New Tower in Tokyo Outstrips Older Rival

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BY STEVE HERMAN – TOKYO – Construction is expected to be finished at the end of this month in Japan on the world’s largest self-supporting tower. It will be the second highest man-made structure in the world, surpassed only by Dubai’s 829-meter-high Burj Kalifa skyscraper. The Sky Tree is poised to supersede the 54-year-old Tokyo Tower in more ways than one.

For decades, visitors to Tokyo have admired this Far East tribute to the Eiffel Tower, 13 meters taller than its Parisian predecessor.  But the Tokyo Tower is about to be upstaged by a downtown riverside rival, built at a cost of $800 million.


Skycraper, twice as tall as Tokyo Tower

The Sky Tree, which will open to the public in about three months, soars to 634 meters above the ground, nearly twice as high as Tokyo Tower.

In this digital era, the older structure is just not high enough to host television stations’ antennae – to effectively reach the millions of households in this sprawling urban area.

Leasing, primary revenue source

Leasing its steel perches to broadcasters will be the Sky Tree’s primary revenue source. As is the case with Tokyo Tower, it also plans to collect admission fees from two million to three million visitors a year.

The price of a ride up the Sky Tree will take the breath away from some potential visitors – about $40. In exchange, they will see Tokyo from the upper observation deck at a height of 450 meters.

Public relations chief Saeko Masuda tells pre-opening visitors to a temporary souvenir shop that on a clear day they will be able to see as far as 75 kilometers.  “So you can see, of course, Mt. Fuji and very big scenery from the Kanto area. Kanto means surrounding Tokyo. And you can see the Tokyo Bay and Pacific Ocean and many mountains around Kanto. Very beautiful. Please come,” she stated.

As the most prominent addition to the Tokyo skyline in decades, the tower has been attracting a lot of attention. Authorities say, perhaps, a bit too much attention, blaming motorists gazing at the new landmark for an increase in the number of traffic accidents.

Some may prefer to keep their distance for other reasons – concerned about such a prominent structure in one of the world’s most seismically active areas.

Massive structure, earthquake proofed

Work on the tower was nearing completion when last year’s massive earthquake hit northeastern Japan. The structure did shake but was not damaged.

Tokyo Tower, however, saw its antenna-laden pinnacle bent by the quake’s vibrations.

The new tower has combined an anti-seismic technique used in traditional multi-story pagodas, with state-of-the-art technology. The Sky Tree’s central concrete cylindrical shell is isolated from the peripheral steel framing to reduce vibration.

“Steel and the concrete shake differently, a different pattern. So when the earthquake happens these two separated objects cancel the shaking,” Masuda said.

The Sky Tree’s builders also say traditional Japanese architecture factors in the aesthetic design.  It combines concave and convex curves that rise cylindrically, giving the tower a silhouette that will vary depending on the location and angle from which it is viewed.