Canton Tower, Guangzhou

Designed by the Dutch architects Mark Hemel and Barbara Kuit of Information Based Architecture together with Arup, the tallest tower in the world is now open.

The Canton Tower in Guanzhou, the tallest TV and sight-seeing tower in the world, is now open after six years of construction works. Eclipsing the CN Tower in Toronto, the Canton, designed by Dutch architects Information Based Architecture (IBA), comes in at 600m in height and is considered so anthropomorphic it has picked up the local nickname "the supermodel".

"Where most skyscrapers bear 'male' features; being introvert, strong, straight, rectangular, and based on repetition, we wanted to create a 'female' tower, being complex, transparent, curvy, gracious and sexy." Says architect Mark Hemel, partner of IBA. "Our aim was to design a free-form tower with a rich and human-like identity that would represent Guangzhou as a dynamic and exciting city." The result is a tower, very slender and tall, that bears similarities with the figure of an Barbie-Doll like female form.

Information Based Architecture, a small office based in Amsterdam, won the competition for the tower in 2004, seeing off competition from Richard Rogers, KPF and Coop Himmelb(l)au. The building joins Zaha Hadid's opera house as part of a cluster of striking new buildings in the city that is becoming known as a major cultural hub of China.

The form, volume and structure of the tower is generated by two ellipses, one at foundation level and the other at a horizontal plane at 450 metres. These two ellipses are rotated relative to another. The tightening caused by the rotation between the two ellipses forms a "waist" and a densification of material. The structure consist of a open lattice –, built up from 1,100 nodes and the same amount of connecting ring- and bracing pieces using state-of-the art fabrication techniques. The tower can be seen as a giant 3 dimensional puzzle of which all 3,300 pieces are totally unique.

37 floors of programme including exhibition spaces, a conference centre, a cinema, 2 revolving restaurants and one VIP-restaurant, various cafés and observation levels. A deck at the base of the tower hides the giant building's infrastructural workings. Public transport connections including a metro and bus station are met underground. These levels support other facilities as well, including exhibition spaces, a food court, extensive commercial space, a 600-vehicle parking and tourist coaches. Panoramic double-decker lifts serve both entrance levels. Between level +170 meter and level +350 meter there is a dramatic skywalk – which Hemel describes as a more like a "cloud walk" – an open-air staircase will lead the public all the way up through the narrow waist of the building. From this upper observation levels it is possible to ascend even higher, via a further set of the stairs, to a terraced observation square at +460m, rising well above the tower's top ring, one can have a panoramic view over the booming city of Guangzhou. A set of capsules circumvent the perimeter of the top ring, offering visitors breathtaking views over the very edge of the building.

The project is a pioneer for both its form, which provides a counterpoint to the increasingly generic macho towers of Shanghai and Hong Kong, and for its lightness of touch and convincing use of production and manufacturing. In a country that continues to thrive and build and manifest its wealth and power in architecture, how long it will remain the tallest TV tower in the world, remains to be seen. Beatrice Galilee

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