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