Media Towers in Global Cities

Jul 22, 2016 1:30:00 PM / by Stephanie Sadler

“Connecting Global Cities” is a monthly column written by Colin Speakman, Resident Director for CAPA Shanghai.

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Early on in this long established series, we looked at towers in global cities. The tallest ones where not usually media towers but inhabitable towers – after all, if you are going to build something that tall you may as well let some people live or work at the top. The tallest building is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and the second tallest is the new Shanghai Tower. Neither is a media tower.

However, media towers need to be tall for good communications and they are often an important part of a global city; international connectivity in a variety of forms is one of the characteristics of being a global city. Such towers can be more artistic in design since they do not have to accommodate many inhabited floors. They have a sleek look and are often adorned with neon at night. They can be more of an ongoing icon than the taller inhabitable towers because you really only need one in a city and it lasts, whereas the taller office building style neighbors often find they have been overtaken by a taller rival in the same city.

At one time London’s BT Tower was the capital’s tallest building, but this media tower was overtaken by the NatWest tower. No long term gloating though by NatWest as that tower was in turn overtaken by the Shard of Light in London. A similar story occurred in Shanghai where the Oriental Pearl TV Tower became overlooked by the Jin Mao Tower which soon got a taller neighbor, the Shanghai World Financial Center tower. Then the third of these three huge inhabitable brothers came along, the Shanghai Tower which would overlook them all. Yet, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower remains the name card of Shanghai.

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Photo: The Shanghai Tower (right) overlooking the Oriental Pearl TV Tower (left) and a group of CAPA students with Colin Speakman

The tallest media tower in the world is the Tokyo Skytree in Japan at 634 meters. It was opened four years ago in this global city. It handles broadcasting and has an observation deck and restaurant. The runner up is the Canton Tower in Guangzhou, China at 600 meters. This is another multi-purpose tower which opened a couple of years earlier. The third spot goes to the once number one: The CN Tower in Toronto, Canada. Dating back to 1976, back then it was an impressive 553 meters and it is still the tallest on the western side of the world. At number four is the Ostankino Tower in Moscow, Russia at 540 meters. Completing the top five is the Oriental Pearl TV Tower in Shanghai at 468 meters.

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Photo: Tokyo Skytree Tower (public domain)

It might surprise you to know that three of the next five are also in China; I have seen them all in Tianjin, Beijing and Zhengzhou. China is a big country! There is also the Milad Tower in Tehran, Iran and the KL Tower in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to complete the top ten. Don’t confuse the last one with the KL Petronas Twin Towers, though. As I said, many global cities have more than one kind of tower.

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Photo: CCTV Tower, Beijing by Colin Speakman

Let’s take a closer look at media towers in some of CAPA’s global cities.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

We will need to wait for Buenos Aires! In late 2014, designs were unveiled for a planned Cinematography and Audiovisual Tower (CAT) to be built in Puerto Madero area of this global city. It will include TV broadcasting studios. It is intended to reach 335 meters and thus be the tallest in South America. It will not jump into the top ten though, as number ten is 388 meters.

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Screenshot: Phaidon shares the news in 2014 with an image from the architects

London, England

The famous BT Tower in London dates from 1964 after a three-year construction program and is located in Fitzrovia, near the Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street area. I lived opposite it for a year as a student at the London School of Economics in a residence hall there. It is owned by BT and is 177 meters high. It is a fully functioning communications tower. At one time, it was also open to the public as an observation tower with a revolving restaurant. However, a bomb explosion in 1971 - placed by the Angry Brigade anarchist group - and subsequent changes of ownership led to it being a private building thenceforth. It is still a good landmark for London and helped me find my way home on a few occasions!

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Photo: The BT Tower in the distance - a guide home at night by Colin Speakman

Shanghai, China 

So, we come to my current landmark on a dark night – The Oriental Pearl TV Tower in Shanghai. It dates from 1991 and is the first important structure to be built in the Pudong New Area after it was declared a Special Economic Zone in 1990. That part of Shanghai has changed a lot since. The Oriental Pearl is a fully functioning TV tower but is the opposite of the London one; it is open to the public for around 160 rmb ($25) admission which includes a trip to the upper sphere and as well as a visit to an interesting History of Shanghai museum in the basement. There is a revolving restaurant at the top too. I was outside the tower a few nights ago, so here is my latest photo of it:

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Photo: Oriental Pearl TV Tower by Colin Speakman

That’s it! Please check my Towers in Global Cities post for the Sydney Tower which is an observation tower and tourist attraction but NOT a media tower. As for Dublin and Florence, those cities only have transmissions masts. If I ever do a blog on transmissions masts in global cities, I’ll be back in touch there. Don’t wait up though!

Thanks Colin!

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Topics: Global Cities