The race to the top...
It never ceases to amaze me how fast things progress. Just yesterday, I came to the sad realisation that the never-ending race to build taller, bigger and better has claimed yet another victim - the gorgeous Petronas Twin Towers. I've been told that they are no longer the tallest buildings in the world, a prize taken away from it by an upstart in Taiwan.
An aerial view of the Petronas Twin Towers
These twin towers have been a landmark of the city of Kuala Lumpur ever since it was completed in late 1996. I remember when I first arrived here in Kuala Lumpur, or "KL" as we affectionately refer to it, the KL equestrian race course was being cleared for the tower's construction. Traffic snarls along Jalan Ampang became legendary as roads were diverted, closed or sometimes opened, but reduced to just one lane. Personal experience told me never to try to traverse the Ampang stretch at peak hour traffic.
Designed by reknowned New York based architect, Cesar Pelli, the building is a simple spire-shaped structure clad in gorgeous aluminium and incorporating islamic architectural elements. Some people have referred to it as the "Giant Phallic Symbol of Malaysia", but I think its one of the most beautiful buildings in existance today. Seen under the infamously searing Malaysian sun, the buildings sparkle, and as the sun sets, it changes colour and sheen thanks to the reflective qualities of the aluminium that clads the building.
The Twin Towers sparkling under the Malaysian sun
88 floors in total, 452 metres in height, the Petronas Towers were interestingly never designed to be the tallest buildings in the world, which at that point in time was a title held by the World Trade Centre (WTC) in New York. Intervention by our Prime Minister at the 11th hour essentially forced Cesar Pelli to re-design the towers with a structural pinnacle that helped the towers wrestle the title away from the WTC towers in New York - only just.
The Twin Towers defining the Kuala Lumpur city skyline
The design and planning of the Petronas Towers included some novel and innovative ideas - most noticeable of which is the Skybridge, linking the two towers at its skylobby at Levels 41 and 42. This was the interchange point for elevators going to the top-half of the building. The views from this skylobby is spectacular, and if you ever have the chance to pay the skybridge a visit, don't waste it. Tourists and visitors alike can visit this bridge for free daily between 10am and 6pm.
The air-conditioned Skybridge on Level 42
The view from Level 42 of the Skybridge
The Petronas Towers were also the first buildings to use double-decker high speed elevators, supplied by OTIS. These elevators enable the system to serve two floors at a go, speeding up vertical transit in what is a very tall building. However, this also means that each elevator lobby is made out of two levels, one serving odd numbered floors and the other even-numbered floors. It can sometimes be amusing to see people wander around the skylobbies looking quite lost, trying to figure out the system's odd-and-even numbered floor service.
A spectacular night shot of the Twin Towers from the adjoining KLCC Park
The development of the Twin Towers and its surrounding complexes also gave the city its first true park, much in the mould of Central Park in New York, on a much smaller scale of course. This park has become the favourite haunt of city slickers seeking a little respite from the hustle and bustle of city life. The view from this park, with its landscaped greens and a water feature that winds its way thru the park culminating in a water fountain, is quite spectacular as well. Boxed in by skyscrapers on all sides, its a strange yet restful feeling to be so close to the urban sprawl that is Kuala Lumpur yet distant enough to see and feel lush greenery around.
View of the Kuala Lumpur urban sprawl from the park
The construction of the Twin Towers complex gave more to the city than just a great new park - it incorporated the country's first purpose-built concert hall meant specifically for classical performances - the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas. Home to the Malaysian Philharmonic, it's a relatively small, but beautifully designed hall along the lines of the classical "shoebox" shaped halls found in Europe. Acoustics in the hall are top notch, and performances there have garnered heaping praise from music lovers.
The Dewan Filharmonik Petronas
The title of "Tallest Building in the World" was given to the Twin Towers by the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in 1997 when the towers started operations. There was a lot of debate on the validity of the twin towers holding this title, as it was gained by the addition of decorative spires at the top whereas the WTC towers had a higher occupied floor (level 110 was the WTC's top floor). The council however, stuck with their decision and the Petronas Towers held that title up till this year, when Taipei 101, a new office block in Taiwan, took that title away from the Malaysian twins.
Taipei 101 - the new holder of the "World's Tallest Building" title
Although the Petronas Towers are no longer the tallest buildings in the world, they still hold the title of tallest twin towers, which is a consolation of sorts, I suppose.
I once read that great architecture is often marked by designs that an average man on the street can understand. A design that one can sketch with no more than a few penstrokes on a piece of paper. One that is immediately recognisable as part of its native landscape and contributes to the urban landscape in a social context as well as a visual one. The Eiffel Tower, the WTC, the Sydney Opera House are all good examples of this principle behind great architecture. I for one think the Petronas Twin Towers is a member of this exclusive club.
The pomp and pagentry during the grand opening of the Twin Towers in 1998