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Huge, huger, hugest: Shanghai skyscrapers walking tour
This trip will give you a crick in the neck -- and a glimpse of the future
Some travelers love a walk in the woods; others prefer to stroll among a gleaming forest of skyscrapers.
For the latter, Shanghai is likely the best destination in the world.
The city’s Lujiazui district is a wonder of urban development, with scores of impressive towers arranged like a phalanx of steel-and-glass sentinels.
Taking a few hours to wander around and up Shanghai's most impressive skyscrapers is one of the city's most irresistible adventures.
Our guide to the Shanghai skyscraper walking tour is Wang Fei (王飞), principal architect with Atelier Ten and an urban image theorist. Wang, 32, also teaches at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou and University of Hong Kong Shanghai Study Center.
Here is the route designed by Wang.
Jin Mao Tower (金茂大厦)
This 88-story, 421-meter-tall building, whose name translates as “golden prosperity”, was Shanghai’s first celebrity skyscraper.
From its completion in 1999, Jin Mao Tower was the tallest building in mainland China until 2007 when it was surpassed by the neighboring Shanghai World Financial Center (492 meters).
It was designed by U.S. architectural firm SOM with its proportions revolving around the number eight, which is associated with prosperity in Chinese culture.
The 88 floors (there are actually 93 if the spire floors are counted) are divided into 16 segments, each of which is one-eighth shorter than the 16-story base.
The tower is built around an octagon-shaped concrete shear wall core surrounded by eight exterior composite super-columns and eight exterior steel columns.
Jin Mao Tower is home to offices and the Grand Hyatt Shanghai hotel, and, according to Wang, is renowned for being inspired by China's architectural past.
It also houses the world's longest laundry chute (at 400 meters).
"This tower is inspired by a traditional Chinese pagoda, with well-designed steel structure and details," Wang says.
"The central barrel-vaulted atrium is a marvel. It is regarded as the best construction quality in Shanghai," he adds.
Construction cost: US$540 million
Directions: Via taxi, ask for "Jin Mao Da Sha" (its name in Mandarin). Via subway, use Line 2, and get off at Lujiazui Station. Take Exit 5 to street level and walk few meters back towards the distinctive circular motif entrance at the base of the stacked steel pagodas of the Jin Mao Tower.
More on CNN: Best skyscrapers in Shanghai
88 Shiji Da Dao, near Dongtai Lu 世纪大道88号, 近东泰路
Shanghai World Financial Center (上海环球金融中心)
Standing 492 meters tall, the Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC) is colloquially known as the "bottle opener," or "ban tou," among the locals.
It opened to great acclaim in 2008 as the world's second tallest building (behind the Burj Khalifa in Dubai).
The glass-bottomed corridor on the 100th floor is currently the world's tallest observation deck, affording views from 474 meters above street level.
This skyscraper consists of offices, a hotel, conference rooms, observation decks, and ground-floor shopping mall. It was designed by U.S. firm Kohn Pedersen Fox and developed by Mori Building Co. Ltd.
The Park Hyatt Shanghai is the hotel component, containing 174 rooms and suites. Occupying the 79th to the 93rd floors, it is the highest hotel in mainland China (for now).
"This mixed-use skyscraper is designed as clean-cut sculpture," Wang says. "Each floor is different and the transparent skywalk on the top floor is amazing."
Construction cost: More than US$850 million
Directions: Starting from the lobby of the Jin Mao Tower at street level, walk outside and cross the small street towards the SWFC -- look up for the smooth-sided (and practically unmissable) "bottle opener."
More on CNN: 20 of the world's most iconic skyscrapers
100 Shiji Da Dao, near Dongtai Lu 世纪大道100号, 近东泰路
Shanghai Tower (under construction)
Currently a construction site next door to Jin Mao Tower and the SWFC, at 632 meters the Shanghai Tower, which is due to complete in 2014, will be the tallest of the trio of supertall skyscrapers (with Jin Mao and SWFC).
Twisting skyward at 120 degrees with a double-skin facade system, the 128-story tower will stand like a thermos flask.
The building had been touted as the second tallest in the world (still trailing the Burj Khalifa) for more than three years until the ambitious Sky City project in Hunan was announced the past June. Now it’s likely to grab the third chair in 2014 upon completion.
It's also expected to house the world’s tallestCHK hotel, J Hotel, run by Shanghai Jin Jiang International Hotels.
Designed by American firm Gensler, who Wang describes as "one of the best commercial firms in the world," the Shanghai Tower will cover a total floor area of 380,000 square meters.
"This twisting tower combines the best design of resisting wind force and elegance of streamline façade," Wang says. "It is described by architects as an icon of the future."
Shanghai Tower has recently reached 338 meters in height and is on course to surpass 400 meters by the end of 2012.
Construction cost (projected): US$2.33 billion
Directions: Stand at the entrance of the SWFC and look towards the Jin Mao Tower and you can see the busy Shanghai Tower construction site on your left. Walk around the outside of the site (carefully) -- look out for blue construction trucks.
More on CNN: Insider Guide: Best of Shanghai
Shanghai International Financial Center (上海国际金融中心)
The octagonal twin towers contain more than 350,000 square meters of gross floor area divided into office towers, an upmarket shopping mall, the five-star Ritz-Carlton Pudong and serviced apartments.
Argentinean-American architect Cesar Pelli, 85, was responsible for designing the twin towers, which rise to 259 meters and opened to the public in 2010.
Wang describes the Shanghai International Financial Center (IFC) by saying: “This building has circulation with the underground luxury brand shopping space."
"The twin towers are similar but asymmetrical with dynamic streamlined facades.”
Construction cost: Approx. US$1 billion
Directions: From the Shanghai Tower construction site, walk back towards the Jin Mao tower and cross the small street towards the park. Look to the left and you can see the glittering six-story IFC Mall topped with twin office towers.
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8 Shiji Da Dao, near Lujiazui Huan Lu 世纪大道8号, 近陆家嘴环路
Shanghai Bank of China Tower (中银大厦)
The 53-story tower is best known outside architectural circles for its guest appearance in “Mission Impossible III” as the building Tom Cruise uses for bungee jumping practice.
The square base and round tower of this 226-meter edifice is reminiscent of the old Chinese philosophical description of a circular heaven and square earth.
Designed by the Japanese firm, Nikken Sekkei and opened in 1999, the building combines commercial space with serviced offices and apartments.
According to Wang, the Bank of China Tower is a personal favorite because of the way in which it combines elements of old and new China.
“This iconic building has clean design with a floor plan like an ancient Chinese coin,” he says.
Construction cost: US$230 million
Directions: From street level outside the IFC Mall, look towards the distinctive “ball and sticks” of the Oriental Pearl Tower. To your right directly across Shiji Da Dao (Century Avenue) is Shanghai Bank of China Tower. Use the large circular overpass to cross the street.
200 Yin Cheng Dong Lu, near Shiji Da Dao 银城中路200号, 近世纪大道
Follow the map to tour Shanghai's Lujiazui, one of the world's most skyscraper-compact districts.