Taipei 101: A skyscraper with style

Taipei 101. To those unfamiliar with Taiwan’s tallest skyscraper, it might sound like a stiff drink served at an Asian bar. But, for a five-year period from the time it opened in 2004 to the completion of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa in 2009, it was the tallest building in the world.

With a design that pays homage to Chinese traditions, Taipei 101 is one of the more impressive skyscrapers I’ve seen. Its repeated segments are said to invoke a large stalk of bamboo, the plant of choice for China’s beloved Giant Pandas.

There are eight segments in the main tower, each with eight floors. This was, of course, by design as the number eight in Chinese culture is associated with good fortune and abundance.

This design is best observed from a few blocks away; or at night, when the skyscraper lights up the skies of Taiwan’s largest city.

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Taipei 101, as seen from street level.

When Taipei 101 opened in 2004, it was the tallest building in the world.

The view from an indoor observation deck on the 88th and 89th floors provides a different perspective: a 360-degree view of the city.

After paying a US$19 admission fee, I entered a crowded elevator on the fifth floor that takes visitors to the observation deck. My ears popped as we shot hundreds of feet up the tower, arriving at our destination in what seemed like only a few seconds.

The deck is enclosed, but that didn’t stop me from getting weak in the knees when I pressed my face up against the glass, the only thing separating me and the hordes of selfie-seeking tourists from imminent death.

The view from the observation deck on the 88th floor.


After snapping several photos and checking out the gift store for mementos to bring home, I got in line for the elevator that takes visitors back down to the fifth floor. It was several hundred people deep and — still jet lagged from the travel — I was in no mood to wait.

Forty-five minutes later, I was finally back at ground level, glad I had made the trip but in the mood for a different kind of Taipei 101 — the alcoholic version.

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No gorilla in this mist

I’ve always been fascinated by skyscrapers. At 7, I remember watching King Kong scale the Empire State Building onscreen and wishing I could do the same. Years later, during a trip to New York City, I took an elevator to the top of the World Trade Center and marveled at the helicopters and small planes flying below.

When I visited Shanghai last month, I had to see the city from the top of one of its landmark skyscrapers. I picked the 88-story Jin Mao Tower, home of The Grand Hyatt Shanghai hotel and one of the tallest buildings in China. A sign at the ticket window for the observation deck said “visibility poor,” but I decided to take my chances and paid 150 yuan ($24) for a ride to the top.

It turned out to be the worst 150 yuan I’ve ever spent. Clouds completely obscured the view. With nothing to see, I put down my camera and stared into the mist, wishing King Kong was around to part the clouds.

Looking down into the lobby of the Jin Mao Tower. This turned out to be the best view of the day.

View from the observation deck, looking down into the lobby . This turned out to be the best view of the day.

The 88-story Jin Mao Tower is located next to the (left) Shanghai World Financial Center.

The 88-story Jin Mao Tower is located next to the Shanghai World Financial Center (left).

The only blue skies I saw that day were in the elevator.

The only blue skies I saw that day were in the elevator.

Visibility was less than 100 meters at the top.

Visibility was less than 100 meters at the top.