Shanghai, China

The 101-story World Financial Center cuts an elegant, striking figure on Shanghai’s dynamic skyline. Next door, the 1999 Jin Mao skyscraper, an 88-story interpretation of the traditional Chinese pagoda by Adrian Smith and SOM, provides a counterpoint to the smooth lines of the World Financial Center, designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF). “We took a different point of view [from the Jin Mao],” says William Pedersen, KPF design principal. “Our objective was to create the simplest form that would have the strongest presence possible.”

That form was generated from the intersection of a stout square base and soaring slices of a circle, which represent earth and heaven, respectively, in Chinese symbolism. The gesture isn’t simply symbolic, however. The broad square was ideal for the large retail spaces the developer (the Japan-based Mori Building Company) wanted in the base of the building, aiming to enliven the still-emerging Pudong district. That square plan was also ideal for the expansive floor plates of offices that take up the majority of the tower—from the seventh to the 77th floor. As the tower narrows at the top, the thinner floors accommodate the 174-room Park Hyatt Hotel, located between the 79th and 93rd floors.

At its summit, a trapezoidal aperture defines the tower’s image against the sky. Originally planned as a circle, the design was changed after many people objected to its possible interpretation as a “rising sun”—a divisive symbol when taking into account the building’s Japanese developer and China’s hardship during the Japanese occupation of the 1930s and ‘40s. Through the opening, a series of observation decks, including the dramatic all-glass Sky Walk 100 bridge, provide a breathtaking spot to view the changing landscape of Shanghai.