Taipei: Tall story

31 May 2006 by intern11
Simon Burns goes up and down and all over Taipei’s most iconic structure It seems like an odd place to raise the world’s tallest building. Taiwan is regularly visited by earthquakes and 100-mile-per-hour typhoons, not to mention military threats from belligerent neighbor,China. And even before the US$1.7 billion Taipei 101 tower was completed, after five years and many delays, observers questioned the need for 200,000sq m of new office space in a saturated market. The building is currently less than half full. But other iconic structures also had an uncertain start. Like the Empire State Building,mockingly dubbed the “Empty State” when it opened in 1931 just as America's economy collapsed in the Great Depression, or the Eiffel Tower, which was derided as the “eyesore’ tower”, to be pulled down and scrapped after 20 years.Now these buildings are proud symbols of the cities in which they stand. The builders of Taipei 101 also believe they have created an enduring monument. The term “skyscraper” is not really enough for this half-kilometre high structure. Skypiercer might be more appropriate, as its upper floors often impale the clouds above this rainy city, lighting them from within. A key aim of the project, says architect CY Lee, was to create “a strong skyline and identifiable image for the city, which will unify the city of Taipei as a whole”. Taiwan is a place ambivalent about its identity,with some asserting independence from China and others preferring silence in the face of Chinese threats. Similarly, official promotion of Taipei 101 as a symbol of the whole nation sometimes seems strangely halfhearted, perhaps because of the political divide between the central government and the opposition-controlled city government. Taipei mayor, Ma Ying-jeou, who has thrown his weight behind 101, is strongly tipped to be Taiwan's next president. This elegant structure has certainly helped raise Taipei’s international profile. Rubbernecked tourists stumble as they gawk at the tower’s prodigious height. But locals scurry past with their heads down, oblivious to the giant in their midst. “Is it really the tallest in the world? I thought maybe that was in the US,” says Taipei resident, Barry Kuang, when asked his opinion of the city's new record holder as he enjoys a glass of red wine at a table in the building's shadow. Taipei 101’s name draws attention to its most salient feature, its stature. But numbers alone do not tell the whole story.  The building's official height, 508 metres, does not include the 80-metre-deep foundations, which root the structure firmly in the bedrock 40m beneath the Taipei basin’s clay soil. Similarly, this 101 floor building actually has 106 floors, if you include the five basement levels. Most of those basement floors are devoted to something rather mundane: parking space. But for a building that is designed to house up to 12,000 workers, plus thousands of visitors, transportation cannot be an afterthought. There are 1,800 car parking spaces in the building, and reflecting the predominance of two-wheeled transport in Taiwan, another 3,000 for motorcycles and scooters. Taipei 101 is served by the city’s bus network, and the City Hall subway station is 15 minutes’ walk away. However, the building will have to wait another six years to get its own metro station, on the new Sinyi line. Not all of the hordes swarming into the building are heading to work. Taipei 101 also houses a six-story shopping mall. This addresses one of 101’s guiding principles, providing for all the occupants' needs within the structure, says Cathy Yang, assistant vice president of Taipei Financial Center Corporation, which owns and manages the building. Taipei 101 even has its own post office. All these easy-to-reach amenities are a definite plus, say tenants, especially given Taiwan's unpredictable weather. “It’s great to be able stay out of the rain,” says Marc Anthonisen, a regional practice leader with Standard and Poor’s Asia-Pacific, which has its local office on the 49th floor of the tower. “The better restaurants on the fourth floor of the mall are useful to take people to lunch and so on, and the food court in the basement is quick and easy when you’re in a hurry.” The mall also contains a high-end supermarket and delicatessen, the Sogo department store, various designer stores, such as Cartier, Issey Miyake and Jean Paul Gaultier and Taiwan's largest selection of English-language books at the Page One store. Here, you'll stumble across a minor outbreak of the quirky informality that makes Taiwan alternately endearing and frustrating: the tea house and cafe inside the austere bookshop also serves surprisingly good pizza, and beer. If you want to work off some of that weight you’ve gained eating at the mall's many restaurants, a gym workout would be a good idea. Unfortunately, the sixth floor health club and swimming pool closed down last year after the operator ran into financial difficulties, which it blamed on a shortage of customers in the building. Negotiations with a replacement are still underway. This encapsulates the most serious problem facing Taipei 101: the building has space for up to 12,000 office workers, but there are only 3,000. Space earmarked for three gourmet restaurants near the top of the building is still empty more than a year after 101 opened, and plans for a luxurious private club there were dropped. High rents, coupled with a paucity of tenants, have played a part in the slow speed of development, some observers say. Cathy Yang refutes this.“No restaurant would expect to survive based on the tenants in just one building,” she says.“One of the reasons (for delays) is that we have been very selective about who we allow to offer services inside the building. They then need to go through a long period of design and staff training.” Those three long-awaited luxury restaurants, serving Italian, Japanese, and Taiwanese cuisine will open at the top of the building later this year, Yang says. Taipei 101 has reduced its rental rates to attract more tenants, although they are still “slightly above average for grade A space in this district,”Yang says. A slow down in office construction in recent years is also helping turn the situation around. “The very limited supply of Grade A property (in Taipei) in 2006 gives the market time to absorb the supply of 2005 and augers well for declining vacancy and firming rents”, real estate company Jones Lang LaSalle wrote in a recent report. Bearing this view out, accounting firm KPMG announced at the end of April that it would take five full floors in the upper portion of 101 later this year. The large, modern building is especially attractive to foreign multinationals, Jones Lang LaSalle says. Tenants include ABN Amro, Bayer, DBS,Winterthur as well as the Taiwan Stock Exchange. They’re lured by features like backup diesel generators which keep offices running no matter what’s going on outside.As well as the obvious amenities like central air conditioning. Every office floor is connected to a supply of chilled water to cool computer servers and drinking water for staff. Those computers are connected to dual redundant 10 gigabit per second fiber optic backbone links, with a satellite back up available inside the building, should the outside lines go down. About 250 management, security, maintenance and cleaning staff keep the building running around the clock.“We’ve found the management very responsive to our needs,” says Marc Anthonisen of Standard and Poor’s. New York’s Empire State Building is still among the world’s best known buildings a three quarters of a century after it was built. Similarly, Taipei 101 is in it for the long haul. The investors have 70 years to recoup their investment on this BOT (Build, Operate, Transfer) project, after which it will belong to the city government. But 101’s reign as the world’s tallest building will be a relatively brief five years,with the next record holder, the 700-metre Burj Dubai, already under construction.


Taipei 101 wouldn’t work without a host of new technologies. The building hosts bullet-shaped elevators more akin to aircraft than the dangling boxes we’re used to. When the doors close, the air inside is automatically pressurised, and the world’s fastest elevators rocket upwards to the observation deck at more than 1,000m a minute. They climb faster than a passenger airliner, so fast, in fact that the sudden change in air pressure would be painful if it was not smoothed out with high-powered air blowers. The cars streamlined shape reduces air resistance and also helps limit noise for elevator passengers and building residents. The two-tonne vehicles cost US$2 million each, but the manufacturer, Toshiba, saw them as a source of valuable publicity, and reportedly didn't make a profit. Earthquakes and typhoons are handled by a shock absorber on a mammoth scale. The tuned mass damper is an 800-ton steel sphere suspended inside the top of the building. During high winds, the ball will swing but the building won’t – or at least not too much. Without the mass damper, executives and restaurant customers in the upper floors would be prone to sea sickness. The ball sways as much as 45cm off its axis during typhoons, say residents, but the building remains comfortingly steady. With no major earthquakes since it was installed, the mass damper hasn’t yet been fully tested in practice. But its importance was demonstrated by its absence during 101’s construction, when an earthquake shook two construction  cranes off the top of the building, killing five workers and injuring others. Taipei 101 also boasts a sophisticated security system. Video kiosks in the lobby allow visitors to speak to the office they wish to visit and issue them with an entry card, which admits them to the elevators. During normal working hours, the lifts can be used freely to visit most floors without swiping the card again. Brilliant technological innovation doesn’t always win customers, however. Potential tenant, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) chose not to rent because of the security system. “We weren't convinced it actually resulted in better security,” explains Eugene Sullivan of the bank’s Taipei office, “because it takes the decision away from professional security guards and delegates it to ordinary staff at other companies in the building. We also felt that it wasn’t convenient for walk-in customers.”


B2 ,3 ,4 Basement car parking B1 Supermarket and food court: quick, cheap eats. 1/F - 3/F - There are 50 elevators to different sections (including express lift to observatory – this is the building’s own public transport network. 1/F - 5F Shopping mall. 2/F Sogo Department Store 4/F Mid-range restaurants 5/F Page One – Largest English-language bookstore in Taiwan. The range is great. 6/F Gym, spa, swimming pool. 7/F -84/F Offices (almost 200,000sqm of space). 37/F The Executive Centre - with offices throughout Asia (www.executivecentre.com). 35/F & 59/F-60/F Sky lobbies (this is the place to switch elevators bound for higher floors); other facilities are the post office, a business centre, conference centre and a convenience store. 87/F-88/F Eateries to open. 89/F Observation deck. 91/F Outdoor view deck. 101/F Office floor but for owner’s use only.


The key to finding your way around Taipei 101 is to understand that a building this big is a vertical city. It does not have mere elevators – it has its own internal public transportation system. Unlike lesser buildings, getting where you want to go is not as simple as jumping into an open elevator and punching a button. Before hopping on a subway in a strange city, you would take a look at the metro map to make sure you know where to change trains. Similarly, you’ll save time if you understand how Taipei 101’s various elevator systems connect together before you enter. The Grand Central Stations of this vertical transport network are the main lobby on the first floor, and the two sky lobbies on the 35th and 59th floors. The fast shuttle elevators are like express trains, carrying you non-stop between these “stations”. Next, slower office elevators act like local trains, to take you to the floor you actually want to go to. These have a limited range. They each serve a group of about 10 floors, usually above the sky lobby that the start from. To make things yet more complicated, the three lobbies actually have two floors each, so the 59th floor sky lobby extends to the 60th floor, for example. That’s necessary because the elevators are double-deckers. The bottom car of these two-storey elevators serves odd numbered floors and the top car serves even numbered floors. So you should ensure you are in the correct car from the start, depending on whether your destination is an odd or even floor. You can switch between odd and even floors in the main lobby and the sky lobby, by using the escalators. So, for example, if you wanted to get from the lobby to the 64th floor, you could first take the escalator from the lobby up to the second floor, (using the escalator here ensures that you get on the top deck of the elevator car, as you're going to an even numbered floor). Then board the express shuttle elevator to the 60th floor sky lobby. That will take about 40 seconds. Then walk to the local office elevators that serve the 59th to 72nd floors, and take one to your destination on the 64th floor. Total time: around two minutes. The elevators’ operating mode can be adjusted by the building management, depending on traffic levels. This means that, during the evenings, when there are fewer people around, they can operate more like conventional elevators, stopping at any floor, so you won’t have to worry about odd and even floors at that time. Finally, there are additional “transfer floors” roughly once every ten floors, these are like simpler versions of the sky lobbies. They make it easier for building residents to travel to nearby floors, but casual visitors won’t to need to use them. With all these elevators, “signage is very important,” says Cathy Yang, assistant vice president of Taipei Financial Center. The management has added extra signs in response to tenants’ suggestions, and intends to make further improvements. The visitor access kiosks in the first floor lobby also provide guidance for visitors. Although 101’s elevator network may seem fearsomely complex, it helps save time and space. There are 50 elevator shafts inside the building, and some 90-elevator cars – counting the double-decked cars as two. If the building used a conventional system, with all 90 elevator cars serving every floor, there wouldn't be much space left for offices.


What's it like? Simple lobby but wait till you see the elegant rooms Where is it? Near the commercial and shopping districts, five minutes from Zhong Shan Station. How many rooms? 538 guestrooms including those 606 guestrooms and suites located on the Taipan Residence and Club floor. Room facilities: Wi-Fi enabled plus a Wellspring Bed that’s temperature sensitive and features pressure relieving properties. Restaurants: Seven, with Lan Ting for elegant Shanghai cuisine. Bar: The well-lighted Gallery offering snacks and drinks. Business facilities: Business Express provides office support; a grand ballroom and nine function rooms take events for eight to 1,000 people. Leisure facilities: A gym, year-round heated rooftop pool and the Wellness spa offering Balinese massage Price: Minimum rack rate is from US$310. Contact: 41 Chung Shan North Road, Taipei, tel 886 2 2523 8000, www.grandformosa.com.tw


What's it like? Imposing lobby but the rooms are your usual Hyatt – stylish and efficient. Where is it? Adjacent to the World Trade Center and Taipei 101 and to shopping and dining establishments. How many rooms? 856 guestrooms and suites. Room facilities: Contemporary furnishings, dual line phones, high-speed internet access and marble bath among others. Restaurants: Five, including the Cha Lounge for coffee and tea, and Pearl Liang Chinese seafood. Bar: Bel Air and Ziga Zaga have the drinks and ambience. Business facilities: Introduced recently was the chain’s latest meeting innovation: The Residence – an interesting concept. Leisure facilities: Club Oasis encompasses gym, pool with underwater sounds and spa. Price: Minimum rack rate is from US$308. Contact: 2 Sung Shou Road, Taipei, tel 886 2 2720 1234, www.hyatt.com


  What's it like? Chinese rosewood furniture and other Orientalia as well as attentive service abound in this well-known property. Where is it? In the eastern part of Taipei, near the World Trade Center, Presidential Square and shopping areas. How many rooms? 606 guestrooms and suites Room facilities: Cable and satellite programming, ensuite bathroom, hairdryer and minibar. Restaurants: French, Chinese and Japanese cuisine is offered. Bar: One bar-lounge in the lobby. Business facilities: Fully equipped to meet all corporate demands, plus meeting rooms. Leisure facilities:  Gym and swimming pool. Price: Minimum rack rate is from US$250. Contact: 160 Jen Ai Road, Section 3, Taipei, tel 886 2 2700 2323, www.howard-hotels.com


What's it like? Top to bottom renovation has turned out an attractive product. Where is it? Surrounded by government offices and near the Zhong Xiao line, which links to the iconic Taipei 101. How many rooms? 685 guestrooms and suites. Room facilities: A Sheraton Sweet Sleeper bed, elegant Oriental touches in the woodwork, broadband internet access Restaurants: Five with The Dragon known for superb Chinese cuisine Bar: The Lounge, The Moet and Fuze & Pizza Pub are always buzzing. Business facilities: Business centre provides translation and mobile phone rentals; ballroom for 1,200 guests. Leisure facilities: Well equipped gym, outdoor pool, squash court. Price: Minimum rack rate is from US$290.. Contact: 12 Chung Hsiao East Road Section 1, Taipei, tel 886 2 2321 5511, www.sheraton.com


What's it like? The favourite of visiting celebrities. Boasts elegant European-style interiors. Where is it? In the financial and shopping district, close to World Trade Center and Taipei 101. How many rooms? 343 guestroom and suites. Room facilities: Three two-line phones with voice mail, Wi-Fi broadband/dial-up internet connection in the living room and at the work desk.. Restaurants: B-One’s open kitchens offer international treats; while Yi Yuan is for Chinese and Toscana for Italian. Bar: Henry’s Bar is reminiscent of a living room in an English country estate. Business facilities: Space for all types of meeting set ups and private dining experiences; a ballroom takes up to 200 guests. Leisure facilities: Gym with a view, sauna and swimming pool. Price: Minimum rack rate is from US$300. Contact: 111 Min Sheng East Road, Section 3, Taipei, tel 886 2 2718 6666, www.sherwood.com.tw    
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