It must not be missing from the footage from Taiwan and will not be missed by most tourists heading to the Asian island. But the once tallest building in the world, the Taipei 101 skyscraper, is not just a tourist attraction. The opening of a building with an unusual appearance and innovative technology marked an important moment in history for the local area. At that time, the whole world began to perceive the existence of the island.
From our correspondent in Taiwan – The skyscraper, formerly called the Financial Center of Taipei, was officially opened on New Year’s Eve 2004. The celebrations, which were accompanied by concerts of famous singers and fireworks launched directly from the building, were attended by thousands of visitors. The then president, Chen Shui-pen, described the building as “a symbol of Taiwan’s development and prosperity”.
“Most people welcomed the opening of the skyscraper,” recalls a Taiwanese retiree named Parker of the more than 18-year-old event. “It gave us the feeling that we are a developed country when we have the tallest skyscraper in the world,” he adds for Aktuálně.cz.
Similarly, the opening of a building whose height exceeds half a kilometer was described in the local press. “In a sense, this 509-meter, 101-story tower, which houses a department store, office space and an observation deck, represents Taiwan’s economic success and modernization drive,” wrote Taiwan’s Taipei Times in 2003.
At the time of the skyscraper’s opening, the island, like the rest of the world, was emerging from a financial crisis. The chip manufacturing industry, which Taiwan has been building since the 1970s and currently leads by a large margin, was gaining in influence. For Taiwan, the opening of the tallest building thus meant that, despite low diplomatic support, it came to the attention of the rest of the world.
“The building represents a desire to assert oneself in the world,” said Yeh Ting-fen, an architect specializing in environmental planning. “If we work hard, we can have a building that the whole world can see,” Harris Lin, president of Taipei Financial Center Corporation, which owns the skyscraper, confirmed his words.
At the moment, the whole world seems to be watching mainly from the skyscraper – at least when looking at the line in front of the ticket office on the fifth floor, from which the elevator runs to the observation deck. This year, the building was named the most popular tourist attraction in Taiwan and attracts more than one hundred thousand visitors from different corners of the world every month. In addition to Chinese, you can hear English, Korean, Japanese or Spanish.
View from Taiwan’s Taipei 101 skyscraper. | Photo: Jana Václavíková
The observation deck on the 89th floor offers a 360-degree view of the island’s capital and all its sights, or of the nearby sea, nearby mountains and national parks.
However, visitors don’t just come here to admire Taipei from a bird’s eye view, but also to shoot shots of the changing colors of the city at sunset or to take photos with special decorations behind which the city can be seen in the distance. Except for the angel wings or the flower garden, some decorations change. In autumn, for example, Halloween decorations were added.
Some visitors also come here to write views that they can drop into the world’s highest mailbox. In souvenirs, they can buy anything in the shape of a skyscraper – from a puzzle to a shaped water bottle. “I have to have this,” says the French tourist as he opens the fridge door. “Take the one with the pendant,” his friend tells him in an equally enthusiastic tone.
Souvenirs are also an attraction when visiting the skyscraper. | Photo: Jana Václavíková
Two floors up, where visitors can reach on foot, is an open outdoor observation deck. They can even look at the very top, up to the 101st floor. You can go to places where only technicians, window washers or presidents and guests of VIP parties had access for an extra fee.
The operator limits the number of visitors per day and the top floor is inaccessible in bad weather. In addition to the indoor spaces, it also offers an outdoor walkway, where people are only allowed if they are securely tied to the railing. Skyline 460, as the unconventional attraction is called, represents the highest open viewpoint in the world.
Lookout on the 101st floor of a skyscraper. | Photo: Profimedia
The tallest “bamboo” in the world
The skyscraper began to be built in the fall of 1999 according to the design of the Taiwanese architectural studio CY Lee Partners, which originally counted on only sixty-six floors. Two years later, the studio agreed to a modification under pressure from investors, which include the Taiwanese government in addition to private financial institutions.
The structure held the top spot in the ranking of the world’s tallest buildings until 2010, when it was surpassed by the nearly 830-meter-high Dubai skyscraper Burj Khalifa. This is not the only record that Taipei 101 holds or has held. The fastest elevator in the world goes to the top of the building. At a speed of 600 meters per minute, it covers the distance from the fifth to the 89th floor in just 37 seconds. The building has also been named the world’s most sustainable skyscraper.
It is also the only such tall building located in a seismically active area, due to which Taiwan experiences an average of 221 earthquakes each year. The nearest break in the lithospheric plate lies only 200 meters from the skyscraper.
In the design, the architects had to take into account frequent shocks, as well as strong winds, which come to the island up to four times a year together with a typhoon. They found inspiration in a plant that is associated with the local subtropics – bamboo. “It doesn’t look very solid, but it’s naturally elastic, it can bend, but it won’t break,” one of the skyscraper’s architects, CP Wang, described in 2008.
Taiwan skyscraper Taipei 101. | Photo: Reuters
The protruding parts of the building, resembling bamboo knees, divide the building into eight parts. In addition to aesthetics, they also have stabilizing significance. It is in these places that the pillars leading from the foundation to the top of the building with a horizontal structure are connected.
Silencer in the form of a golden ball
The structure itself is not the only element that protects a skyscraper from earthquakes and typhoons. The shock absorber also compensates for stability. It has the shape of a golden ball and is located in the middle of the building between the 88th and 92nd floors. Hanging on ninety-two steel cables with a diameter of 8.9 centimeters, the pendulum measures five and a half meters in diameter and weighs 660 tons.
Counterweights on Taiwan’s Taipei 101 skyscraper. | Photo: Jana Václavíková
From below, the movement of the weights is slowed down by shock-absorbing hydraulic shock absorbers. The whole object fulfills an important task – when the building tilts to one side due to wind or shocks, the sphere swings in the opposite direction. The result is up to 40 percent reduced movement of the skyscraper, which, according to calculations, should be able to withstand a wind speed of 216 kilometers per hour and such a strong earthquake, which comes only once every 2,500 years.
“Buildings are meant to be used by people. If they don’t feel comfortable in them, it’s not a good building,” architect Wang commented.
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The team filmed on top of the tallest building in the world, where actor Tom Cruise has also stood in the past, for about five hours. | Video: Twitter/Emirates Airline