By James T. Areddy

At 492 meters (1614 feet) the Shanghai World Financial Center is mainland China’s tallest building but its height may become “almost standard” around the country, according to the senior designer of the 101-floor center.

The Shanghai World Financial Center.
The Shanghai World Financial Center.

“Almost every city is going to build one,” says David Malott, a director at the New York-based firm Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates that designed Shanghai’s “supertall” skyscraper for Japan’s Mori Building Co. In fact, sometime over the next few years Gensler’s Shanghai Tower, under construction right next door, will surpass it at 632 meters (2017 feet).

Speaking at “Architecture & Design Conference 2.0” this week in Shanghai, Malott said China’s “density demands that you go up no matter what.”

Malott showed slides of his other supertall Chinese projects that are also the biggest in their cities: Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd.’s International Commerce Centre in Kowloon (also seen here) and the uncompleted 100-floor Ping An International Financial Center in Shenzhen, which will resemble the Empire State Building at its tip.

Yet, China will rise only so far, he said, and only for so long.

Malott also gave an example of what wouldn’t be built in China: “One Kilometer Tower,” a proposed supertall building that would be the first to reach 1,000 meters (3,281 feet). By comparison, the world’s highest building, recently completed Burj Khalifa in Dubai, tops out at a mere 828 meters (2,716 feet).

Showing slides of KPF’s proposed tower, Malott said, “That is at an undisclosed location in the Middle East, as most of these towers are.”
In January 2009, The Wall Street Journal reported a halt in construction on a $38 billion development in Dubai by Nakheel PJSC that featured a kilometer-tall building as its centerpiece (Articles here, here and here). However, the Nakheel Harbour & Tower was designed by Woods Bagot of the U.K., not KPF.

KPF’s kilometer-tall tower might be in the Saudi business center Jeddah: One of Malott’s slides orientated the tower by naming cities, including Medina and Jerusalem to the north . Elsewhere, plans for a Jeddah superhigh have already emerged, though designers other than KPF have been named.

To reduce the structural risks from wind, the secret KPF building would feature three bowl-shaped wings, each with its rounded edge hinged to a circular tower, Malott’s documents showed. A 3,000 square meter (32,292 square feet) penthouse would top the building.

“This kind of proposition is unique to the Middle East,” Malott said. “I definitely don’t see this type of building happening in China, maybe never.”

Malott said the future for architects may be less about reaching for the skies than responding to the environmental limitations of going there.

“The energy and material demands [are] going to more than anything define what we do,” he said. “What we’re currently doing is unsustainable.”