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Tower of prosperity

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The new Shanghai World Financial Center combines the world's highest observatory with contemporary office space, retail and a bird's-eye hotel experience

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A crowning addition to an inner-city skyline has important agendas to fulfil. In terms of the region's economic prosperity and also as a celebration of culture, it will become an architectural representative for the city and society it rises above.

The Shanghai World Financial Center, developed by Mori Building Company and designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, is a prominent case in point. Shanghai is often referred to as China's economic engine and given the skyscraper's stature – rising 101 floors over Shanghai – it is a flagship for the country's forward-looking economic prosperity. The tower stands at the heart of the city's Lujiazui financial district.

From a cultural perspective, too, the building presents a proud face. Chinese heritage informs the structure's unusual, curving facades. Its iconic shape was conceived by taking a square prism – the symbol used by ancient Chinese to represent the earth – and intersecting this with two oblique, sweeping arcs, representing the heavens. The interaction between these two realms carves out the lofty building's form, culminating in a square sky portal at the top. The portal lends balance to the structure and links the two opposing elements – heaven and earth. Besides creating a dramatic crown for the building, this portal relieves the enormous wind pressures on the tower.

The building's facade, structure and mechanical systems are tightly integrated in a modular system that repeats every 12 floors, facilitating the fabrication and installation of components, and reducing material waste and structural anomalies. This design efficiency enabled a floor to be constructed every four days.

Conceived as a vertical city, the centre comprises five primary functions – a retail and restaurant complex on the lower levels, a conference centre and meeting facilities on the next three floors, office space and attendant facilities over the next 70 floors, and a five-star hotel above this. The tower is crowned with a dramatic exhibition and conference space and the world's highest building observation platform.

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The retail and dining levels are contemporary and thriving, but it is the Shanghai World Financial Center's gearing towards an A-class international business environment that reflects its economic exuberance. Expansive, adaptable office floor plates suited to a variety of business models, a comprehensive media centre, high-tech conference facilities and the secure dedicated entrances to the office levels all play a part.

Office levels are divided into six zones, based on elevator banks and refuge floor locations, with nine and eleven floors allocated per zone. The lower floor of each zone provides a trading floor for high-end office users.

The 79th to 93rd floors of the tower are occupied by the 174-room Park Hyatt, with the conference and exhibition complex above this covering floors 94 to 100. From these upper reaches you can walk out across the glass-floored,100th-level Sky Walk, one of three viewing decks, to get aerial views of the financial district and winding Huangpu river far below.

At 492m high, the Shanghai World Financial Center is one of the world's tallest buildings. From its granite base to its curving glass facades, it presents a signpost for the future of Shanghai, and of China as a whole.

First published date: 21 September 2009

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Credit List

Location Shanghai World Financial Center, Shanghai
Owner Mori Building Co., Ltd.
Architects Eugene Kohn FAIA RIBA JIA – principal in charge; William Pedersen FAIA FAAR – design principal; Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates
Project architect and engineer Mori Building Co., Ltd.
Local design institute East China Architectural Design & Research Institute
Executive architect Irie Miyake Architects & Engineers
Architect of record Shanghai Modern Architecture Design Group
Contractor China State Construction Engineering Corporation, CSCEC; Shanghai Construction
Structural engineering Leslie Robertson Associates
Landscape designer Mori Building Co., Ltd.
Curtain wall engineering ALT Cladding and Design
Lighting design Motoko Ishii Lighting Design
Fire safety Rolf Jensen & Associates
Wind engineering Alan Davenport Wind Engineering Group
Geotechnical Shannon & Wilson
MEP engineer Kenchiku Setsubi Sekkei Kenkyusho
Facade maintenance Nihon Bisoh
Structure Steel-reinforced concrete; steel-framing
Base cladding Granite
Tower cladding Glass curtain wall
Awards Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat – Best Tall
Building Asia/Australasia (2008); Best International Real Estate Project, Barcelona Meeting Point Awards, 2003; Project Design Award, AIA New York Chapter, 1995 Story by Charles Moxham Photography by Tim Griffiths, courtesy Mori Building Company Diagram and plans courtesy of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates