Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Shanghai World Financial Center: Amazing Architecture, a Disgruntled Dragon, and Getting a Grip

"Shanghai World Financial Center"
Kohn Pedersen Fox, Aric Chen, Architectural Record (January 3, 2008)

"Any plan to build the world's tallest building requires dodging a minefield of technical, economic, and political issues. But throw in a regional financial crisis, a global race skyward, and major, midconstruction design revisions-complicated by a symbolic motif that flared simmering national tensions-and the task seems that much harder...."

Those phrases, "symbolic motif...simmering national tensions," raise a question that the article answers - eventually. For your convenience, and because the Lemming's going to opine on what happened, here's how a seemingly-innocuous architectural feature turned into a pickle of paralogizing and pettifoggery.

First, here's the 'offensive' part of the Shanghai World Financial Center that might have set off an international incident:

"...The result is a soaring, silvery square prism, sliced at opposite corners by gently curving arcs that nearly converge at the top—an abstract confluence of the ancient Chinese representations of heaven (a circle) and earth (a square)...."

Doesn't seem too offensive, does it?

To most Americans, whether a perforated tower's hole was round, square, or something else, might not make much of a difference.

Folks in China might have seen a round hole in their new skyscraper as nice application of part of their cultural heritage. If the project's developer hadn't been Japanese. Back to the Architectural Record article:

The Strange Case of the Disgruntled Dragon

After an extensive discussion of the Shanghai World Financial Center's engineering challenges, we get back to what happened when a barbarian architect tangled with national pride, Eastern style:

"...And yet the biggest curve ball came from something seemingly innocuous: the aperture cut out from the building's summit. Serving as the project's iconic centerpiece, it was originally a circle intended to evoke a traditional Chinese moon gate and would have doubled as a gondola ride—an inside-out Ferris wheel a hundred stories in the sky. But aware of the project's Japanese developer, many Chinese saw in it Japan's rising sun, an interpretation that proved intolerable given the countries' deep, historic strains. 'It was presented by me as a moon gate with complete confidence,' recalls Pedersen, unaware of the controversy he was about to ignite...."
(Architectural Record) [emphasis by the Lemming]

The Lemming can see the point of view of the Chinese soreheads, sort of. At least as recently as WWII, some folks south of the Mason-Dixon line emphatically did not like being called "Yankees." Considering what their families had gone through, that's understandable. After the War Between the States, General Ulysses "the Butcher" Grant's efforts, and carpetbaggers: folks in the Southern states had little reason to appreciate Yankee rule.

Unlike the South, China managed to free itself from conquering armies: but the Lemming figures that some resentment toward Japan can be expected.

On the other hand: getting upset over a circle?!

There may be cultures that don't have a circle as part of their symbolic vocabulary. But "moon gate" China isn't one of them.

>>>BEWARE<<< >>>THE<<<
#>#>#>#LIZARD MEN#<#<#<#
%%%from outer space%%%!!!!
and other weirdness

Things could be worse. Someone in China might notice that their Shanghai World Financial Center's square hole is the same shape as Purina Mills's trademark: and goes a little crazy. Who knows? China may soon be demanding United Nations sanctions against the United States: for secretly putting a Yankee imperialist capitalist warmonger trademark symbol in their skyscraper.

Maybe the notion that anyone would see 'Yankee imperialism' in the Shanghai World Financial Center's architectural style is crazy.

Next thing, the Lemming will be saying that there's a conspiracy theory about the CIA blowing up New York City's World Trade Center. Oh, wait - - -.

Actually, the 'CIA plot' angle isn't the craziest idea to feature in conspiracy theories. The CIA, after all, really exists:
Or, maybe shape-shifting, space-alien, lizard-men really do run the world, and the Lemming's in on the plot!!! Use enough emotionally-charged words, write in ALL-CAPS, put the fonts in colors calculated to make your eyes hurt, sprinkle liberally with exclamation marks!!!!!!! - and the Lemming might convince someone. But why bother? And that's another topic.

World's Tallest Building - Sort of - In August, 2008

When someone calls a building "the world's tallest," they're quite likely right. Even if someone else calls the pile in their back yard "the world's tallest" building, too. It has to do with which measurement gets used to define a building's height. Back to that article, again.

"...Upon its completion last year [2008], the Shanghai World Financial Center, designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), became the world's tallest building—sort of. Though it currently claims the world's topmost roof, at 1,614 feet, and highest occupied floor, it was surpassed in total height by the 1,680-foot-high spire of Taipei 101 during construction and will be dwarfed by the 2,680-foot-tall Burj Dubai when that structure is finished later this year. But at 101 stories, the Shanghai World Financial Center still cuts through the skyline of China's financial capital like a glittering knife, a spectacular, supertall achievement that beat the odds nonetheless...."
(Architectural Record)

The Lemming hasn't heard of any building with income-producing levels farther from the ground than that megatower in the UAE. It's the "Burj Dubai" in the 2008 Architectural Record article; "Burj Khalifa" or "Burj Dubai" in 2010: and the Lemming hasn't checked to see what it's called this year. Never mind the name: it's that half-mile-high pile of metal and glass in the United Arab Emirates. Even in Dubai, the Burj-whatever stands out.

So does the Shanghai World Financial Center. For now.

A Glass Roof, Glass Floor, and Coming Attractions

Here's the final excerpt from the Architectural Record article. In this post, anyway:

"...At the bottom of the trapezoid, one deck features an operable glass roof; at the top, the second has become known for the hair-raising experience of walking on glass floors a third of a mile from the ground. 'It's really about lifting people up, not just making the world’s tallest record,' KPF senior designer David Malott says of the building.

"Which is probably a healthy attitude. After all, currently rising next door is the Gensler-designed Shanghai Tower. And if all goes as planned, it will dwarf the Shanghai World Financial Center by 400 feet when it is completed in 2014."

Given human nature, the Lemming figures that the Shanghai Tower will be someone's fault - if you listen to the right people. But the Lemming also figures that it'll be something worth looking at, too.

As with so much else, the trick is paying attention to things that make sense. And that's yet again another topic.

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