Taipei 101

By cjohnson | February 2, 2006 11:37 pm

taipei 101 building On Tuesday, in my Physics 151 class, I got to the point where I talk about falling objects, and also about terminal speed/velocity. There’s an example in the textbook and in my notes where (in order to understand drag) there is a discussion of shooting a styrofoam ball straight down off the Empire State building, and then studying the resulting settling down to the terminal speed due to drag balancing the weight, etc, etc….

Just when I came to the Empire State building I stopped and asked if anyone knew which was the world’s tallest building (by three of the four measures that count: highest structurally, highest roof, and highest occupied floor…so no communication structures…..ok Toronto?)… Actually, it did not take long to get the correct answer……after all, we are a major Pacific Rim city, and USC has a large number of asian students….. and I learned from a conversation with our President the other day that USC is one of the main US destinations for students from Taiwan. So yes. The answer was Taipei 101, which is in Taipei (appropriately). I then realised that precisely one month before that very day – December 31st – I was still on my Walkabout (see also here) and I was at the top of that very building! I mentioned this to them. So it was appropriate to modify the example we were discussing to use Taipei 101 instead of the Empire State Building.

tower shotSo it is a fantastic building, both inside and out. It has a huge shopping complex in the lower part of the building – very glossy, by any standards (and I should know since I have some of the glossiest shopping areas not far from here in Beverly Hills and West Hollywood) – and clearly a source of delight for locals and tourists alike. I wandered around that for a bit, just to see something different. It had been almost a month since I’d seen so much overtly Western stuff (all the big name boutiques and what-have-yous) , and it was sort of interesting to see it…. Recall that it was still close to Newton’s Birthday, oops, Christmas Day and so the whole shopping fever thing that you know from here in the West was still in evidence. mall shot(Recall that I cancelled Christmas to go there and hide, but I could not hide form it completely.) One interesting thing I noticed about the fancy stores (example of how popular the stores are?) is the fact that there are queues to get into some of them, with a doorman and a little taped-off area for people to wait to get in when others have left….. I guessed they were enforcing some maximum capacity guideline, but did not check since I had no business going into any of them (I get my Gucci, Donna Karan and Louis Vuitton, etc, stuff in Beverly Hills, where else?! ) Or maybe it’s just a way of seeming extra exclusive…. The Gucci doorman seemed rather put out when I tried to take a picture of his splendid red rope. vuitton line Maybe he was upset that there was nobody waiting at it, unlike Louis Vuitton a few doors down?

The basement contains stuff of legend. It has a food hall with hundreds -I am not exaggerating- hundreds of asian food outlets from all over the map of asian cuisine. I actually spent quite a bit of time down there. Not eating, but figuring out what to eat. I was completely dazed and confused about all the choices…..

Why the name “Taipei 101”? Well here’s the official reason from Skyscraper Page (See also the Wikipedia entry for it here.):

TAIPEI is mnemonic for Technology, Art, Innovation, People, Environment, and Identity. 101 represents the concept of striving for beyond perfection.


gucci lineEnough of that…. back to the tower. So up to the fifth floor you go by conventional means, buy your ticket, and then go to the The Elevator. I put that in capital letters because it is the first of several amazing things I’d be told about again and again on the tour (how tall, how much steel, how much concrete, what kind of earthquakes it can survive…..etc). The Elevator is an express elevator that moves at some incredible speed. I’ve forgotten the numbers (hey, it was a month ago, and I’m not as young as I used to be. [Update: 1010 m/min, apparently]) elevator diagrambut they were impressive. But I did take a picture of the glowing diagram in The Elevator that tracks your progress up the building, tells you your current floor and speed and time elapsed. You can see from the picture that this is at the end of the journey, and it took 37 seconds. This is apparently in the record books for this height gain. And you hardly feel a thing (which was good, since I’d just come up from the food hall)….

The observation points at the top are wonderful. I could look out at the city and surrounds in all directions and admire the splendid view of the….clouds. Yeah…. it was a cloudy day, but actually this was really an impressive extra, since you can look down on the clouds (wow) and since it was also reasonably windy, there were several chances for part of a view to clear and you’d see a dramatic piece of the city appear in bright sunshine for a few minutes, and then fade from view again. I loved it.

stabilizerAnother thing you get to see is one of the stabilizers. These can be found in a number of buildings, but this is apparently one of the only buildings that allows you to see one of them as part of the display. It is basically a giant (Huge!) several-ton lump of metal (sorry, forgot the numbers …800 I think) which is movable. It is on a fantastic hydraulic system, and when the building is doing something dynamic (I don’t know…swaying alarmingly from side to side?) the building’s computers (I imagine….or maybe a dedicated experienced trapeze artist in a booth somewhere?) adjust the attititude of this giant lump of metal to compensate. Wow. I thought it was quite splendid…Wanted to jump down into the pit onto it and give it a bit of a push, actually, but decided against that (partly because it would not be likely to budge, and partly because there was this rather beautiful and elegant woman nearby who I did not want to think (or find out) that I was nuts…. oh, and because it would be a stupid thing to do).

veggie plotSo upon returning to the ground, I set off to walk back across the city for the rest of the afternoon to return home, in order to get a feel for it. One last look up at the wonderful structure (taking the picture next down from the top, on then left, and later the lovely shot of it in the distance you see at the top, as night fell as I walked out of the neighbourhood), and then I set off. Notice how the design is both ultra-modern and reminiscent of the ancient as well…..looks a bit like a stick of bamboo? Got it in one! This is one thing I love about Taiwan….that juxtaposition of old and new. I’ve spoken of this in earlier posts. Here’s another example. I crossed the road from the Taipei 101 building and went half a block and was treated a completely unexpected (and welcome) sight: There is a little patch of ground right there, with a man tending vegetables in a garden! How’s that for ultra-modern rubbing up against the ancient? I do hope it is still there next time I go. I’ll be so sad to see that garden gone.

So a exactly a month later by the calendar, on Tuesday 31st Jan, while the class was solving the little drag-on-styrofoam-ball problem, one of the students asked me quietly, “What were you doing up the Taipei 101 building a month ago”. My reply? “Shooting styrofoam balls off the top, of course!”


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Academia, Personal, Travel
  • amanda

    Well, CVJ, to each his own and all that, but a lot of Asians find this kind of architectural megalomania deeply embarrassing. Particularly when the results are so spectacularly ugly [see eg that hideous monstrosity in Kuala Lumpur which was the tallest until pipped by the grotesque Taipei 101, which in its turn will soon be rendered obsolete by yet another horror in Shanghai [which already looks like the city of the future, as envisioned by a 5-year-old boy] or Seoul…..

  • Clifford

    So you’re proposing that we human beings (I fail to see why it is particular to being Asian, but what do I know?) should stop building skyscrapers?! But where will I (and others like me) do my styrofoam ball experiments?! Oh no!


  • Jennifer

    Amanda I’m really happy to see you in cyberland, and I *knew* I mean I knew when cvj mentioned Toronto he was throwing down the Amanda gauntlet…the topmost photo makes Taipei 101 look quite beautiful to me though…

    Clifford, speaking of Tuesday classes, I’ll be visiting USC next week and sitting in on classes, hopefully your Tuesday class just for fun. But do let me know if you don’t like visitors in the classroom (professors have been remarkably low-key about it at Harvard, but I imagine it could be distracting depending on the size of the class). Cheers to both of you.

  • Clifford

    I’m very confused…. Toronto? Amanda gauntlet?

    But anyway…sure… come sit in on the class. Who knows, we might be playing with styrofoam balls again.


  • Jennifer

    oops – got my Amandas confused – I thought she was Amanda Peet (the physicist not the actress)!!

  • Samantha

    …a lot of Asians find this kind of architectural megalomania deeply embarrassing…

    I am surprised by this statement (although I live to be wrong and I am not Asian). Why is it considered embarrassing to be competing to be the best at something?

    And would you consider all skyscrapers as hideous/a form of architectural megalomania?

    I personally love many skyscrapers both for their beauty (my favourite is the Chrysler building in NY – also although I have not seen Taipei 101 in person, Clifford’s picture of it in this post indicates that it falls very far short of being described as “grotesque”) and practicality (a means of housing many people in a relatively small footprint).

  • Samantha

    And if I may ask one thing more, why is it that Clifford (or anyone else) writes a lovely post about a building that he clearly loves and the first thing someone writes is something negative cutting him down?

    Of course everyone is entitled to their opinion, this site is dedicated to the polite free exchange of ideas, but I find often it dismaying how rude people feel they can be in their comments to posts even on this blog.

    If someone waxed lyrical about Taipei 101 at a dinner party would you really tell them flat out to their face that you think it is a grotesque embarrassment? Well maybe you would, but the result would likely be embarrassed silence from everyone else around the table on your behalf.

  • amanda

    Samantha, sure I would disagree at a dinner party if somebody said they liked Taipei 101! Dinner parties would surely be boring indeed if everyone agreed with everything the host says! You’ve been to parties like that — when the host is your boss — and it was excruciating, was it not? Though of course it’s the old story, when communicating on the internet there are no smiles, body language etc to indicate that just because I disagree with someone it does not follow that I think he’s a fool. If cvj was insulted by what I wrote then I heartily apologise.

    Anyway, in Asia [at least among students and people like that] these huge buildings are regarded in much the same way that an American student would regard that pseudo-Venice hotel in Las Vegas. People are trying too hard to prove that they are just as good as anyone else, and the result is embarrassing. Maybe you need to be here and hear the kind of nationalistic rubbish that gets broadcast each time some new giant building gets put up, frequently on the ruins of some much nicer old low-rise housing. Just trying to present a local view — a *lot* of people here would be *very* surprised to hear that Taipei is as wonderful as all that!

    Anyway, apologies all round if anyone felt hurt, not my intention at all.

  • Clifford

    Amanda…fair enough. Many (not all) of the locals I spoke to seemed rather pleased with it, but then remember the scooter post. I apparently offended the whole of asia (and asians everywhere, and who existed for all time in the past and future) in that post by pointing out that scooters contribute to bad traffic and air pollution…. something that I was told by locals too, but somehow am not allowed to say myself due to some weird political correctness. Or maybe all the locals were just telling me what I wanted to hear, or are not “true locals” as I got from one commenter. Or maybe I’m just confused.

    I guess I can see that not all people like some new building, and that there might be some nationalistic dross associated with it…I just don’t get what it has to do with being Asian. I find it excruciatingly silly that they are going to call the new World Trade Center building in New York the “Freedom Tower” and that it is going to be 1776 feet tall. How ridiculously nationalistic is that? I don’t think it was an Asian idea to do that, was it?

    Thanks for your reply. I like discussion, and I like disagreement…. but I guess that what is getting a bit hurtful is that it seems now that I put a lot of time into preparing various posts on this blog these days, and even though people read them (or at least click on them), if I get any comment at all it is now more than likely to be either someone making a negative remark, triumphantly screaming a spelling correction, accusing me of insulting some group or other, or saying some ill-thought-out remark that shows that they never even read the post.

    Nobody seems to want to bother to just say “hey, I like that too” (well, it’s rare now). A bit of sweet and sour is nice…. not all one or the other, or near-total silence.

    I’m beginning to wonder why I bother at all.



  • Clifford

    Amanda wrote: “Just trying to present a local view — a *lot* of people here would be *very* surprised to hear that Taipei is as wonderful as all that!”

    That’s also interesting to read. I just spoke of a building in that post, not the whole of Taipei. But what’s wrong with saying that I thought something was wonderful? The world is so full of people criticising things and finding things wrong with everything. It’s just too easy. Everybody is whining. I come from a country where it is the national sport. I’m *sick* of it. I choose to try to find a little good stuff in everything…it’s there if you choose to see it. Forgive me for that.

    Oh, and when I do point out something negative in a post…that’s when I get a chorus telling me what an insensitive bastard I am. I remind you of the scooter post.

    I can’t win. Ok. Time to stop depressing myself with blogging (it’s supposed to be fun, right?) and go have some fun times out on the town. It’s Friday night, after all.



  • Mark

    Clifford. I do not wish to direct this comment, even obliquely, at anyone who has been commenting, but let me just say that the right attitude is that you are a smart and funny guy, and anyone who insists on reading your posts and looking for things to annoy them can just go screw themselves. It has happened a few times over innocuous posts and is just plain silly.

    Please don’t waste any of your valuable time on wondering why you bother. The answer is that you bother for the people who know how to conduct themselves and have a constructive nuanced conversation (you know, like telling people they can go screw themselves :)).

    By the way; I like the building, and if that makes me crass – tough!

    Also, thank you for exposing us to some lovely pictures of things that we – at least I – hadn’t seen before. I’m glad you enjoyed the place – good for you!

  • Clifford

    Thanks Mark!


  • Amanda

    OK, cvj, you sure know how to make a girl feel bad. :-)
    I would feel even worse if I were somehow to be held responsible for you giving up on blogging. I and many others *do* like your writings very much indeed. Looking back at my original post, I can see now how it must have looked. It was *intended* to be of the kind: “ARE YOU KIDDING ME MAN??!! THAT BUILDING SUCKS LIKE A BILLION-SOLAR-MASS BLACK HOLE!!” [Loud laughter from friends]. It was *not* supposed to look like a sour what-do-you-dumb-foreigners-know thing. But it does. Mea culpa.

    I guess the problem is that when people see a post they agree with, they just nod calmly at your vast wisdom. But if you said to your friends that [for example] the hotels in Las Vegas were really cool and not at all tacky, would they politely agree or would they roast the hell out of you? :-) Of course it is presumptuous of me to put myself in that category, but maybe that’s the point –you are the victim of your own success!

    Anyway please accept my sincere apologies and please rest assured that I will be a lot more careful in future and PLEASE don’t give up on blogging!

    Mark: Yes, you are crass. :-)

  • Sean

    The Bellagio rocks. Although arguments can be made for Caesar’s Palace, Mandalay Bay, the MGM Grand, or even the Wynn.

    And my friends know not to disagree or I will kick their asses.

  • Samantha

    The all you can eat breakfast at the Wynn is the stuff of legend.

  • http://1034:Incorrectkeyfilefortableusers;trytorepairit sisyphus

    #10 Clifford: Don’t be discouraged. Most of us, including Amanda, I’m sure, think that you’re the cat’s pajamas. Judging by your posting style, not only are you a brilliant scientist, you’re also a trusting and authentic human being and an all-round great guy.

    Some of us though, like me, think that having fun is having an argument (bad genes? hard time in the formative years?).

    Because, as you’ve indicated in another thread, you like to ‘let it all hang out’, some us may feel that we have permission to be a little more aggressive on your threads than on others’.

    I have to say it, though, Taipei 101 may be a technological wonder, but aesthetically it’s… interesting.

  • Samantha

    Hi Amanda,

    Yes, it is so much harder to convey dissent in writing but – to reassure you – your comment in the infamous scooter poster was much appreciated.

    Anyway. I was thinking about national pride. I side with Clifford here, I often find the lack of national pride in Britain (compared to the US) very disheartening. Especially since national pride has been subjugated by revolting organizations like the BNP, hence why liberals (like myself) would never ever wear anything with a Union Jack on it. But this *tends* to result in the British being very negative about any British achievement.

    And it isn’t the same in the US. Let consider Vegas. As it happens, I run a lab here in wonderful Southern California and my students *love* Vegas. I wouldn’t even know how to tell them that some people consider they should be ashamed of it. I don’t think they mistake it for high culture, they love it because it is a great place (albeit the most artificial place on earth that requires questionable water reallocation) to go for a really fun weekend (I can second this). Now this isn’t to say that all American students love Vegas, just my students (and perhaps Sean too) aren’t embarrassed by this direction their culture went in. And I like that.

  • http://1034:Incorrectkeyfilefortableusers;trytorepairit sisyphus

    Las Vegas and Disney World are Baudrillard’s favorite examples of hyperreality. They’re fun places because visitors experience a feeling of shared separation from the real world. Las Vegas casino owners hire designers who specialize in creating hyperreal environments so that visitors will be less conscious of the meaning of the money they’re losing. Nice.

  • Maynard Handley

    Anyway, in Asia ***[at least among students and people like that]*** these huge buildings are regarded in much the same way that an American student would regard that pseudo-Venice hotel in Las Vegas.

    Ie among the hipper than thou crowd. Y’all really should read John Le Carre’s latest book, _Absolute Friends_, which apart from being a cracking good spy novel with a disturbingly accurate take on the current world political situation, in his standard low-key understated way skewers this sort of student thinking and how it’s usually driven more by some sort of immature psychodynamics of rebelling against daddy than by any sort of informed consideration of the situation.

    For what it’s worth I’m with Clifford on this one.

  • Clifford

    Amanda: – Thanks. No hard feelings, ok? Next time I’m in Taipei -later this year I hope- the first drink’s on me, ok? (If that’s where you are.) There’s some excellent bars in Taipei I’ll post about later….perhaps.

    Everyone: thanks!


  • David

    There’s an interesting/amusing story on how Taipei 101 came about (according to what I read in an inflight magasine). Apparently the project didn’t start out as an attempt to build the world’s tallest building. It was begun by two local business tycoons (bank owners or the like) who decided to jointly develop the site as new headquarters for their businesses. The original plan was for one large building and a smaller one next to it. But both of them insisted that their business should be located in the big building! They couldn’t reach agreement about this, and in the end decided to just build one huge building for both to share…

    Personally I think Taipei 101 is seriously cool, and don’t know how anyone who has seen it (or Clifford’s picture at the top of the page) could fail to be impressed…but each to their own of course.
    (Btw Clifford, did you check out the view of it from the top floor of the NTU physics building? It’s especially good at night when it is all lit up.)

    “…or are not “true locals” as I got from one commenter.”

    No you didn’t. That’s definitely not what I said or meant. Sorry if the stuff i wrote in that thread was annoying though.

  • Bobalina

    This civilized arguing and forgiving and such makes me feel like an idiot. All of you should be proud of your considerable knowledge and sentence construction finesse! (Ha! I like I know what any of those words mean… innocuous? I understood that at some point in my life!)

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