in early 2005, most of the office space is empty but expected to be leased soon. However, the bottom five levels are occupied and busy. The 101 Mall has already established itself as Taiwan's premier shopping venue. With almost 800,000 square feet (74,000 square meters) of retail space for 160 plus shops and 12 restaurants, the mall is expected to help establish Taipei as a luxury shopper's paradise to rival any other city in Asia.
While the shops will attract the consumer-happy Taiwanese, the mall is really conceived to attract foreign visitors. Its spacious plan is dominated by a piazza, "Taipei City Square 101," with a floor pattern resembling the oval pattern in the Baroque Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome. From here are grand views around the rest of the mall and up 150 feet (45 meters) to a glass roof that presents striking views up the side of the tower.
The completion of the 101 Tower scheme must be viewed as a major achievement for Taiwan and evidence that it can compete economically and culturally on the world stage. Many Taiwanese are proud of what the 101 Tower represents even if high prices keep the designer shops off limits to them. They believe that the ability to build forever upwards expresses an ideal and demonstrates a willingness to invest in architecture.
In Taiwan, such investment appears likely to continue in other dramatic design forms. If the proposed Taichung City Hall by Frank Gehry and Guggenheim Museum by Zaha Hadid are built in Taichung, the island of Taiwan will continue to capture the world's attention.
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Dr. Ian Morley is Assistant Professor of Urban & Architectural History at Ming Chuan University in Taipei and author of numerous papers on urbanism and civic design. He currently is composing a book to be published by Edwin Mellen Press on examples of late-Victorian and Edwardian civic design and the building of cities in Britain.