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For reference, Shenzhen's KK100 (Kingkey 100) is only two feet shorter than a landmark very familiar to me, the Willis (Sears) Tower in Chicago. Two feet. Hold your hands apart at the width of your body: it’s about thhh-aaat much. Completed in 2011, KK100 might have been just another garden variety supertall building except for one very distinctive design feature, a three story egg-shaped pod, nested under a 125 foot-/38 meter-tall section the curving steel-and-glass skin of the building’s top. The renderings from TFP Farrells, the building’s architects, are wildly intriguing, a true supertall skyscraper fantasy. I was thrilled to discover I would actually be visiting this place, going all the way to the very top.
KK100 proved to be very interesting for a number of reasons, starting at the approach to the building off of Hongling Road. KK100’s height is celebrated with a wall display of supertall buildings showing building outlines and their names and heights. The buildings displayed appeared to be mostly Oriental. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to walk the entire wall, which stretched down the block
As with so many other supertall buildings in China, KK100 is one piece of a larger multiuse development puzzle, and the way the components fit together is truly remarkable. Once again, the tall building is accompanied by retail at its base, the multi-level KK100 Mall. On top of this podium stands five residential high-rises; they surround a green space of trees and grass that conceal the mall underneath. The green space is incredibly peaceful considering the population density in the development and all of the activity in the mall.
Most incredible to me, and as interesting as any of KK100's features is how well residential and supertall coexist side by side, how comfortable it feels to have a 100-story building literally in your back yard. My yardstick for KK100 is naturally the Willis (Sears) Tower, a massive building with an intimidating presence when viewed from nearby streets. If Willis/Sears is about power, KK100 is about grace. It is a more slender building with a more elegant façade. Seeing such a tall building framed in the serenity of green space is very surreal, right down to the swimming pool for residents near the tower’s base. Walkways wind around a glass dome that is actually a large skylight for the shopping mall. I imagine living in one of the highrises and going to work each day, with me headed for an office and my wife going for her store in the mall, two short walks of 5 to 7 minutes. Then, dinner at the end of the day in one of the building’s restaurants – and I can tell you our lunch on the 95th floor at the St. Regis Hotel was typically excellent.
As an aside, the KK100 construction site was home to one of China's famous "nail houses", the term for individuals who stubbornly refuse to sell their properties and hold out for better offers. Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, says the nail house name refers to how the buildings stick out like a stubborn nail and are difficult to remove...and as we know, in Asian culture, the nail that sticks up gets hammered down.
If you Google "nail house", you will see photos where some buildings are left on slender columns of earth while everything around has been excavated. It is a scene straight from a Road Runner cartoon.
The story of the nail house on the KK100 site is also told online (see also the photos below) and the owners got the deal they were after. However, the Kingkey development was unusual in that dislocated residents were given apartments in the brand new highrises.
The trip to the Sky Garden and the three-story pod within did not disappoint. We ascended to the St. Regis lobby on 94 and then rode to 97 on another elevator. From here, “floors” 98 thru 100 are actually levels on the pod structure and are reached by climbing stairs. As we strolled the Sky Garden, we discovered a number of wonderful nooks and crannies where a guest could lose themselves quite enjoyably: The Drawing Room, with bars, lushly upholstered chairs and couches, curtains by the windows and even a small reading nook in one corner; The Library and the Malt Lounge, on various levels of the "egg"; refrigerated racks with dozens of bottles of wine. Really, if I stayed at this hotel, I would never leave the place for as long as I was there. Room rates shown on the hotel web site start at CNY2000 per night, or about US$320. I would gladly fork over $300 bucks a night to be able to immerse myself in this atmosphere for a couple of days, and during our Sunday afternoon visit, it felt like we had the place to ourselves.
The St. Regis Hotel starts on the 75 and there is an atrium at the building’s core that runs the entire height of these upper floors. At the top, a stairway between floors 97 and 96 perilously spans this chasm.
There are many supertall buildings in the world today and among them is a collection of what I call "incredible spaces", with surroundings and atmospheres straight from a futuristic science-fiction novel. KK100's Sky Garden is very high on this list, a kind of experience that can be found nowhere else in the world. Wow.