World Financial Centre offers a window on and appreciation of the depth of Chinese capability
Windows 10 has these amazing pictures to welcome you when you start your computer. The images range from the most tranquil and serene natural settings to mind-blowing views of urban or peri-urban locations.
After migrating to Windows 10 about two years ago, the operating system’s choice for a screensaver never fails to impress me and hold my attention for a while. And the fact that there is a new image every few days only adds to my delight.
Waiting to see which image Windows plonks on my screen always anticipates some surprise particularly when there is a new picture as staggering as the one of a tall glass-clad building watching over an endless sea of skyscrapers.
Earlier this week a picture of the World Financial Centre in Shanghai appeared for the first time on my screen since I have been using Windows 10. Where they have hidden it for so long I don’t know but with some help of my family members, we finally manage to locate the image in the operating system’s depths, among a host of other image files. A quick internet search for similar images eventually informed us that this amazing building with its square eye looks over the greater Shanghai.
After some time appreciating the enormous scope of what seems like an endless high-rise city that stretches to the horizon in all directions, the picture turned a few dials in my mind.
My first impression was not focussed directly on the building itself. Instead, appreciating the enormity of the city that lies below it, I realised that any economy that can sustain a financial or business centre the size of Shanghai must be formidable. In a sense, I reluctantly had to forfeit my own prejudices, replacing my outdated views on the Chinese economy with an updated realisation just how massive it is. This has nothing to do with macro-economics, it is a plain and simple observation that you can not have a financial centre of that size without a galactic business network driving and feeding it.
Having visited New York three times, I have to admit that a mere picture of Shanghai had a much bigger impact on my perceptions than being physically in NY at street level. For the first-time visitor NY is always overwhelming but it is a contained city, radiating out from Manhattan but not that far. The high-rise part in particular is fairly concentrated, not something that reaches to opposite ends of the horizon. And remember, I have never been to China, I only saw Shanghai in a picture the size of my computer screen.
A second impression slowly welled up in my mind’s eye. I remembered when I flew over Sao Paolo for the first time, it also had a much bigger impact on me than New York. Again it was a matter of shifting my prejudices, and rather rapidly. Here was the capital city of a so-called Third World country albeit the biggest economy in South America.
We flew for a good 10 minutes in a jumbo and still did not reach the end of Sao Paolo. With a hobby interest in flying I quickly made the calculations in my head, knowing more or less how fast a jumbo travels at that altitude, and came to the staggering conclusion that this vast city’s Central Business District must easily exceed 30 kilometres from end to end. Again, I had to adjust my view of Brazil and its economy almost instantly. Fortunately, my first impressions were confirmed during the rest of my stay when I was lucky enough to meet many business people, visit several large cities, and had a glimpse of the unbelievable technical capacity of the Brazilian economy.
Something similar happened in my mind when I was offered a bird’s eye view of Shanghai.
Finally, after regaining some perspective on third world economies versus so-called developed economies, I realised that the World Financial Centre has such a distinct design that I knew I have seen a similar building sometime earlier in my life.
It was then that it dawned upon me that the mental image I was looking for, belongs to the Anglo American headquarters that was constructed on the outskirts of the Johannesburg CBD in the late 1970s. The more I thought about my recollections, the more the two buildings synchronised their images in my mind.
Interestingly, I could not find a single image of Anglo’s former HQ anywhere on the net. I still remember the protracted public debate about the building’s aesthetics and its unique design, but if I remember correctly, it looked very similar to China’s World Financial Centre. I even remember that there was some discontent between Anglo and the owners of all the neighbouring buildings as the latter argued that the severe solar reflection off Anglo’s edifice has increased their own maintenance costs.
The Anglo HQ sort of faded into obscurity and I believe it was later sold but the point then was that it was a financial statement of a conglomerate which ranked among the top three international mining groups in the world. In other words, you had to be really important and really big to be able to erect such a building.
The only real difference between Anglo’s HQ and the World Financial Centre is that the former is solid to the top, with glass cladding from street level to sky level, without the Financial Centre’s square eye near its top. For the rest, in my mind the two are very similar, down to the inclined facets and all.
So, whenever I have to entertain another clever, biased report on this or that problem in the Chinese economy, up pops the image of the World Financial Centre in my mind, and I go “Yah Yah Yah! Learn from Anglo. You have to be really big to be able to build that building.”