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Petronas Towers

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Petronas Twin Towers
Torres Petronas Mayo 2004.jpg
General information
Location Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Antenna spire 452.0 m (1,482.9 ft)
Roof 410.0 m (1,345.1 ft)
Top floor 375.0 m (1,230.3 ft)
Technical details
Floor area 395,000 m²
4.25 million sq. ft
Lifts/elevators 78
Design and construction
Architect César Pelli

The Petronas Twin Towers (also known as the Petronas Towers or Twin Towers), in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia are the world's tallest twin buildings. They were the world's tallest buildings from 1998 to 2004 if measured from the level of the main entrance to the structural top, the original height reference used by the US-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat from 1969 (three additional height categories were introduced as the tower neared completion in 1996).

Comparison with other towers

Height comparison with the Sears Tower, Taipei 101, Empire State Building and the Petronas Twin Towers

The Petronas Twin Towers were the tallest buildings in the world until Taipei 101, as measured to the top of their structural components (spires, but not antennas), took over the record. Spires are considered integral parts of the architectural design of buildings, to which changes would substantially change the appearance and design of the building, whereas antennas may be added or removed without such consequences. The Petronas Twin Towers remain the tallest twin buildings in the world.

The Sears Tower and the World Trade Centre towers were each constructed with 110 occupied floors – 22 more than the Petronas Twin Towers’ 88 floors. The Sears Tower and the World Trade Centre’s roofs and highest occupied floors substantially exceed the height of the roof and highest floors of the Petronas Twin Towers. The Sears Tower’s tallest antenna is about 250 feet (76 meter) taller than the Petronas Twin Towers’ spires. However, in accordance to CTBUH regulations and guidelines, the antennas of the Sears Tower were not counted as part of its architectural features. Hence, surpassing the roof of the Sears Tower by 10m.


These towers, which were designed by Cesar Pelli, an Argentine-American architect, were completed in 1998 and became the tallest buildings in the world on the date of completion. The 88-floor towers are constructed largely of reinforced concrete, with a steel and glass facade designed to resemble motifs found in Islamic art, a reflection of Malaysia's Muslim religion. They were built on the site of Kuala Lumpur's race track. Because of the depth of the bedrock, the buildings were built on the world's deepest foundations. The 120-meter foundations were built by Bachy Soletanche, and required massive amounts of concrete.

In an unusual move, a different construction company was hired for each of the towers, and they were made to compete against each other. Eventually the builders of Tower 2, Samsung Constructions (the Construction Division of Samsung Corporation), Kukdong Engineering & Construction (both of South Korea), won the race, despite starting a month behind Tower 1, built by Hazama Corporation, and Tower 1 ( Hazama Corporation) ran into problems when they discovered the structure was 25 millimeters off from vertical. The shopping mall beneath both towers was constructed by Birmingham, Alabama based Bill Harbert International.

Due to a lack of steel and carbon fibre bombshells the huge cost of importing steel, the towers were constructed on a cheaper radical design of super high strength reinforced concrete. High-strength concrete is a material familiar to Asian contractors and twice as effective as steel in sway reduction; however, it makes the building twice as heavy on its foundation than a comparable steel building. Supported by 23-by-23 meter concrete cores and an outer ring of widely-spaced super columns, the towers use a sophisticated structural system that accommodates its slender profile and provides from 1300 to 2000 square metres of column-free office space per floor.

Below the twin towers is Suria KLCC, a popular shopping mall, and Dewan Filharmonik Petronas, the home of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra.

Petronas, Malaysia's national oil company, set out to build the world's tallest building. Although other buildings such as the Sears Tower have higher occupied floors, a higher antenna, and a higher roof, the Petronas Twin Towers' spires are classified as architectural details and rise to 452 m (1483 feet), giving it the greatest structural height until Taipei 101. Taking advantage of the rules governing building measurements (counting spires but not antennas) has generated controversy over the towers' claim to the title. However, the tradition of including the spire on top of a building and not including the antenna dates back to the rivalry between the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building.

Other buildings have used spires to increase their height but have always been taller overall to the pinnacle when trying to claim the title. In the aftermath of the controversy, the rules governing official titles were partially overhauled, and a number of buildings re-classified structural antenna as architectural details to boost their height rating (even though nothing was actually done to the building). Since the rules had allowed a building that "looked" shorter to say they were taller, newer buildings have had a focus on getting more than one of the height categories and tried to cater to popular perception rather than technicalities.

Tenants of the Petronas Twin Towers

A skybridge connects the two towers in the middle.
An inside view of the skybridge

Tower One is fully occupied by the Petronas Company and a number of its subsidiaries and associate companies. The office spaces in Tower Two are mostly available for lease to other companies. A number of companies have offices in Tower Two, including Accenture, Al Jazeera English, Bloomberg, Boeing, IBM, Khazanah Nasional Berhad, McKinsey & Co, Krawler Networks, Microsoft, Newfield Exploration and Reuters.


Outside the building is a park with jogging and walking paths, a fountain with incorporated light show, wading pools, and a children's playground.

Suria KLCC is one of the biggest shopping malls in Malaysia.


The towers feature a skybridge (constructed by Kukdong Engineering & Construction) between the two towers on 41st and 42nd floors, which is the highest 2-story bridge in the world. The bridge is 170m above the ground and 58 m long. The same floor is also known as the podium, since visitors desiring to go to higher levels have to change elevators here. The skybridge is open to all visitors, but free passes (limited to 1700 people per day) must be obtained on a first-come, first-served basis. The Skyway is closed on Mondays. Visitors are allowed to go only on the 41st floor as the 42nd floor is used only by the tenants of the building.

The skybridge also acts as a safety device, so that in the event of a fire or other emergency in one tower, tenants can evacuate by crossing the skyway to the other tower. However, the total evacuation triggered by a bomb hoax on September 12, 2001 (the day after the September 11 attacks destroyed the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City) showed that the bridge would not be useful if both towers need to be emptied simultaneously, and the capacity of the staircases was insufficient for such an event. Plans thus call for the elevators to be used if both towers need to be evacuated, and a successful drill following the revised plan was conducted in 2005.

Elevator system

The main bank of elevators is located in the centre of each tower. All main elevators are double-decker with the lower deck of the elevator taking passengers to odd numbered floors and upper deck to even numbered floors. In order to access an even numbered floor from ground level, passengers are required to use an escalator to access the upper deck of the elevator.

From the ground floor there are three groupings of elevator. The "short haul" group of 6 elevators take passengers to floors between level 2/3 and level 16/17. The "mid haul" group of 6 elevators take passengers to floors between level 18/19 and level 37/38. There is also a set of shuttle elevators that take passengers directly to levels 41/42. In order to get to levels above 41/42, passengers are required to take the shuttle elevators and then change elevators to the upper floors. These connecting elevators are placed directly above the elevators serving levels 2 to 38. The pattern now repeats with the upper levels, one set serving levels 43/44 to 57/58 and one set serving levels 59/60 to levels 73/74.

Apart from this main bank of elevators, there are a series of "connecting" elevators to take people between the elevator groupings. Unlike the main elevators, these are not of the double-decker type. Two elevators are provided to take people from levels 37/38 to levels 41/42 (levels 39 and 40 are not accessible as office space). This avoids the need for someone situated at the lower half of the building to go down to the ground floor in order to gain access to the upper half of the building.

The elevators contain a number of safety features. It is possible to evacuate people from an elevator stuck between floors by manually driving one of the adjacent elevators next to it and opening a panel in the wall. It is then possible for people in the stuck elevator to walk between elevator cars.

During an evacuation of the buildings the shuttle elevator is allowed to be used. This is because there are only doors at levels G/1 and levels 41/42 therefore should there be a fire in the lower half of the building, this enclosed shaft would remain unaffected.

Service building

The service building is to the east of the Petronas Towers and contains the services required to keep the building operational, such as dissipating the heat from the air-conditioning system for all 88 levels in both towers.

Notable events

On March 20th, 1997, French urban climber, Alain "Spiderman" Robert, using only his bare hands and feet and with no safety devices, scaled the building's exterior glass and steel wall. Police arrested him at the 60th floor, 28 floors away from the "summit". He made a second attempt on March 20th 2007, exactly 10 years later, and was stopped once again on the same floor (though on the other tower).

On the evening of Friday, November 4, 2005, a fire broke out in a movie theatre complex in the Suria KLCC shopping centre below the Petronas Twin Towers, triggering panic among patrons who fled screaming and coughing in the thick, acrid smoke. There were no reports of injuries. The buildings were largely empty (except for Suria KLCC) because of the late hour; the only people affected were moviegoers and some diners in restaurants.

In fiction and popular culture

  • The 1999 movie Entrapment starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Sean Connery, features the Tower's complex security systems being infiltrated in order to steal from a high-security bank in the tower at midnight on New Year's Day. A prime stunt sequence takes place when the pair are stranded atop the connecting bridge and are confronted by a Kuala Lumpur air force helicopter and police counter-terrorist forces. In one scene, the skyline of Kuala Lumpur (prominently featuring the Petronas Towers) was super-imposed with an urban river filmed in the city of Melaka, some 80 kilometers away. The scene created an illusion whereby the Petronas Towers were surrounded by shanty towns, thus prompting disapproval from Kuala Lumpur residents. Ironically there are indeed shanty towns within a couple of miles of the building, simply not the ones shown in the film. The film was never banned in Malaysia although FINAS viewed the film as degrading to the Malaysian community.
  • In 2002, the Petronas Towers were featured as a destination on season three of the Amazing Race (US).
  • A dynamic aerial shot of the towers at 4:00 pm is the first image of the popular American television series 24. That is, the towers are the first thing that we see in the first episode of the show.
  • The towers also feature prominently in the Bollywood movie Don - The Chase Begins Again, including a walk on the roof of the skyway by Arjun Rampal
  • The Petronas Twin Towers features in the animated television series Totally Spies! in episode 26 of the series' first season, entitled "Man or Machine".
  • The construction of the towers were also discussed in the comic strip Get Fuzzy.
  • The towers were depicted in flames for a few seconds in the future-set film Children of Men.
  • The building was used to provide background for the filming of the Kannum Kannum Nokiya, a song in the famous, hit Kollywood film, Anniyan.
  • The towers are displayed in Rise of Nations, where it is in the background of the Information Age icon.
  • The towers appear in the video games Katamari Damacy (Sony Playstation 2), We Love Katamari (Sony Playstation 2), and Beautiful Katamari (Microsoft Xbox 360), published by Namco Bandai Games. They are the largest man-made objects possible to view and roll up in the games. Also featured setting for three levels in the video game Hitman 2: Silent Assassin. A racing game too have a track that features the towers in BurnOut TakeDown.
  • The Petronas Twin Towers featured in the animated television series Jackie Chan Adventures in episode 58 of the series' third season, entitled " When Pigs Fly".


A quote by the building's main architect:

"According to Lao Tse, the reality of a hollow object is in the void and not in the walls that define it. He was speaking, of course, of spiritual realities. These are the realities also of the Petronas Towers. The power of the void is increased and made more explicit by the pedestrian bridge that ... with its supporting structure creates a portal to the sky ... a door to the infinite."
Cesar Pelli, architect (1995)
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