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October 16, 2009

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'Bottle opener' skyscraper the latest jewel in the crown

SHANGHAI'S "bottle opener" skyscraper, the city's tallest building, is the third-tallest in the world, but by time this is published another may take its place, as records are made to be broken.

The Shanghai World Financial Center rises 101 floors above Pudong's Lujiazui financial zone and stands 492 meters high. The trapezoidal opening at the top gives it the name "bottle opener."

The world's tallest building (in October 2009) is Burj Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, standing 818 meters with a mast or tower; the next tallest is Taipel 101, standing 509 meters, with a mast. The Shanghai building doesn't have a mast.

The city's newest and tallest landmark offers three observation decks, the highest at 474 meters at the bottom of the trapezoid. When it opened in 2008, it was the highest such deck in the world.

Curved and covered entirely in glass, the US$1 billion building opened in August 2008, reflecting the sky by day and the lights of Pudong New Area by night.

The multifunctional "bottle opener" is the second of three skyscrapers envisioned for the area, including the Jin Mao Tower, now the second-tallest in Shanghai.

It covers 381,600 square meters, has 64 elevators and escalators, 70 floors dedicated to offices, 14 to hotel space, and the rest to entertainment and observation decks.

Even on an foggy day, when standing on the world's highest observation deck, visitors feel they are standing in the clouds half a kilometer above the city.

The building was funded by Japanese developer Minoru Mori and took 14 years to complete. It was halted twice, once during the Asian financial crisis, and again for a redesign to make it taller.

Also known as the Mori Building when it was first envisioned by the Japanese Mori Group, the building originally was to have 97 floors, surpassing the Petronas Towers in Malaysia.

Mori brought in veteran skyscraper architects, the American firm Kohn Pedersen Foxx. The company designed the World Bank Headquarters in Washington, DC, the Grand Hyatt Tokyo, and Plaza 66 on Shanghai's Nanjing Road W.

Construction was halted when the Asian financial crisis hit in 1997, but it resumed in 2003.

Another problem arose. The original design called for a circular opening, like a moon gate, at the top of the tower, not a trapezoid. In 2005 there were complaints that the circular opening might suggest the Japanese rising sun emblem, and architects went back to the drawing board to come up with the bottle opener.

Tenants include top Japanese financial companies, such as Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp and Mizuho Corporate Banking Corp as well as BNP Paribas of France and Germany's Commerzbank AG.

The building is also rich in symbolism, representing the success of Shanghai's development and confidence in the future.

The observation decks for the Shanghai World Financial Center have their its own entrance on the ground level and to the side of the actual skyscraper. A ticket costing 150 yuan (US$22), lets visitors enter the 94th-story Sky Arena, the 97th-floor Sky Walk and finally the 100th-floor observation deck, Sky Walk 100.

Those who only want to visit the lowest deck pay 50 yuan less.

A light show is featured.

On entering, visitors can watch a pre-show that features cartoon characters flitting across a spinning, glowing replica of the building to the sound of ambient electronic music. It was designed by artist Toshio Iwai, known for his work on Electroplankton, a Nintendo DS game involving similar characters.

After the pre-show, visitors take the first elevator and another light show is projected on four screens and the ceiling. The music speeds up.

It takes a good minute before the lift finally reaches the Sky Arena on the 94th floor, the lowest of three observation decks. The area is like a lounge, with high ceilings and spectacular views. A bar at one end serves refreshments; souvenirs are also sold.

Crossing the area, visitors can take the escalator to the 97th floor, the Sky Walk, the second viewing area, a long walkway painted white. The area is dazzling and looking upward through the glass. Visitors can see the final destination, Sky Walk 100, at 474 meters, the ultimate observation deck.

One last elevator takes visitors three more levels up. Unlike the lower deck mainly decorated in white, the highest deck is filled with mirrors. Wherever one looks, the skyline is reflected.

From here visitors can appreciate the two other Shanghai giants, the 468-meter Oriental Pearl TV Tower and the 421-meter Jin Mao Tower.

From Sky Walk 100 visitors can stand on glass flooring and look at other tourists below on the 97the floor, the Sky Arena. It's a bit scary, but each glass floor can withstand the weight of three 78.5-kilogram viewers jumping up and down.

Given its height, the building does sway in heavy weather. To counteract the movement, two, 150-ton counterweights, or dampers, are suspended on the 90th floor. They move with and against the wind and can reduce movement by up to 40 percent, even during typhoon conditions.

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