THE CESAR PELLI-DESIGNED PETRONAS TOWERS confirmed how important the engineering and building of tall buildings is to Asian aspirations. Pelli's pair of concrete rocket-shaped buildings in Kuala Lumpur are connected by an unusual sky-bridge and were a magnificent reply to the peninsular dominance of Singapore. "Those buildings put Malaysia on the map," notes Kohn. The impact was enormous: The towers became instant icons in a city that not long before had been distinguished by low buildings from the Colonial era. All the better when the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), the acknowledged arbitrator of height claims, decreed that, at 1,483 feet, the Petronas Towers beat the Sears Tower (1,450 feet) for the title of world's tallest. It was a controversial decision, because if you look at scale drawings it's clear that top-floor occupants of the Sears work at a considerably higher elevation than those in Petronas. "The question has always been, what constitutes a tall building," says Klemencic, chair of the council, which decided that height would be measured from the ground to the architectural top of a building. Masts and antennas are disregarded, but pointy caps like those atop the Petronas are OK. "We felt, if the feature is an integral part of the design, it should be included," says Klemencic. "Look at the Chrysler Building. Take away the crown and it's no longer the Chrysler."
China-Taiwan enmity dwarfs that of Malaysia and Singapore, so it's hard to believe the nearly completed Taipei 101 will hold on to the crown for long. Shanghai already boasts the sleek 1,380-foot-tall Jin Mao Tower, the world's fourth-largest building (counting the Petronas Towers as one and two) and the tallest in China. Even bigger will be the KPF-designed Shanghai World Financial Center next door. Only the foundation piles are in; construction stalled after the Asian financial crisis in 1997. Kohn says the project has restarted, with a redesign that will top Taipei 101. By how much? "That's secret," Kohn says, "but I guarantee it will be the tallest." It will have strong competition: In January, a group of multinational companies announced their plan to add a 1,772-foot tower, by 2007, to a project already under way in Seoul.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.