Taipei 101, The Biggest Building In the World…….For Now

I like big things. Big buildings. Big bridges. Big boats. One of my favorite places in the world is the St. Louis Arch. It is neat to be able to stand directly under something 600 feet talk.

Taipei 101 is one of those big, neat places.

In most major cities, you will see a skyline of big building and one of those buildings will be larger than the others. Taiwan really has no skyline to speak of. Due to earthquakes, the buildings in Taiwan have never been much larger than, say, 12 stories. Taiwan has spread out and has never really felt a lot of need to spread up.

Major cities of the world have something iconic about them. Some sort of stereotypical photo which is shown every time that city is in the news. New York has the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. Los Angles has the Hollywood sign. San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge. Paris has the Eiffel Tower. London has Big Ben. Sydney has the Opera House. You get the idea….

Taipei had nothing.

The decision to build Taipei 101 really wasn’t because of a desperate need for office and retail space. It was to create something iconic for Taipei. I think they succeeded.

For starters, Taipei 101 was designed to be the tallest building in the world. It took the title away from the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The act of having the tallest building in the world is something which up and coming nations tend to compete for because it is a (relatively) cheap way to get some instant credibility. The US did it in the 1930s with the Chrysler tower in New York and the Empire State Building. Chicago did it to take the title away from New York with the Sears Tower. Malaysia did it. Taiwan did it. Soon Dubai will do it.

(Actually, there is a great deal of debate as to what building is the tallest. If you go by the top floor, the Sears Tower is the tallest. If you go to the top of the antenna, the Sears Tower is the tallest. If you go by the top architectural spire, then Taipei 101 is the tallest. All of this will be moot in two year.)

Records my come and go, but what really matters to an iconic building is how it looks. The Golden Gate Bridge isn’t the largest building the world, but it still is among the most beautiful. Taipei 101 was designed to look like a stalk of bamboo. Personally, I think it looks like eight boxes of Chinese food takeout stacked on one another. If you look closely, you will see I’m right.

It is also unique among large buildings in that there is nothing even remotely close in height to it in Taipei. It is this giant tower standing out in the middle of much smaller buildings. Some people have taken it to be a giant middle finger extended to China. They might be right….

The reason why Taipei 101 was able to be built was due to advancements in engineering which made tall buildings in earthquake areas possible. The most visible engineering addition is the large mass dampening ball at the top. The ball has large hydraulic legs underneath which will move the ball counter to movements in the building caused by wind or earthquake. In theory, the building should be able to withstand 130 mph winds and a once every 2,500-year earthquake.

The elevator to the observation deck in Taipei 101 is also the fastest elevator in the world. It is really impressive actually. The elevator moves at 38 mph straight up and can go to the top in 37 seconds. It is so fast, you can feel the pressure in your ears change as you go up.

The observation deck gives you a great view of Taipei. I stayed up on top for about 90 minutes and watched the sun set. (or as much as you could see given how overcast it has been here). They have all the normal tourist stuff you’d expect, including a cafe, souvenir shop, etc. For an extra US$3 you can take the stairs up another two stories and check out the outdoor observation deck. The bars on the outdoor observation deck really takes away from the experience, but it is still pretty cool to feel the wind whip around at over 1,000 feet. You are also right below the spire which at night is lit up like a Christmas tree.

At the foot of 101 is a very large, high end mall. Probably the largest in Taipei based on what I’ve seen. It is full of luxury stores, nice restaurants and the largest English language bookstore I’ve seen since I’ve been in Auckland. I had dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Taipei 101 with Aaron Mowrey, a former debate coach I knew in Minnesota who is taking classes in Taipei. He is the first person I’ve seen in seven months who I knew before my trip started.

I should also note that Taipei 101 has already, unofficially been surpassed as the tallest building in the world. In July, the Burj Dubai passed Taipei 101 and just recently it passed the CN Tower to be the tallest structure in the world. By the time it is done, it will be the tallest structure of any type, surpassing even the KVLY-TV tower in Fargo, North Dakota. By the time I reach Dubai, I should be able to write another post about the tallest building in the world.