Flying Turtles and the Spinning God of Real Estate.

Below, the soon-to-be iconic view from the 94th floor observation deck at the newly opened Shanghai World Financial Center, taken last night.

Full-access to the three observation decks is a pricey RMB 150 (more than the cost of a trip to the Empire State Building’s outdoor deck!), and perhaps – in recognition of that fact – the SWFC’s owners made the decision that they needed to offer a little something extra for visitors. Specifically: a two meter high mock-up of the SWFC that rotates 600 times per minute while flying turtles circle it in a darkened room …

That is to say, they decided to offer vistors Toshio Iwai’s “Tower of Light.” Below, a photo of this wonder taken from the SWFC Observatory Media Art brochure available to visitors:

Now, I wouldn’t bother blogging about this particular artwork but for the fact that it is an involuntary part of any SWFC observation deck visit. Want to see the view? First, you must watch the Tower of Light spin for five minutes.

The drill goes like this. After purchasing tickets visitors are ushered into a waiting room where they wait behind stanchions for their opportunity to ride the “Light Speed Elevator” to the 94th floor. However, when the moment finally arrives (the lines are long), they are instead led through a door marked “Pre-Show,” and into a round, black room, dimly lit, roughly the size of a king-sized prison cell. And at the center of the room is a glass tube that contains a two-meter high mock-up of the SWFC.

The doors are closed, the lights dim … and the SWFC begins to spin under purple light. As a B-grade sci-fi soundtrack plays, the glass tube turns purple and the SWFC begins to glow. And then a flock of flying turtles begins to fly in circles around it. For five minutes. And you can’t leave.

I’m not sure why nobody was bowing down to the thing, but surely I wasn’t the only person in the room who felt the sudden need to pay proper respects to the glowing, spinning God of Shanghai Real Estate. I’d be shocked if, during its first week of operation, somebody didn’t throw coins at it.

Anyway, at the conclusion of the black mass show, the doors are opened and visitors are ushered into the Light Speed Elevators.

[Note: In my experience, photos aren’t allowed inside of most of the world’s great sacred spaces. So, appropriately, they aren’t allowed inside of Tower of Light.]


  1. Respected artist or not, after waiting in line for two hours, through four trailing queues, to be led into a room thinking it is the elevator, having the lights switched off, and forced to watch this ugly monstrosity, most people felt nauseated and turned away! Then on to the elevator to the 94th floor , where another one hour queue awaits those wishing to go to the 97th floor, I’m not sure what comes next We quit and returned to ground zero 300 rmb and 4hrs wasted. Did anybody mention the seating arrangements, not a single chair or ledge to sit on in the building! Security arrangements are a farce, everyone walks through a body scanner, but it just bleeps away to its hearts content. Should an emergency occur the place is a horrendous death trap.

  2. Alan – Yes, yes, and yes! The only reason that I didn’t include pictures from the 97th and 100th floors is because I didn’t have the patience to wait in line to go up to there to take them. A debacle verging on an outright scam!

  3. You didn’t go up! Well I was pretty awesome or I must say “The experience of a life time” On top of that, looking down from the 100th floor and seeing 2 guys cleaning the top of the 97th floor was such a trip!

  4. I lined up for two hours to visit the most expensive high-building experience of my life yesterday and, were it not for the levity of Iwai’s media-art contribution, the Death Star aesthetic of the SWFC Observatory might otherwise have sent me out the window of the 97th floor! Compared to the paranoid and kafkaesque (and expensive) experience of the post-2001 Empire State Building (security checks, surveillance, armed security guards), I found the presence of art to ease the monotonous wait for elevators to be welcome. I would also like to add a word for the army of gracious, white-gloved attendants, who helpfully point-out the painfully obvious with sweeping hand gestures and a chorus of “this way please”, indicating the one, and only door, elevator or escalator in sight. Hilarious! BTW, they added some swank benches to the 94th floor for your seating pleasure.

  5. Great article – thanks for letting us know to avoid this scam. At some point we are going to write an article and make a video that goes into the details of how to best avoid travel scams such as this. Again great article.

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