Saturday, August 30, 2008

Unveiled on Saturday

On Saturday, China's new highest building was unveiled in Shanghai. "Unveiled" is perhaps a misnomer... we've been watching the Shanghai World Financial Centre rise high above the rest of the skyline for well over a year now. It is a 101-storey, 492-metre tall monster of a building. The Park Hyatt Hotel sits on the 79th to 93rd floors of this huge building, making it the world's highest hotel. The building's top sits high above Jin Mao, formerly Shanghai's highest building, proudly obstructing the view from that beautifully artistic, well-built structure.

Before the Shanghai World Financial Centre was "unveiled" this past weekend, during the early stages of its construction, it created something of a stir. The hole at the top of the building is not in the shape originally planned for it. In the early days of the building's planning and design, the idea was to make the hole in the shape of a circle, but that idea was cut down by the local government. The circle was too close to the rising sun of Japan's flag, and the building was funded by a Japanese company.... and there is no way in the world that Shanghai wants to have the Japanese flag flying above the city. In order for plans to continue, the shape was changed to accommodate China's demands, replacing it with a more politically sensitive trapezoid. It has ended up making the building resemble an oversized bottle opener, but that is certainly better than the insensitivity of a rising sun over Shanghainese soil.

The Shanghai World Financial Centre is visible from many parts of Shanghai, often peeping out over the tops of other structures in the city. It is easily viewed from many spots within the compound of the Yu Gardens, showing its modern facade towering above the more traditional buildings that make up the complex around the city's oldest private garden. The tower is, frankly, not as attractive or well-planned as Jin Mao. For many who love the city, this makes it a bit sad to see Jin Mao "dethroned" (indeed, dwarfed) as Shanghai's tallest building. The sloppy planning of the building (its construction was delayed early on because of a lack of funding) has made it the butt of many jokes. But, one way or another, it is done now, and open to the public.

Shanghai is an ever-changing city, with new structures coming up all the time. It can be very fun to watch the buildings rising up out of the ground until they dominate the skyline. A year ago, I took some friends to the Bund, and one asked me, "What's that building?" My Shanghainese friends and I looked at one another and said, "Was that here last time we came?" Looking back at photos, we realized it was not there on our previous visits... and it had only been a matter of months since we'd last been to the Bund. The city just changes that quickly.


Some changes are easier to swallow than others. When the Oriental Pearl TV Tower was built, it was something of a laughingstock too. It stood out as a lonely eyesore on the Pudong side of the Huangpu River for several years. Since then, many buildings have grown up around it, and it has blended nicely into the skyline there, becoming a notable landmark of the city. Perhaps the new World Financial Centre will work out that same way, but somehow its early history is not looking very promising. But here it is at last, open to the public, and standing head and shoulders above all the buildings around it.



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