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Last Updated: Friday, 31 December, 2004, 14:44 GMT
Taipei 101: A view from the top
By Chris Hogg
BBC, Taipei

Taipei 101 tower (archive picture)
Taipei 101 was officially opened in time for the New Year celebrations
It's not often that you get to stand - literally - on the roof of the world.

But I've done it and I can tell you that it's pretty windy. And if like me you don't have a head for heights, it's best not to look down.

I was recently given a sneak preview of the view from the top of the 508-m tall Taipei 101 building, which opened on Friday in time to host the New Year Countdown.

At 101 storeys high, it beats its nearest rival the Petronas Towers in Malaysia by more than 50m, to become the world's tallest building.

To get to the top you need to use the world's fastest elevator. This takes just 37 seconds to climb to the 89th floor.

Top speed is around 60km/h (36 mph). But clever dampers mean you do not feel the pressure as you speed up into the sky.

I did feel a bit like I'd left my stomach behind, though.

Chinese symbolism

Taipei 101 has been compared to a stack of bottle-green Chinese takeaway cartons.

Its owners, the Taipei Financial Center Corporation, say it is meant to recall a stick of bamboo.

People have grown to love this building. It is bringing Taipei to the world
Cathy Yang, Taipei Financial Center Corporation
"Chinese people love bamboo because it's very strong and very flexible," said Cathy Yang, the corporation's assistant vice-president.

"Bamboo is hollow inside. Chinese philosophy teaches us that the hollow bamboo reminds us to be modest and humble inside," she said.

"This makes it easy for us to relate to this building, as it reflects the philosophies people know."

But this is not a modest or humble undertaking. In fact the significance of the building to people in Taiwan cannot be over-estimated.

When he was mayor of Taipei, Chen Shui-bian - now the island's president - encouraged the building's developers to add a few extra stories to the original plans to make it the highest in the world.

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the tallest building in the world, the Taipei 101, Friday, Dec. 31
President Chen encouraged the tower's construction
According to Cathy Yang, now the tower has been finished, people are starting to take a real pride in it.

"Taiwan has achieved a lot economically in the last 40 years," she said. "But we don't feel we are respected enough around the world."

"By building a tall building like this we will let more people know about Taipei, and we hope to attract more tourists here too."

Taipei 101 is not the tallest structure in the world - that is still the CN Tower in Toronto - but it has been officially recognised as the world's tallest building.

The key, according to the official definition, is that a building has to have floors - and it has to be designed for residential, business or manufacturing purposes.

Earthquake prevention

After the record-breaking elevator ride, visitors can take two more - much slower - trips to the roof.

The damper situated on the 89th floor of the Taipei 101
The damper is designed to help the building withstand tremors
In truth, it is hard to say whether I found it more impressive once I had got there than the other high buildings I have visited.

And one concern kept coming back to me.

I was standing on a roof 500m up in the sky, in one of the world's worst earthquake zones.

But the building's owners insist it is designed to withstand the strongest tremors in a 2,500 year cycle.

It is supported by 380 concrete piles, each sunk into the soil to a depth of 80m.

From the 92nd floor there hangs a massive metal ball weighing 606 metric tonnes and painted gold.

This is the "damper" designed to sway from side to side, to reduce the movement if the tower is hit by high winds.

"It should reduce the effect of a typhoon for instance, by up to 40%," said Cathy Yang. "It's the safest building in Taipei."

As ever these days, security is tight. The public will be able to travel up to observation decks near the top of the building, but those coming in and out of the tower will be closely monitored at all times.

"As the tower has taken shape on the skyline, people have grown to love this building," gushes Ms Yang.

"It is bringing Taipei to the world."

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