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Read the complete transcript of this episode, which aired on February 10th 2004.

Episode 1: Building to Extremes

PBS Program Club Pick It's a race that hasn't slowed down in more than 70 years. Walter Chrysler added a spire to the building that bears his name, making it the tallest in the world and beating out the Bank of Manhattan Trust. One year later, the Empire State Building reigned, not to be unseated until the World Trade Center opened in 1972. Then, two years later, the Twin Towers was eclipsed by the Sears Tower in Chicago. In 1998, the competition expanded overseas -- Malaysia's Petronas Towers took over as the world's tallest building, soaring further into the sky than any building before. When Taiwan's Taipei 101 topped out recently, it earned the title of world's tallest to date. But the Shanghai World Financial Center, currently under construction and expected to be completed in 2004, is poised to climb even higher.

Despite the September 11 attacks, architects and engineers around the globe haven't pulled out of their heated race to build the most soaring skyscraper on earth.
Despite what happened to the World Trade Center on September 11th, architects and engineers around the globe haven't pulled out of their heated race to build the most soaring skyscraper on earth. But in the horrifying wake of the Trade Center's collapse, designers do worry about what went wrong that morning, about why such seemingly mighty structures fell so quickly. Had there been a fatal flaw in the towers' design? What could be done to protect their own projects -- what could be done to make not only the tallest buildings, but the safest?

In "Building to Extremes," the masterminds behind such buildings as Taipei 101 and the Shanghai World Financial Center take viewers deep into the heart of the planning and construction process, focusing on the serious challenges and controversial issues facing contemporary skyscraper builders in a world where the threat of terrorism, severe weather and international competition to be "the tallest" must all factor in to the architecture and engineering. From the United States to the far reaches of Asia, "Building to Extremes" underscores the importance society places on height as a symbol of national prowess, and how that emphasis helps fuel the race to build increasingly tall buildings.

The program looks at the efforts of engineer Les Robertson, who designed the World Trade Center, and architects from the New York firm Kohn Pedersen Fox, retained in 1997 to craft Shanghai's massive World Financial Center "super tower." Robertson, Eugene Kohn and William Pederson discuss their experience on the project, a sleek-looking, 1,500-foot tower with a 164-foot cylindrical "moon gate" carved out of its top. Interspersed with the story of the Shanghai World Financial Center is that of Taipei 101, a 1,671-foot structure that towers over the skyline like a stack of gift boxes. Find out how the builders handled everything from financial problems, professional shake-ups and cultural differences to the threat of deadly typhoons and events such as September 11th and the massive earthquake that hit Taiwan during construction.

Director and Producer: Veronica Young

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