Reaching for the Sky
A new tower in Japan is the world’s tallest freestanding structure
Visitors get a view of Tokyo from two sky-high observation decks. (Kyodo via AP Images)
The Tokyo Sky Tree in Japan is the world’s largest freestanding tower, at 634 meters (2,080 feet) tall. After four years of construction, this lofty structure will open to the public on May 22.
Engineers had to build special high-speed elevators so visitors could quickly reach the top. But even at top speed, it takes almost a full minute to get to the lower observation deck, which is 350 meters (1,148 feet) above the ground. To get to the higher deck, at 450 meters (1,480 feet), it takes an additional 30 seconds.
From the observation decks, it’s possible to survey the entire city of Tokyo. Glass floors allow brave visitors to look all the way down to the ground below them.
The Sky Tree is shaped like a needle. Engineers constructed the tower’s sturdy frame using strong steel tubes. The frame surrounds a concrete column. Together, these elements should help prevent the building from moving during an earthquake.
The tower is designed to withstand a 7.0-magnitude earthquake directly beneath it. Even last year’s 9.0 quake in Japan caused no structural damage to the then-unfinished building.
The Sky Tree may be the world’s largest tower, but it is only the second-tallest structure in the world, after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. What’s the difference? A tower is not meant for regular habitation by people. That means people don’t use the space for offices or apartments.
The tower’s primary function is to strengthen radio and television signals in Japan. However, visitors will be able to shop at Tokyo Solamachi—a new shopping mall occupying the first few floors of Sky Tree, with 321 stores and restaurants.
Officials hope the Sky Tree will bring more tourists to Japan. People have avoided visiting the country after last year’s earthquake and tsunami disaster, and tourism has plunged. A representative of one of the companies that helped build the tower tells The Wall Street Journal, “We particularly want tourists from abroad to be able to take time to enjoy the Sky Tree.”