Vertical City

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Vertical City takes a high rise hike around the globe’s most iconic skyscrapers, seeing these potent symbols of ambition and wealth from a fresh perspective.

Scaling the tallest towers across the world from New York to Sweden, from Chicago to Melbourne, architects Charlie Luxton (BBC3’s Dreamspaces & BBC2’s Restored to Glory) and Keith Keaveney get high and see these bold buildings on a grand scale and at great heights from a unique perspective, as well as uncovering the stories of power, politics and daring design that lie behind them.

Episode 1. Taipei 101, Taiwan

Taiwan, China’s renegade province, wanted to make the world sit up and notice it – so it built the planet’s tallest skyscraper, Taipei 101, in its capital city. An architectural meeting of East meets West, Taiwan’s biggest global advertising board and symbol of achievement was a defiant gesture towards its neighbouring superpower, and a calculated quest for Taiwanese commercial attention proving that in modern times, the super-tall building is more than just the corporation HQ of the past.

Episode 2. Bank of China, Hong Kong

Created in 1990 by world renowned architect IM Pei, the Bank of China in Hong Kong put Asia on the skyscraper map and stands like a diamond amongst the island’s forest of towers. But behind the architecture lies a tall political tale – one of a global superpower marking its territory. China wanted the world to know that Hong Kong would soon be under its rule – and used this skyscraper to prove it.

Episode 3. 375 Park Avenue, New York

There are a lot of skyscrapers out there – but just a handful have truly shaped architecture. The iconic 375 Park Avenue in New York, built in 1958 by the king of Modernist design Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, changed skyscraper design forever. As the world’s most influential and copied tower, it has inspired the square glass blocks of every global skyline. But behind its revolutionary glass façade lies a story of how a skyscraper that couldn’t afford to be built, got built – and how its creator finally managed to realise his 40 year architectural dream.

Episode 4. 2 International Finance Center, Hong Kong

Stunning skylines are fuelled by money – and Hong Kong has one of the most stunning in the world. With a lack of land on the island, the only way is up. The most prized – and expensive – plot is the financial district of Central where one skyscraper towers above the rest, star of Batman movies and gleaming white pillar of capitalism, 2 International Finance Center. To ensure the developers made a healthy return on their investment, 2IFC’s architects had to not just make the tower look good to lure high paying tenants – but ensure that literally every inch of the skyscraper’s design paid back.

Episode 5. Petronas Towers, Malaysia

In the late 1980s the Malaysian government decided to build a skyscraper so unprecedented in size and so ambitious that it sought to overtake Chicago’s Sears Tower as the tallest building in the world. The result – the elaborately curved Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur – achieved both goals. But for Cesar Pelli, the Western architect charged with the task of creating this national symbol that both respected the past and looked forward to the 21st century, it would be an enormous design challenge on a rocky and unchartered road – and getting the towers built in Malaysia would prove almost impossible.

Episode 6. John Hancock Tower, Boston

Behind the glistening façade of Boston’s John Hancock Tower lies one of the most embarrassing moments in architectural history. The insurance company wanted to express their corporate might by building a modernist skyscraper in the heart of Boston’s historic core, threatening to pull their financial weight out of the city if they faced opposition. Little did they know that this act of arrogance would haunt them forever. Their dream tower turned into their worst nightmare and what followed is one of the most unbelievable tales in architectural history, involving collapsing foundations, windows falling out and a skyscraper that was likely to topple over.

Episode 7. Beetham Tower, Manchester

As the tallest residential skyscraper in the UK, Manchester’s distinctive Beetham Tower is turning heads – and dividing opinions. Heading up a new generation of skyscrapers that are regenerating Britain’s post-industrial cities, Beetham is at the heart of a battle between traditionalists and modernists – because despite producing some of the world’s leading high-rise architects like Richard Rogers and Norman Foster, Britain isn’t exactly enamored with skyscrapers – including its future king, Prince Charles.

Episode 8. John Hancock Tower, Chicago

The John Hancock Center in Chicago is one of the most influential skyscrapers of the twentieth century. When completed in 1969 this was the tallest tower in the world outside New York City and is still the most famous structural expressionist style building in high rise architecture. By using new technologies like the computer and developments in steel, the tower’s designers revolutionized the way skyscrapers were built and created a true masterpiece of engineering.

Episode 9. 1180 Peachtree, Atlanta

1180 Peachtree is a striking icon on the Atlanta skyline, its huge fins making it distinct from other skyscrapers in the city. But it’s not all about good looks – 1180 is creating a new era for the city’s towers. Back in the 1980s, when crime and racial tension were rife in the city, architects designed skyscrapers that existed independently of street life, connecting to parking and shopping malls with skybridges that made sidewalks completely redundant.

Episode 10. NaberezhnayaTower, Moscow

Moscow has become Europe’s skyscraper capital, with the Naberezhnaya Tower holding the title of the continent’s tallest building.It represents a new era for the city, one in whichMoscow can finally compete with the other major financial centers’ of the world. Further skyscrapers, such as Norman Foster’s 500 meter tall Russia Tower, are currently being built – pushing the parameters of both height and skyscraper design in Europe. These extraordinary towersrepresent the final realization of a modern high riseMoscow- onethat was once dreamt of decades ago bythe city’searly 20th century undiscovered skyscraper visionary.

Episode 11. TriumphPalace, Moscow

In2003, Moscow’s TriumphPalacebecame Europe’s tallest building. What is striking about this luxury residential block is not so much it’s height but the fact that it resurrects an architectural style closely linked with the city’s turbulent political past. In the 1940s Josef Stalin commissioned a series of seven tall towers thatwould compete with the skyscrapers of New York. Known as the Seven Sisters, the towers were created to inspire Russian citizens to celebrate the strength and glory of the communist state. Matt Berman investigates the design and political genesis of these towers and examines why an eighth sister, the Triumph Palace, has been added in 21st century capitalist Moscow.

Episode 12. Shanghai World Finance Center, China

With the highest roof on earth, the sleek Shanghai World Finance Center stands in the city that has overtaken New York and Chicago as skyscraper capital of the world. Setting the standard for a new generation of super tall skyscrapers, this Japanese-developed tower, built on Chinese land, also symbolizes a new era in relations between the two previously hostile countries after Japan’s violent invasion of China in the 1930s. This troubled history meant that every step of the skyscraper’s symbolism and design had to be handled with immense sensitivity – but that didn’t stop anti-Japanese sentiment threatening its completion.