The Architecture of Skyscrapers

By Francisco Asensio Cerver

Arco for Hearst Books International, New York, 1997, pp. 191, $39.95


Many of the greatest new towers are not the tallest


By Carter B. Horsley

This volume of recent skyscrapers is short on theory, but includes many interesting and important projects with many illustrations by different architectural photographers.

The profusely illustrated volume focuses on just 23 high-rise projects, but each is presented with several color photographs as well as site plans and drawings.

Perhaps the most fabulous project in the book is the Sea Hawk Hotel and Resort, completed in 1995 in Fukuoka, Japan, and designed by Cesar Pelli. The photographs by Taizo Furukawa, Osamnu Murai, Cesar Pelli and Yukio Yoshimura are spectacular, as is the project, shown below.

Sea Hawk Hotel & ResortPelli here has added a twist, literally, to his famous scheme for the wonderful Wintergarden at the World Financial Center in Lower Manhattan. The Wintergarden is essentially a giant atrium with a telescoping form facing towards the Hudson River. In this project, Pelli has cascaded a similarly scaled atrium along a curve in a far more interesting and dramatic form. This pavilion is the centerpiece for a high-rise tower, clad in ceramic tile, that is a magnificent form that is far superior to his nice, but rather boxy towers at the World Financial Center. Here, Pelli has returned to his sculptural brilliance that first brought him fame with his Blue Whale building at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles.

The orange tower is a sharp-edged, knife-like form that is 34 stories tall with 1,052 rooms and is located close to a baseball stadium. Its prow faces Hakata Bay and the prow edge and the arc of the roofline are brightly illuminated at night.

The inland side of the tower has a large curved base with a large circular ramp driveway.

Pelli's Petronas Towers project in Kuala Lumpur is also included in the book and its stainless steel cylindrical facades are shown to good advantage, but the Sea Hawk project outshines the twin skyscraper project in sculptural and artistic quality although it is, of course, dwarfed by it in height.

Although the Wintergarden at the World Financial Center may well be the New York's greatest public room that in time will be as loved as the lamented and demolished Penn Station was, the horn-shaped atrium at the Sea Hawk resort is much better and Pelli now must be regarded as one of the great architects of the 20th Century.

Japan, of course, continues to be the most exciting architectural place in the world as evidenced by the incredible Umeda Sky Building in Osaka, photographed here by Tomio Ohashi and Anna Puyueto. Completed in 1993 and designed by Hiroshi Hara Atelier, this 40-story building instantly conjures images of the famous Grande Arch by at La Defense in Paris, the 330-foot-high almost hollow cube designed by Otto von Spreckelsen.

The Parisian project, which houses the Ministry of Equipment, private offices and The Foundation for Human Rights, was an engineering marvel and spectacular, albeit controversial, public sculpture on a monumental scale. With its fabric tent clouds beneath its slim roof separating its equally slim two side wings, the Grande Arche was sleek and its opening very large.

Hara's project is much bulkier and more complex and its opening is much more vertical.

Moreover, its roof has an enormous circular opening penetrated by two escalators set at angles with each other, as shown at the right, looking up from the ground.

Hara originally planned not just two towers as were built here but "a whole series of them stretching into infinity and forming a new city." Such a vision extends the daring of von Spreckelsen greatly and harks back to the early days of megastructural thinking and the Japanese Metabolists who dreamt immense urban vistas.

At a time when cities are competing for the world's tallest structures, it is reassuring to some extent to see some of the thunder stolen from them by such "mid-rise" projects as this. The roof here is a major public, open-air observatory, and one can only be awed by such intrepid "observers" whose fear of heights is only slightly lessened by the project's extensive streetscape landscaping.

The towers are clad mostly, but not entirely, in reflective glass, which gives the project a bit more vertiginous appearance. A bridge at the 21st floor connects the two towers and the level beneath the huge opening has many small, brightly colored structures of different shapes.

The building is far too complex for one photograph to convey and happily the book is quite lavish in its detail pictures. The circular opening at the top of the project, for example, is ringed with a slanted window wall and topped with a large, modern balustrade. The high-tech-looking rectangular elements that penetrate into the opening actually contain escalators enclosed in curved glass.

Unlike the General Electric Company that several years ago inexcusably closed the open-air, roof-top observatory of the former RCA building at Rockefeller Center, the Japanese developers of this project understand that public likes thrills and likes to be enthralled by architecture and a city. Hopefully, General Electric will repent, or move to New Jersey, and the public can once again fall in love with that building's fabulous observatory and contemplate how New York can get Hara to design more such awesome places.

The Umeda Sky Building has been published elsewhere, but this book has several projects that have not been widely published such as the remarkable Torres Puerta de Europa twin-towered project in Madrid designed by Burgee & Johnson and Dominguez and Martin.

This 1996 project, shown at the left in a photograph by Robert Royal, is a great example of "gateway" development, a notion that ancient cities often practiced but which has been largely forgotten in "modern" times.

"The 1985 Plan General de Madrid assigned to this particular site certain limits, which in the end suggested the possibility of building two isolated tower blocks adjacent to the Plaza Castilla. These would have to be separated by a strip of land large enough to avoid the existing metro stations and their corresponding pedestrian subways, and also to take into account access rights to an as yet undeveloped neighboring street. On the basis of these restrictions, architect John Burgee proposed the construction of two towers that would incline toward each other at an angle of 15 degrees and whose common meeting point would be the axis formed by the Paseo de la Castellana. This solution served to modify the role that the urban planners had assigned to the two blocks, and also allowed the towers to stand out from their neighbors in a unique fashion. The inclination of the towers solved the problem of the excessive separation between them, which would have diluted their impact on the profile of the city," the text explained.

The 24-story buildings, which are clad in stainless steel and, as usually with projects by John Burgee and Philip Johnson, a very fine fenestration pattern of black reflective glass with red accent lines. The buildings also have helicopter pads on their roofs.

Among the other major projects highlighted in this fine book are Norman Foster & Partner's fine, high-tech, 1997 Commerzbank Building in Frankfurt, Nikken Sekkei's good 1995 Osaka World Trade Center, T. R. Hamzah & Ken Yeang Sdn. Bhd.'s Menara Budaya, which graces the book's cover, and Central Plaza projects, both in 1996 and in Kuala Lumpur, Carlos Bratke's Plaza Centenario in Sao Paolo, Brazil, in 1995, Kisho Kurokawa's very impressive Melbourne Central project of 1991, the stupendous, pagoda-like Jin Mao Building in Shanghai this year of Adrian D. Smith of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Kohn Pedersen Fox's totemic and fine, as usual, Shanghai World Financial Center that is scheduled for completed in 2001 and its poetic DG Bank Frankfurt that was completed in 1993 with its enormous, soaring, curved cornice, a couple of interesting Helmut Jahn projects including the Endless Towers and Brancusi Tower proposed for Singapore in 1995 and his recently completed Generale Bank Tower in Rotterdam that is quite eclectic with huge cornice and cantilevered, slanted wing, Kenzo Tange's great OUB Center of 1986 in Singapore and even greater 1991 Tokyo City Hall, Rocco S. K. Yim's sleek 1992 Citibank Plaza in Hong Kong, Tsao & McKoun's huge Suntec City in Singapore in 1997, Dominique Perrault's rather disappointing but sleek French National Library of 1996, and Bruce Graham's high-tech, but rather busy design for the Hotel de les Arts in Barcelona in 1992.


See The City Review article on two other books on skyscrapers

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See The City Review article on "Skyscrapers, The New Millenium," by John Zukowsky and Martha Thorne

See The City Review article on "New Forms, Architecture in the 1990s," a book by Philip Jodidio

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