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TRAVEL WATCH: FEBRUARY 14, 2000 VOL. 155 NO. 6

Check Out the Best of Asia's Architecture
By DAFFYD RODERICK


To appreciate fully the maxim "architecture is art you walk through," ride the escalator into the belly of HSBC's headquarters in Hong Kong. You are immediately overwhelmed by the sheer spaciousness of Sir Norman Foster's larger-than-life Erector set. Completed in 1986, it was one of the first buildings in Asia to break from the glass-and-concrete cliché that blots all too many urban skylines. It also inspired architects and builders everywhere to go against the grain. Asia now has its share of structures that defy the conventional, and many more on the way. Here's a quick tour:

JAPAN While building-spotting is usually an urban adventure, the Miho Museum takes you deep into the pine forest of Shigaraki, a 20-minute drive from Kyoto. Designed by I.M. Pei, the renowned Chinese-born, American-educated architect, the building challenges Asia's "go-high-or-go-home" architectural ethos. Where others scrape the skies, the 13-m-tall Miho sinks deep: 80% of the structure is underground. Visitors pass through a curving tunnel and across a suspension bridge before reaching the museum itself. As a bonus, a collection of spectacular sculptures, antiquities and other pieces from Japan, Iran, Greece, Egypt and China fill the $250-million building.

Another gem is the Tokyo International Forum, the most striking conference venue in Asia. Situated next to Tokyo Station, the glass hall boasts an impressive exposed steel frame and a laminated glass curtain wall shaped to echo the sweeping lines of a ship. Designed by Rafael Viñoly, the $1.65-billion building was completed in 1996.

    ALSO IN TIME
Check Out the Best of Asia's Architecture
Asia has its share of structures that defy the conventional, and many more on the way
Photo Essay
Asia has its share of structures that defy the conventional, and many more on the way

Detour
Tourists are trekking to Donsol for a chance to see -- and snorkel with -- gentle giants of the sea

Web Crawling
Details on China Ski's tour packages to snowy environs of the People's Republic

CHINA When people talk about architecture in the People's Republic, they often focus on the buildings that line Shanghai's Bund. And why not? There are few remarkable modern structures. But that's starting to change. Across Shanghai's Huangpu River and alongside the hideous Oriental Pearl TV Tower stands the 88-story Jin Mao Tower, reaching 420 m toward heaven. Designed by international firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the Jin Mao hints at a pagoda style, creating a rhythmic pattern as the building rises. The 555-room Grand Hyatt Shanghai -- the world's tallest hotel -- fills the top 35 floors. Perhaps the most interesting structure in China is yet to be built: the proposed National Theater in Beijing. The dewdrop-shaped design is mired in controversy -- it clashes with both traditional values and the nearby architecture. If the theater is constructed, it will liven up the capital's staid, Stalinist skyline.

HONG KONG I.M. Pei's handiwork is visible in the former colony as well, in his dark and angular Bank of China tower. The building's triangular bracing and step-backs are not only striking to the eye, but functional -- they serve to fend off the fierce winds of Hong Kong typhoons. The allegedly feng-shui-challenged building was erected in 1990 at a cost of $128 million.

MALAYSIA Petronas Towers, currently the world's tallest structures, are a must-see for architecture buffs in Asia. At 452 m, the $1.6 billion Islamic-influenced twin towers were designed by American Cesar Pelli in conjunction with the Mahathir government. Each tower, in cross section, is built in the shape of an eight-pointed Islamic star.

SOUTH KOREA The new Opus Concert Hall is shaking up Seoul's bland corporate architecture. Designed by American-based Son Hak Sik and partner Kenneth Min, the main auditorium lies underground, topped by corrugated metal and glass rising to six stories in height. The first three levels are relatively transparent, allowing passers-by to see into the bar and restaurant on the lower floors. The building may be small in stature but its design stands above the tile, granite and neon around it.

With reporting from Rusdi Mustapha/Kuala Lumpur and Stella Kim/Seoul

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