Friday, December 31, 2004As last week's Asian tsunami disaster continues to dominate headlines across the planet, it would be easy to miss this positive bit of news from the Eastern hemisphere: today marks the official opening of the skyscraper known as Taipei 101, at 580m* tall the official new Tallest Building in the World - surpassing Kuala Lumpur's twin Petronas Towers, now ranked #2.
With distinctive jade-green windows and a profile designed to suggest the resilient, versatile bamboo stalk, Taipei 101 (the tower has 101 floors) dwarfs neighboring structures in a startling fashion (see image at left, from BBC News online) - notice the number of floors in the next-largest building, and the massive scale of the giant tower becomes quite clear. But, after 9/11 (and now, "12/26") Taipei 101's status and geographic location have given many cause for concern: will the tower become a new terrorist target, or be at risk of collapsing in a major earthquake?
NPR's Melissa Block spoke with structural engineering consultant Dennis Poon of the Thornton-Tomasetti Group about Taipei 101's unusual architectural features, like its massive sphere-shaped internal tuned mass damper:
Block: "[I]t's a 650-ton sphere, pretty high up in the tower; describe what it looks like and what it's meant to do.Which may not matter in the long run; according to the Taipei 101 official site, building size bears somewhat different meaning in the East and West:
Poon: The tuned mass damper is located one meter above the 88th floor, which is the restaurant and sky observation tower. It consists of steel plates, stacked together to form a spherical shape, and it behaves like a pendulum hung from the 92nd floor. If the building is swinging, say to the left, this damper will be activated to swing to the opposite direction, to counteract the sway of the building.
Block: Mr. Poon, given the attacks of 9/11, and fears that towers are now a target for airplanes, leasing office space in Taipei 101 has been a bit problematic. Did you do simulations to see how the building would stand up if it were hit by a plane?
Poon: We did a lot of analysis together with local engineers to make sure the building has a lot of redundancy and robustness. This building has been designed in a very thoughtful way, to take into consideration many scenarios.
Block: I wonder, when you stand at the base of this building, in Taipei, you look up, as a structural engineer; what do you see?
Poon: I feel very proud of humankind, [that] we can still pull out resources and power together to overcome all sorts of obstacles and psychological fear about...accepting these challenges. I think many people, after 9/11, they are afraid of high-rise buildings. Actually, nowadays, I feel that high-rise buildings are much safer than low-rise buildings..."
Designing the 101-story building in the earthquake- and typhoon-prone region presented quite a challenge. Engineers had to account for the fact that the tower stands about 650 feet from a major fault line, and that it will face winds of 100 mph.
Still, Taipei 101 won't hold the title of world's tallest skyscraper for long. Buildings in Shanghai and Dubai are expected to surpass it, as will the Freedom Tower in New York -- on the World Trade Center site -- which is scheduled for completion in 2009.
In the West, a tall building demands respect and attention from the spectators. To the Asians, it symbolizes a broader understanding and anticipation of things to come: we "climb" in order to "see further".MORE: Taipei 101 (Taipei Financial Center) Official Website
NEW: There's a beautiful photo of the buidling on the cover of this PDF article at TechnologyReview.com, "The World's Tallest Building - For Now" [PDF]
NEW: With a speed of over 1 kilometer/minute, Taipei 101 also boasts the World's Fastest Elevator [Elevator World.com]
NEW: Some more Taipei 101 facts and drawings on SkyscraperPage.com
The World Federation of Great Towers
How the Taipei 101 tower was constructed [KTRT.com]
Listen: NPR interview with Taipei 101 structural engineer Dennis Poon [Realplayer or Windows Media Player required]
* NPR lists the tower's height as 1,666 feet, Infoplease cites the height as 509 meters or 1,670 feet.