Macau Tower

Classic Projects: Macau Tower

The former Portuguese colony's most conspicuous landmark is not only a convention centre and communications mast but also the world's highest bungee jump facility.

Bearing a strong resemblance to Auckland's Sky Tower, the Macau Tower (full name: Macau Tower Convention and Entertainment Centre) is located in the former Portuguese colony, now a Special Administrative District of China.

The similarity with the Sky Tower is no coincidence: when Macau's richest man, casino billionaire Stanley Ho, first saw New Zealand's tallest building, he wanted one of his own to grace his hometown's skyline. Ho commissioned the building (which was to be 10 metres taller than the antipodean prototype) in 1998, with the project completed three years later on 19 December 2001, during which time Portugal handed Macau back to China in a political move similar to Britain's return of nearby Hong Kong.

For more than a decade the Macau Tower has been the city's most conspicuous landmark, where the observation deck frequently finds itself above the clouds. Providing a much-needed getaway from the world's most densely populated city, the tower gives views stretching for up to 55km on a clear day, as far as Hong Kong and mainland China, as well as providing sweeping vistas of the Pearl River delta. It was built to withstand wind speeds of 400km/h, on account of the powerful monsoons that frequently batter this part of the world.

Designed by New Zealand engineering firm Beca Group and Gordon Moller of Craig Craig Moller architects for Sociedade de Turismo e Divers'es de Macau, the concrete building is a freestanding vertical cantilever structure. Built on reclaimed land in the Zhujiang River estuary, its main function is as a communications mast, although the tower is used for conferences, tourism and adventure sports.

Because the site is on reclaimed land, the tower has a raft foundation, with 26 piles reaching nearly 60m through weak marine sediments to the granite bedrock below. Construction challenges also arose during the basement excavation due to the proximity of the Pearl River.

At 338 metres high, the Macau Tower is currently the world's 19th tallest manmade structure, a shade taller than the Eiffel Tower and 32 metres loftier than London's Shard (the tallest building in Europe). About two-thirds of the way up (at 233m) is the observation deck with its revolving restaurant, accessible by glass-fronted exterior elevators travelling at 540m/min. But the main attraction is a platform for adrenaline-fuelled adventure sports such as bungee jumping.

The tower is home to the world's highest commercial bungee jump. Jumpers reach speeds of up to 200km/h during a five-second freefall. The equipment includes a 'guide cable' system that limits swing (the jump is very close to the structure of the tower), but does not have any effect on the speed of descent, allowing qualification for the world record. Thrill-seekers can climb to the very top of the building. But this is not for the faint-hearted as it involves ascending a further 100 metres up the mast's vertical ladders to reach the summit (the round trip takes about three hours). Parts of the platform's floor are fitted with reinforced glass to give a distinctly vertiginous view straight down.

On 17 December 2006, the father of contemporary bungee jumping, A J Hackett, and popular artist Edison Chen set two Guinness World Records at the Macau Tower. Hackett broke his own record of 'Highest Bungee Jump from a Building' achieved in 1987 from the Eiffel Tower. Chen represented Macau Tower in the inaugural jump to bid for 'World's Highest Bungee Jump Facility'.

Next month: Watt's steam engine

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