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January 25, 2010

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Skyscape vision of flowing water, folded paper, steepled fingers

SHANGHAI'S skyscraper-saturated landscape can seem surreal. Standing like immense giants in an alien planet, the skyscrapers are one indication of the city's huge transformations in the recent past as well its orientation to the future.

Shanghai Daily looks at the inspiration and symbolism behind some of these eye-catching buildings.

Longemont Tower

Standing prominently on a curve on Yan'an Road, eternally facing the oncoming traffic, the Longemont Tower was conceived by its American designers Arquitectonica as a billboard for Shanghai.

Rather than applying superficial decoration to this canvas, the architects have molded the whole building in angular zigzags that cause it to gyrate and pulsate as it twists up 220 meters.

Built in 2005, the building required several different floor spaces for public hotel lobby, offices and smaller guest rooms and office suites at the top.

The design staggered these sizes in the form of a ziggurat, a pyramidal structure based on ancient Mesopotamian temples.

Finally they unified this changing configuration by "wrapping it in a shroud or 'dress.' The diagonal lines unify the tower as the resultant trapezoidal shapes rise in concert with the terracing profile. So the ziggurat is transformed into a more sculptural, contemporary form."

At night a fractured light line picks up the split between the two facade types and projects a beam of light into the night sky. In her book "Shanghai Architecture," Shanghai-based German architect Anne Warr describes the building as "a spectacular work of origami" rising above the surrounding low-rise former French Concession.

Ping'an Tower

Recent visitors to Pudong may have noticed an attention-grabbing development rising close to the Oriental Pearl TV Tower.

Clad entirely in 39 floors of white Roman columns for almost all its 170 meters, and topped out with a Greco Roman-style white dome, the wedding-cake building will be the new Ping'an Tower.

Eschewing the sleek glass and steel skyscraper designs in the rest of Lujiazui area, the Japanese designer Nikken Sekkei has gone boldly for a neo-classical style.

The idea was to reflect, in modern form, the classical styles of the buildings across the Bund. The design has been controversial for standing out in the futuristic business area, and had undergone several revisions in the eight years since the land was acquired.

One rejected design included a gothic cathedral-esque skyscraper that was abandoned for this ornate design with its obvious allusions to grandeur.

Haitong Tower

Built in 2003, the Haitong Securities Tower on Guangdong Road is most noticeable for its undulating walls. Designed by American architects Leo A. Daly with local partners Haipo Group, the undulations were actually a way to increase floor space in a building that had a small footprint that could not be changed.

Rising 150 meters and 36 floors, the building was originally marketed as a "Cyber Tower" and "iconic landmark to signal Shanghai's entry into the high-tech marketplace," according to its designers.

Its IT innovations are most noticeable at night when moving strips of colored lights emphasize the wave motion of the walls. This is meant to be "modern information electronic waves communicating to the outside world."

Tomorrow Square

Built in 2003, Tomorrow Square on Nanjing Road W. was the third major project in China by American firm John Portman Associates, which was the first firm of Western architects to establish a presence in the country with Portman Ritz-Carlton Shanghai in 1990.

Tomorrow Square was built more than a decade after the Portman, and the futuristic design of the building and its signature top marked the immense changes that had taken place over that period.

Boldly stretching up 60 stories and 285 meters of steel and glass, and twisting through 45 degrees on the 37th floor, the abstract, dynamic and sophisticated Tomorrow Square was for a while the tallest building in Puxi.

As the name suggests, the design brief was to create an iconic building symbolizing the city always looking forward to tomorrow. The most successful realization of this is the now-iconic top which, according to the architects, was a continuation of the building's facades skyward.

It tapers to four steel fingers pointing to the sky and holding a pearl, which is often interpreted as Shanghai itself, the city known as the Pearl of the Orient.

Interestingly the fingers never touch, reflecting never-ending optimism.


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