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Kuala Lumpur: Petronas Twin Towers

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Uploaded on Feb 28, 2010

Im in Kuala Lumpur for three days on business and so time to squeeze in the local landmarks. The first stop on any sightseeing expedition here has to be the dramatic Petronas Twin Towers, one of the most famous skyscrapers in the world and very handily less than a ten minute walk from the guest house where I am staying for a couple of nights. Its acres of steel shine in the daytime sunlight and are floodlit spectacularly at night meaning that you can see the towers from almost anywhere in the city; they are the focal point that the city's hub revolves around. To get to them a map is barely necessary, you just point in their direction and they guide you.

When it opened in 1998 the Petronas Twin Towers, with 88 floors, was the tallest building in the world, a few metres higher than the famous Empire State Building. The skyscraper certainly did its job: it put the city on the global map and turned state petroleum company, Petronas, into a household name. Six years later Tapei 101 took over its mantle as it was just over 50 metres higher, and since then the Sears/Willis Tower in Chicago arrived on the skyscraper scene it is almost equally as tall before the 160 floor Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which has just officially opened, shattered the established order with an unmatchable height of 828 metres. However for sheer visual appeal and global recognition, the Petronas Twin Towers, already immortalized in a Hollywood movie, is arguably still the most famous skyscraper in the world and it remains the tallest twin building in the world.

The Petronas Twin Towers, designed by Argentine architect César Pelli, are far more impressive in the real life than in any photos or film, they command Kuala Lumpur's landscape utterly, walk in amongst the citys many tall and eye-catching buildings and around every corner its towers will thrust out, dazzling and captivating, everything else is just packaging. The complex steel-and-glass facade that sheathes the towers from level 6 upwards creates huge impact either by day or at night. In the sunlight the vast structures glitter, the whole building shimmering in silver, and its just the same effect at night albeit even more impressive as it is washed with thousands of floodlights. 

The story of the Twin Towers starts in 1991 the Petronas company gave the green light to the plan for a dramatic skyscraper in the city centre and the construction planning began in January 1992. By March 1993, the excavators were hard at work, digging down 30 metres below the surface of the site, according to the official websites history section. 1,200,000 square metres of earth was excavated and de-watered in a year, while over 2.5 km of access roads sprang up and 4km of temporary drainage was laid. The extent of excavation required to lay the foundations, that would support what would be the worlds tallest building, required a mammoth effort to move over 500 truck-loads of earth every single night. The next stage was the single largest and longest concrete pour in Malaysian history as over 13,200 cubic metres of concrete was continuously poured through a period of 54 hours for each tower.

On top of this solid concrete foundation rose a 21-metre high retaining wall, that was a kilometer all the way round, and this concrete shell and the basement area it enclosed required two years of hard work which went on all day and night without a break. The final product was a basement car park with 5,400 bays, and all this before the towers even started to rise. Curiously for the construction of the twin towers, two different contractors were chosen, one for each tower, to allow cross-monitoring with one coming to the aid of the other when problems arose. The construction of the towers got underway in April 1994 and 80,000 cubic metres of concrete with 37,000 tons of steel were used to form the frames of both towers. Finally the towers, their design inspired by the countrys long Islamic traditions, were clad in an 88,000 square metres of steel, the whole process being completed in June 1996. The result is two towers that are each 452 metres high and boast 88 floors (with the famous Skywalk located on level 42) adding up to 395,000 sq metres of space, along with 1,800 doors and 765 flights of stairs, not to mention KLCC Suria, the obligatory designer-name-encrusted six-level shopping mall.

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