Kohn Pederson Fox Associates’ mixed-use tower is finally complete, 16 years after the original design was finished.

The Shanghai World Financial Center isn’t just well known—it’s been making headlines for more than a decade. Its original 1993 design was halted after foundations were completed, just before the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. Subsequent engineering innovations replaced a concrete structure with a diagonal-braced frame with outrigger trusses coupled to the columns of the megastructure. This reduced the weight of the overall building by more than 10 percent and added an additional 32 meters to the building’s height without changing the existing underground work.


The 4.1 million-square-foot tower’s form is derived from a square prism—an ancient Chinese symbol of the earth—intersected by two “cosmic arches,” described by the architects as representing the heavens. The resulting mass provides large floor plates for offices on the lower levels (the total office space is 2.4 million square feet over 70 floors). Footprints get considerably smaller on the upper levels, where the Park Hyatt hotel occupies the 79th to 93rd floors. The building’s signature cutout top provides expansive views of the Chinese financial capital from the 100th-floor Skywalk.


The podium at the building’s base incorporates retail, conference space, and other public functions in a design whose overlapping circles, squares, and resulting angles are intended to evoke the same heaven-and-earth dynamic as the tower. The jurors criticized it for its “edge city” qualities, although they agreed to overlook this shortcoming since it’s endemic to the surrounding Pudong district. Aaron Betsky praised it as “one of the most elegant skyscrapers of recent years” while Marion Weiss referred to its memorable form as “the blonde girl.” Ralph Johnson admitted his sole experience of the building is observing it from cab rides across the city. He said, “You really can see it’s the tallest building in Shanghai,” adding, “it goes from very thin to very wide. Every angle of the tower is different as you go around the city.”