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Skyscrapers

by Antonino Terranova

Barnes & Noble, Inc., by arrangement with White Star S.r.l., 2003, 310 pages, $14.95

Top of Jin Mao Tower

Detail of top of Jin Mao Tower, district of Pudong, Shanghai, by Adrian Smith of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, 1998, photograph P. Beckers-Skyscraper Picture Collection

By Carter B. Horsley

This large book profiles 44 skyscrapers with sumptuous color photographs that make its $14.95 price the bargain of this millennium.

Although the front and back covers are illustrated with New York City towers - the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings, respectively - many of the skyscrapers in the book are outside the United States, and while many have been documented before the photographs are dazzling and include various views and some interiors.

With the controversy over the rebuilding of the World Trade Center that was demolished in terrorist attacks in Lower Manhattan September 11, 2001 still brewing, this book is timely for it provides a fine introduction to the current state-of-the-art of skyscraper style and construction and especially because many of its photographs show the towers in their urban context.

While this is not the definitive book on skyscrapers, it is fabulous and should be in the library of all lovers of architecture.

Two recent skyscrapers stand out from the pack: the Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai's Pudong district, and the Burj Al Arab at the Jumeirah Beach Resort in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai

Jin Mao Tower, photograph provided by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP

The Jin Mao Tower was designed by Adrian D. Smith of Skidmore Owings & Merrill. (David Smith of the same firm is collaborating with David Libeskind on the proposed Freedom Tower at the site of the former World Trade Center in New York.) The 88-story, 1,381-foot-high tower was completed in 1998. The lower 50 floors are for office and they are topped by 6 floors of shopes and the rest is occupied by a luxury hotel with a very large circular atrium.

The Jin Mao Tower has an extraordinarily complex and very beautiful facade that resembles a glittering, telescoped pagoda. While its proportions are not perfect as it many setbacks are not equally spaced vertically and rise in descending order, resulting in a fairly bulky base, the detailing is so magnificent that proportion be damned. The facade narrows as it rises because of the setbacks but near the top it begins to flair outward and the building is topped with a geometrically abstract blooming flower and spire. The design, particularly at the top, makes a mockery of any fancy diamond-cutter: this is the crown jewel of skyscrapers. While its multi-faceted facades owe something to the great top of the Chrysler Building, they are not limited to the top and the glass and grillwork create an intricate texture whose shiny brightness updates the pagoda with great elan.

Burj Al Arab, Dubai

Burj Al Arab at the Jumeirah Beach Resort in Dubai, designed by Jonathan Speirs of W. S. Atkins & Partners for His Royal Highness Sheikh Mohammed, 1999

The Burj Al Arab at the Jumeirah Beach Resort in Dubai, United Arab Emirates is without question the most flamboyant skyscraper design since World War II. The 1,053-foot-high, 220-suite structure rises from a small artificial island in the Persian Gulf and is connected by a causeway to the shore where there is also a much smaller but still impressive resort building that Antonino Terranova, the author of this book, maintains is "in the original form of a wave."

Mr. Terranova provides the following commentary:

"The Burj Al Arab is the tallest building with a membrane structure, the tallest hotel in the world, and the only hotel to have been awarded seven stars. It contains an atrium that, at a height of 591 feet, is the highest in the world. This building was designed to break every record and for its construction to be an international event. It appears in modern iconography alongside the Eiffel Tower; the Statue of Liberty, the Sphinx, and London Bridge in a fantastic panorama of the new 'wonders of the world.' In other words, it is already recognized worldwide. None of its features pass unobserved, beginning with its sailboat shape. Purposely situated on an artificial island 920 feet from the coast and connected to it by a road it preserves the privacy of its guests...."

Presumably the hotel at the Jin Mao Tower is higher although of course it is part of a mixed-use tower. Mr. Terranova does not indicate in his text who awarded the Burj Al Arab "seven stars" and for what, and presumably he meant to cite the Tower Bridge in London rather than the London Bridge. While Mr. Terranova says the island is 920 feet from the coast, a caption stated 919 feet. Mr. Terranova, sadly, is not a great writer.

hotel helipad

Underside of hotel's helipad which projects over the top of the facade that faces inland, photograph R. Moghrabi-STF/AFP/De Bellis

Mr. Terranova notes that "there is also a circular heliport, set apart from the structure, and a restaurant, which is also suspended in the air 656 feet above sea level and reached by an external express, panoramic elevator....The hotel does not have rooms but two-floor suites...At the center of the building, there is a large empty space - a well of light - 54 stories high onto which the suites face. This too is richly decorated and luxurious, perhaps overly so (it has been compared to Las Vegas), and attempts to create a sequence of extraordinary settings through a huge stairway, a colonnade consisted of giant columns tapered both at the top and bottom, and interwining and overlaid archways that evoke motifs typical of Islamic culture."

The hotel's Al Mahara Seafood Restaurant is underwater and, a caption maintains, "is reachable via a short trip aboard a small submarine that departs from the lobby" of the hotel.

hotel lobby

Detail of hotel's lobby

The book's chapter on the Burj Al Arab contains 18 color photographs that capture the very colorful interiors as well as detail the heliport that projects out over the structure's teflon-fiber membrane facade that faces inland. Two curved pylons meet a third pylon, which is straight and vertical and a large space near the top is not filled in with suites but left open, beneath the tower's spire. The effect of the design is a billowing, dramatic, high-tech sailboat. Mr. Terranova is to be commended for observing that the plush interior decorations are "perhaps overly so." The interior is garish, but exciting in the best Donald Trump fashion, which is not meant as a put-down: some projects may not be masterpieces but offer sufficient thrills and comforts to be memorable. The circular helipad is more beautifully high-tech than anything yet produced by Sir Norman Foster. The main lobby may be encircled by the world's least appealing columns - ones that might appeal to Philippe Starck - but its vibrant colors and geometric designs would delight the Wizard of Oz.

 

Emirates Twin Towers

"Emirates Twin Towers," Dubai, designed by NORR Group Consultants International, 2000

The "Emirates Twin Towers," another new Dubai landmark, is something of a misnomer as the towers are not twins. They are, however, quite stunning. Designed by NORR Group Consultants International, the buildings were completed in 2000. One tower is 1,165 feet high and the other is 1,014 feet high. The smaller tower has a 400-room hotel and a restaurant on its top floor. These are very elegant structures. Each tower is triangular in plan and apart from the fact that they both have angular roofs and spires they are very different. The taller tower is the more successful design and its canted roof is in the shape of an "oblique pyramid," as described by Mr. Terranova, not unlike Daniel Libeskind's later design for the Freedom Tower on the site of the demolished World Trade Center in New York. Its facade has several major elements. The bottom of the tower has a circular glass inside rectilinear columns at the corners. The cylindrical motif is repeated near the top where a windowed, multi-storied column is at the corners and is flanked five vertical windows. Above the cylindrical upper column the same corner has a small band of horizontal windows, which are very simple in contrast with the very handsome horizontal banding treatment of windows in the middle of the tower. The varied facade is extremely crisp and finely proportioned. The lower tower is not as showy but is also very impressive with three large bays of windows. The top bay is slightly curved. While the higher tower's windows wrap around one corner, the lower tower's windows do not extend to the corners and are framed by the building's masonry edges. The buildings rise from a low-riseplatform and are not surrounded by tall buildings, making their presence on the skyline even more pronounced. The towers are niced spaced from each other and while quite different they share a bold yet very refined style.

DZ Tower, Frankfurt

Deutsche Zentral-Genossenschaftsbank tower, Frankfurt, designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox, 1993

The Deutsche Zentral-Genossenschaftsbank Tower, or DZ Tower as it is known, is poetic. The Frankfurt skyscraper, which is semi-circular in plan and topped by a very large cornice, was designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox, the New York architectural firm.

Mr. Terranova provides the following commentary:

"At 682 feet high, the DZ Bank building has become part of the Frankfurt skyline along with Murphy and Jahn's Messeturm (843 feet) and Foster's Commerzbank (850 feet). Characterizing the downtown area, these three isolated buildings look down on the city like bizarre and slightly shocked giants, symbols of the financial supremacy of this part of Germany."

Citic Plaza, Guangzhou

Citic Plaza, Guangzhou (Canton), China, designed by Dennis Law & Ng Chun Man Architects & Engineers Ltd., 1997

Another extremely elegant tower is Citic Plaza, a 1,283-foot high skyscraper in Guangzhou (Canton), China. Completed in 1997, it was designed by Dennis Law & Ng Chun Man Architects & Engineers Ltd. It is, according to Mr. Terranova, the world's tallest reinforced concrete building. The 80-story office tower is flanked by two 38-story residential wings that are recessed from the front of the office tower and then angled further away. The tower uses reflective glass at its corners that flank a central pier of darked non-reflective glass. The tower's base is somewhat similar to the taller of the "Emirates Twin Towers" in that it has a cylindrical glass lobby enclosed by rectilinear elements. The cylindrical glass lobby has two broad horizontal stainless steel bands that rhythmically mix with the vertical banding of the entrance surround and the curved, cantilevered stainless steel canopy. The top of the tower has a cylindrical central section flanked by the reflective glass corner piers each of is topped by a spire.

"Overall," Mr. Terranova wrote, "the group of buildings has a bizare appearance that resembles a Chinese mask, especially in its layout." Mr. Terranova's "Chinese mask" analogy is not obvious and one is tempted to call its appearance sublime rather than "bizarre."

Kingdom Center by Ellerbe Becket and Omrania Consortium

Kingdom Center, designed by Ellerbe Becket and Omrania Consortium, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 2001, photograph by J. Poon

Prince Al-Walid, the grandson of King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia, held an international design competition for Kingdom Center in Riyadh, which was won by Ellerbe Becket. Mr. Terranova wrote that "this building resembles a corkscrew rather than a skyscraper," adding that it is a sculptural object that has a 197-foot-wide platform at the top of the open space created by the parabolic curves of the tower. The 971-foot-high structure has offices, a luxury hotel, apartments and a shopping mall. "Out of respect to Saudi customs, it also includes prayer halls and an entire floor devoted to a shopping mall for women only. Accessed by a separate entrance, inside women are feet not to wear the veil," wrote Mr. Terranova. The building's plan is quite thin but there is a lot of drama in its bridged, open top.

Al Faisaliah Center, Riyadh

Al Faisaliah Center, Riyadh, designed by Sir Norman Foster, photograph by J. Poon

Prince Al-Walid also commissioned the Al Faisaliah Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Completed in 2000, the 876-foot-high tower was designed by Sir Norman Foster and the top third or so is open with a gilded orb that is an observatory. The mixed-use building contains offices, apartments and a hotel. Mr. Terranova correctly characterizes the design as "eccentric." Indeed, Sir Norman Foster has no peer when it comes to his diverse portfolio of buildings. They are uniformly distinctive, even if they are not likely to win every beauty contest. Other works by him included in this book at the 587-foot-high HK & Shanghai Bank, which was completed in 1985, in Hong Kong, which earned him fame as a leading "high-tech" architect; and the 850-foot-high Commerzbank in Frankfurt, which was completed in 1997 and is perhaps his most successful project.

Liberty Place in Philadephia

Liberty Place, Philadelphia, designed by Murphy and Jahn, 1987 and 1990, photograph by A. Attini/Archivio White Star

Helmut Jahn of Murphy & Jahn is one of the greatest creators of architecture drawings and many of the resulting buildings are pretty fascinating as well. Liberty Place, for example, radically changed Philadelphia with its reflective-glass nods to New York's Chrysler Building. The taller of the two towers is 945 feet high and was completed in 1987 and the shorter tower is 847 feet high and was finished three years later.

 

Nationsbank Center, Houston

The Nationsbank Center, formerly the Republic Bank Center, Houston, designed by Johnson/Burgee Architects, 1983

Johnson/Burgee were the most influential architects of the 1970s and 1980s in America and the Nationsbank Center, which originally was known as the Republic Bank Center, in Houston was one of the firm's most successful Post-Modern designs. Completed in 1983, the 781-foot-high tower has a stepped top reminiscent of Flemish Renaissance buildings and the very handsome project includes a huge banking hall. The firm's partners were Philip Johnson and John Burgee.

National Commercial Bank, Jeddah

National Commercial Bank, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 1983

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill was the leading architectural firm of corporate America in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s and the National Commercial Bank in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, was one of its last very modern buildings before the firm began to dauble in Post-Modern designs. The 400-foot-high, 27-story, triangular tower has a very handsome circular garage for 400 cars at its base and the tower is distinguished by its huge 105-foot-wide, facade openings: two 7-story apertures are on its south side and a 9-story opening is on its northeast side facing the sea. This is a very imposing and impressive structure.

Other S.O.M. projects in the book include the 1,129-foot-high John Hancock Center of 1969 and the 1,450-foot-high Sears Tower of 1974, both in Chicago.

Other skyscrapers nicely documented at the Peachtree Center in Atlanta by John Portman, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur by Cesar Pelli, the Tokyo City Hall by Kenzo Tange, the Moscow University, and the Bank of China Building by I. M. Pei in Hong Kong. New York is represented by the Flatiron, Empire State, Chrysler and Condé Nast buildings and Citicorp Center and Rockefeller Center.

The photographs are marvelous. The text leaves much to be desired and the font used in the text is hard to read.

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