Soaring to new heights

Shanghai Star. 2003-02-20

WERE it not for September 11, the construction of a super skyscraper wouldn't have stimulated so much attention and dispute.

Whether it is necessary to build such giant edifices as the Shanghai World Financial Centre in a big city has become a hot topic these days.

"The Shanghai government didn't discuss with us about the terrorists or ask us to limit the height, so we didn't consider lowering the height because of terrorists," said Akio Yoshimura, senior managing director with Forest Overseas Co Ltd.

Shrugging off the threat of terrorist attacks in the wake of September 11, Mori Building President Minoru Mori said the new design of the Shanghai World Financial Centre will launch a more secure era of mega-structures with many new safeguards.

However many experts are very cautious about the plan. Zheng Shiling, director at the Institute of Architecture & Urban Space at Tongji University, said, "A super high tower which can accommodate 100,000 people is really a challenge to the management of the city's safety, services and traffic."

"We chose Shanghai as the location for the high-rise instead of Japan, because Japan has frequent earthquakes, and laws on aviation and construction mean many more restrictions on high-rises than exist here in Shanghai," Akio Yoshimura said.

For high buildings, being earthquake-proof is a key problem, but for super high towers such as the Shanghai World Financial Centre, wind is an even more important issue, Zheng said.

"Every year, Shanghai suffers at least 10 typhoons which have a large impact on high buildings, so wind tunnel experiments are extremely important," Zheng said. "I don't have the results from the experiments, so I can't talk about them."

To demonstrate to the world how confident it is in the safety of the building, the design company KPF will move its office to the top of the building.

High cost

The high cost of building a super high tower is beyond question. To ensure that it is earthquake proof and fireproof, the whole structure should be made of steel, which makes its price several times higher than that of ordinary high buildings.

The cost of building the Jin Mao Tower reached almost 20,000 yuan (US$2,418) per square metre. Insiders in the field of architecture said building with a height of over 300 metres actually have no practical purpose in terms of saving space or money.

Cai Zhenyu, chief architect with Shanghai Modern Architectural Design Group Ltd, said, "To build the highest tower in the world, to me, is more about demostrating the developer's economic power than saving ground space resources. I can't say whether it is correct or not to build it."

From water, electricity and heat to automatic control systems, from communication to fire-proofing, from lights, automatic supervision and cleaning to safety measures, the daily cost of a super-high building is almost beyond imagination.

The daily cost of the Malaysia's Petronas Twin Towers is US$196,000, while for the Jin Mao Tower, currently the highest building in Shanghai, the figure is 1 million yuan (US$121,000).

Some local media used to report that because of losses made by the Jin Mao Tower, some shareholders have already sold their shares. But Jin Mao denies these sayings.

When there are losses in running such a skyscraper, the owners can be trapped. Because of the huge investment up front, no one is willing to give in. So they have no choice but to invest more money to keep it going.

The head of Shanghai World Financial Centre Investment Co Ltd disagreed with the suggestion of there being insoluble financial problems in building such a super-high building.

"I have full confidence in this project," said Akio Yoshimura when asked about a possible business crisis. "Shanghai's policy of real estate exercises some control of the total volume. And the rocketing property prices in the city shows increasing demand and a rosy future."

Capital black holes

The history of super-high buildings around the world shows that many have suffered hard times, to some extent. Super skyscrapers are known as "capital black holes" by insiders.

Construction of the now-destroyed World Trade Centre in New York started in 1966 and was completed in 1973, after total expenditures of US$1.5 billion. The world's highest building, the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, consumed US$2.94 billion.

Local critics said the completion of the buildings was the beginning of the financial crisis in Malaysia.

Examples of similar frustration also exist in China.

Foshan's 52-floor International Business Centre once seemed glorious. It was constructed from 1992 to 1996, but left its investor short of money for decoration. It finally went to auction after six years, by which time no one was interested in buying it even at the bargain-basement price of 200 million yuan (US$24.2 million).

Vices of high-rises

Among the current 10 highest buildings in the world, six are located in Asia. The trend to construct super-high towers has evidently migrated from the United States, the birthplace of the skyscraper, to Asia.

"There was once a popular trend to take the higher as the better, but that has now passed. Now the technology of building high towers makes them less challenging. But in real life, building can be too high to be suitable for people to live in. It can definitely be uncomfortable," Cai said.

The supply of oxygen is always a problem for super high towers according to the expert. The central air-conditioner can't provide enough oxygen at the top of the building. "So people with high blood pressure or weak people will feel uncomfortable on the higher floors," Cai said.

In case of a fire and electricity being cut off, it's very hard for people to escape. And Shanghai's firefighters can now only reach 50 metres high, according to a Tongji University professor.

According to the plans of the city government, there will be a total of three super high buildings, over 300 metres tall, making a triangle in the Lujiazui Area. Apart from the Jin Mao Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Tower, there is still one further building to be erected.

Experts worry that this group of super high buildings will produce huge air current which will have a deleterious impact upon nearby environment.

Buildings higher than 24 metres can be called high buildings. There are over 3,000 such high buildings now in the city.

Those over 100 metres high are super-high towers. There are already 186 such high rises in Shanghai.

"Shanghai has placed some restrictions on high buildings. It is not bad to build several super high towers in this international city, but I think in some places, the density of high-rises is not reasonable and should be restrained," Zheng said.

Copyright by Shanghai Star.