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Who's the tallest of them all?

August 04, 2007 17:12 IST

It won't be finished before next year, but Burj Dubai is already 1,680 ft high (141 floors), nudging out Taipei 101 (1,666 ft) as the world's tallest building. It looks like it's going to remain ensconced in that position for some time, and the Koreans are surely biting their nails.

At its full height  --  2,296 ft, 161 floors  --  Burj Dubai will dwarf the 1,902 ft International Business Centre in Seoul, also scheduled for completion next year, and three other upcoming Korean giants: Incheon Tower (likely 2,012 ft), Lotte Super Tower (1,820 ft) and Lotte World II (1,680 ft).

But Burj Dubai, a $1.4 billion hotel-office-penthouse apartment complex being developed by Dubai's Emaar Properties, may not remain crowned for too long. There's Al Burj coming up 25 miles away on the Dubai waterfront, and although its promoters, Nakheel, have hinted they won't build higher than Burj Dubai, who knows? Its actual height remains a secret, but rumours said earlier the developers were aiming at a tower 200 floors high, with completion set for 2010. And Kuwait City proposes to build a tower, called Burj Mubarak al-Kabir, rising to a staggering height of 3,284 ft and spanning all of 250 floors.

The Burj mania shows no sign of abating and won't, as long it remains a question of brand pride for nations as they become affluent. South Koreans didn't like being stung by Taipei 101 and seem to be building with a vengeance. The Incheon Tower  --  actually two towers shaped like upright knife cutters and linked by three sky bridges at various levels  --  will comprise 151 floors and rise above a $25 billion manmade island, called New Songdo City, that the Koreans are building as a free economic zone next to the new Incheon International Airport. Lotte Super Tower will rise 112 floors above Lotte's huge retail and entertainment complex in Seoul. Lotte World II will be a mixed-use facility, 107 floors tall, in Busan, Korea's bustling economic hub to the south that's now linked with Seoul by bullet trains.

China isn't falling behind either. This September, the much-awaited Shanghai World Financial Centre in Pudong will be fully ready for business. Promoted by the Japanese real estate tycoon Minoru Mori, this 1,614 ft, 101-floor facility would have been an early contender for the World's Tallest title had the project not been delayed by his group's serious cash-flow problems in the late 1990s. The $1.1 billion building stands next to another super tall tower, the Jin Mao, which even two years ago was the fifth tallest in the world.

There are plans for a 150-storey financial centre in Chongqing, a likely 140-storey tower in Beijing's city centre, and a 108-storey tower in Nanjing to be called the 'Hand of Peace.' In Hong Kong, Union Square Phase 7, the 1,555 ft Mass Transit Railway tower comprising 108 office and residential floors, will be ready by 2010. One architectural firm alone  --  Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the designers of Burj Dubai as well as the Freedom Tower in New York City that will replace the former World Trade Centre twin towers destroyed in the September 11, 2001 terror attack  --  is building more than 15 super tall skyscrapers in China.

Will India be the next to be caught in the frenzy of super tall construction? That's what many people believe since there seems to be a connection between building high and rising affluence levels of a nation's economy. But maybe one needs to pause and ponder. It isn't really necessary to build big to impress, as the man who started it all in Asia says.

It was I M Pei's 1989 Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong's Central district, a stunning 72-storey structure of glass and steel, that set bells ringing across the region and was quickly followed by such super talls as the Central Plaza in Hong Kong, the CITIC Plaza in Guangzhou, the Jin Mao in Shanghai and the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur.

The 90-year-old Chinese American, one of the world's most respected architects, believes it's the vision behind a building and the concept behind its execution that matter most and determine its greatness. Currently under construction in New York City is a 17-storey condominium he has designed that looks like a gentle "cascade of stones." And opening later this year in Doha, Qatar, is a Museum of Islamic Art, where Pei has reduced form to its simplest nature, creating a majestic pile of geometric shapes highlighted by the sun. Fatehpur Sikri was one of the places Pei had visited before he finalised his design.

The point he makes is particularly relevant for countries like India where urban architecture has little meaning. It's necessary to create first a wide spread of beautiful small buildings where skyscrapers won't look like misplaced, ill-conceived monstrosities.

Barun Roy