Taipei 101 SKY HIGH!

Text/Richard Saunders
Photos/Albert Jou
Taipei 101

It's the first sight of note in Taipei to greet many arrivals from CKS International Airport, visible from Sun Yat-sen Freeway as far away as the satellite suburb of Wugu. In clear weather it can be seen from the hills above the town of Sansia, thirty kilometers away, and it dominates the skyline whatever one's location in Taipei City itself. It's the Taipei Financial Center, better known to the world as Taipei 101.

Taipei 101

At 508 meters (1,671 feet) it is the tallest building in the world, and the first skyscraper to break the half-kilometer mark. While there are other super-tall skyscrapers in the works that look set to take the record even higher in the future, Taipei 101 seems placed to retain the record for a couple of years yet.

Taipei 101

Officially completed on October 17, 2003, the day the sixty-meter spire was erected atop the skyscraper, Taipei 101 was five years in the making and reputedly cost 1.6 billion US dollars to build. Designed by architectural firm C.Y. Lee and Partners (Lee also designed the nearby Far Eastern Plaza building) in consultation with a fong shuei, or geomancy, master, Taipei 101 incorporates many features of symbolic significance. The structure, in the shape of a bamboo stalk, has eight 'nodes,' consisting of eight floors each ("eight" being a lucky number for the Chinese, a homonym for prosperity). Why bamboo? As Cathy Yang, assistant vice-president of Taipei Financial Center Corporation, explains," Chinese people love bamboo because it's very strong and very flexible... [It] is hollow inside. Chinese philosophy teaches us that the hollow bamboo reminds us to be modest and humble inside...." This being first and foremost a financial center, stylized replicas of ancient Chinese coins grace the four outer walls of the tower at the 26th-floor level, while protective dragons lean out from the four corners of the building at each eight-floor node.

From the Bottom

Taipei 101 actually has 106 floors (five are below ground), of which the first through fourth above-ground floors are taken up by a huge, classy shopping center (Taipei 101 Mall) packed with expensive designer-label clothing stores and luxury restaurants. On the fourth floor is a magnificent bookstore (Page One) and the chance to rest tired feet in one of several coffeeshops. Ride the escalator down to the B1 level for Taipei's biggest and finest food court, and to one of the best-stocked supermarkets in Taiwan (Jason's Marketplace), full of international food products that are hard to find elsewhere on the island.

Taipei 101

Back on 4F, take the escalator beside the entrance to Page One up to the fifth floor. On the right you'll find the ticket counter for passes to the observation deck on the 89th floor of the tower. If you come on a fine weekend day allow plenty of time, as tourist numbers are controlled and if demand is too great there could be a lengthy wait before you're allowed to pass through the airport-style metal detectors (bags can be taken in after checking) to queue up for the famous lift ride.

Taipei 101

The lifts at Taipei 101 are the longest in the world but, reaching speeds of 63 kph and making the trip in 39 seconds (the astonishingly rapid progress is shown on an LCD display mounted on the wall of each elevator car), they are also the fastest. Many tourists may feel a touch of nerves when boarding these monsters, but the ride is 'breathtakingly'smooth and quiet: active control systems eliminate vibrations while the aerodynamically engineered elevator cars minimize the noise caused by wind resistance. Engineers have even installed air-pressure control systems to prevent ear popping on the way up or down!

To the Top

Taipei 101

Arriving at the 89th-floor observation deck, exit to the right and walk clockwise around the amazingly spacious observatory (which can comfortably accommodate 1,400 people), admiring the incredible views over the entire city of Taipei and her surrounding hills, parading away tier by tier into the hazy distance. Pick up an audio-tour pack (which comes in six languages), take advantage of the powerful telescopes mounted at the four corners of the observatory, or just wander, gazing at the vast panorama. Part way round the circuit, near the coffee shop, a counter sells NT$100 tickets for the 91st-floor outdoor-viewing platform. An extra hundred dollars to climb the extra two stories (no elevator, no escalator!) might seem a little excessive, but it's a particularly memorable experience, especially to hear the unearthly howling of the wind blowing around the spire. Look down the stairwell at 89 floors of corkscrewing handrails, then climb the two floors to the highest observation platform in the world, and be thankful you don't have to climb the 2,046 steps from the first floor, as the contestants do in the annual Run-Up race to the top. The winner of the inaugural 2005 race made it in just 10 minutes and 29 seconds. Daredevil Alain Robert (also known as 'Spiderman' took four hours on Christmas Day 2004; but then the Frenchman, famous for scaling over seventy skyscrapers worldwide with nothing more than his bare hands, climbed up the outside of the building.

Taipei 101 Taipei 101

Just before completing a full circle on the 89th-floor deck and thus returning to the elevator, look for a door on the right which gives access to a much smaller interior-viewing platform looking down onto one of Taipei 101's most famous engineering wonders, the 5.5-meter-wide, 660-ton tuned mass damper (the world's largest), which protects the building from damage in the event of high winds or earthquakes. Lying near an earthquake fault, the building was constructed to withstand severe earthquakes and once-in-a-century typhoons. Hanging from the 92nd floor, the great ball (actually made from 41 staggered layers of solid steel painted gold) helps to reduce sway by forty percent. At the same time the foundations of the tower, 380 concrete piles, are each sunk 80 meters into the earth.

Taipei 101

Taipei 101 will face some pretty formidable competition in the coming years. The much delayed Shanghai World Financial Center, due for completion in 2008, is now expected to be about 60 meters shorter than Taipei 101. The planned completion the same year, however, of the awe-inspiring Barj Dubai in the United Arab Emirates will shatter all existing records, as it is rumored that it will soar to an unbelievable 2,313 feet. Until that day, however, and indeed after it, Taipei 101 will continue to enjoy the spotlight, not only for its height, but also for the fascinating symbolism of its design, the ingenious advancements in engineering incorporated and, above all, for its shape, which has already secured it a place on the short list of immediately recognizable landmarks that grace the skylines of the world's great cities.

Practical Info

Taipei 101

With the completion of the Xinyi (Sinyi) Road MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) line, slated for 2011, there'll be a subway station directly underneath Taipei 101. Until then, the nearest MRT stop is the Taipei City Hall station, on the Bannan (Blue) line. Outside Exit 2 is a stop for a free shuttle bus, with service every 15-20 minutes to Taipei 101 between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. The observation decks are open daily (except for a few days at Lunar New Year) from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets for the 89th floor are NT$350 for adults and NT$320 for children under 12, while kids under 100cm can ride for free. Tickets for the outdoor observation deck are available only on the 89th floor.