The New Zealanders who designed Auckland's Sky Tower have produced a cousin - a $200 million tower in Macau, writes ANNE GIBSON.



Earthquakes are the big threat for the Sky Tower in Auckland, but typhoons were the problems facing the New Zealanders who designed a new tower for Macau, the former Portuguese gateway to southern China.



Macau casino king and billionaire Stanley Ho Hung-sun commissioned Auckland engineering firm Beca Carter and architects Craig Craig Moller to design his new tower.



The two firms formed CCM BECA for work on the Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes du Macau (Macau Tower, entertainment, theatre and conference centre), often shortened to STDM.

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While the team designed the Auckland tower to withstand any seismic threat, the Macau Tower - 10m taller than the 328m Sky Tower and able to take 1000 people in its pod - had to be built to take the battering from typhoons, which regularly rip through the region.



The $200 million Macau Tower, which opens in November, is built to withstand winds of over 300 km/h compared with the Sky Tower's ability to withstand 210 km/h gales.



Building a structure to take on typhoons meant coming up with a design which spread its legs over a much wider base - 33.5m in Macau compared with 23m in Auckland.



The shafts of the two towers are different. While the Sky Tower's shape is the same width all the way up, the Macau Tower's shaft tapers from 16m to 12m, reducing the wind loading.



Dale Turkington, head of the Beca design team, says: "The tapered shaft allowed us to put the collar, which transfers the forces to the legs, on the inside instead of putting it on the outside as we did on the Sky Tower."



While the Sky Tower rises from the constrained urban environment of inner Auckland, the Macau Tower stands on a much grander site, but with less inherent stability.



The Macau Tower is on the Nam Van reclamation in the middle of an island, and looks down the Pearl River Delta and across to Macau.



The tower's foundations are socketed into the bedrock. Twenty-six piles, each 2.5m in diameter, reach down 45m to 50m through reclaimed river sediment and deep into far more solid granite.



At the base of the tower, 9m below the Pearl River, a three-level basement for parking and shops has been built.



A Hong Kong newspaper, the South China Morning Post, featured the new tower this month in an article titled "High and mighty".



In the report, Ho says that when he and his associates visited the Sky Tower, they liked it so much that they decided to employ the same team of ingenious New Zealanders.



"We were impressed by the many innovations and quality of finish of the Sky Tower. We give credit to the ideas and attitude of the design team, which offered us the full range of services in a single package.



"Their capability to put forward quality sketch drawings showing what could fit on a very difficult site was also a major factor."



Tourism and gaming contribute 65 per cent of Macau's gross domestic product, so it seemed appropriate that Ho looked to the Sky Tower in Auckland.



Craig Craig Moller director Gordon Moller refers to the Macau Tower as "Sky Tower's cousin". But while the towers have the same parentage, they are not identical twins.



Similarities include the same single shaft with four public levels, a revolving restaurant and indoor viewing areas.



An associated entertainment centre for the Macau Tower is a five-level, 40,000 sq m (bigger than St Lukes mall) building containing shops, restaurants, banqueting for 2000 people and a 500-seat theatre.



"But here the similarities end," says Turkington. "The design of the observation pod, the splayed rectangular concrete legs and 10m in extra height is giving the Macau Tower its own distinctive look. "Observation areas accommodate 50 per cent more visitors than the Sky Tower, with 7.5m-high windows providing 360 degree views."



The differences are not only aesthetic: "While we were able to draw from the Auckland experience, Macau presented a unique set of design challenges," says Turkington.



He and Moller visited Macau regularly during the 2 1/2-year construction period, as did project architect Blair Farquhar of Craig Craig Moller.



They oversaw construction by the Chinese Government firm China State Construction.



The conference centre was built by a joint venture of China State and Hyundai. Many other services were contracted to various Hong Kong and Macau subcontractors, who in turn used other subcontractors.



The building site was multicultural - an English-speaking design team dealing with Mandarin-speaking contractors and Cantonese-speaking subcontractors, who had many Filipino and Korean workers.



Ho's new tower will be Asia's eighth tallest free-standing tower and the world's 10th tallest freestanding tower.



The honour of the world's tallest freestanding tower is still held by Toronto's CN Tower at 553m compared with the Macau Tower at 338m.



Ho also owns the Hotel Lisboa in Macau, with its distinctive architecture and striking mustard-coloured facade.



"We've grown quite fond of it now," says Farquhar, who appreciates its striking architectural qualities after many visits to Macau.



Ho's objectives in building the Macau Tower - destined to be a distinctive tourist attraction and conference drawcard - were partly to diversify from his gaming industry ties and boost development of Macau, which Portugal administered as a colony until handing it back to China in December 1999.



Spread out on a table in Craig Craig Moller's Auckland offices are fine line drawings of a Spanish galleon which will sit in the middle of an imaginative children's playground at the base of the tower.



Ho told the South China Morning Post: "We are offering Macau residents and visitors a place of lifestyle where they can enjoy a variety of family-orientated facilities."



This prompted the newspaper to ask if the casino tycoon could transform Macau away from its gambling links and into a haven of squeaky-clean family fun.



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