When they opened in August 1999, the Petronas Towers were not only the tallest buildings in the world, but the first outside the United States to hold the title since 1885.
Their distinctive architecture, based on Islamic patterns, made them an instant icon.
They featured in heist films such as Entrapment, starring Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and as the scene for daredevil exploits, including the world's highest base jump and a climb without ropes by Alain 'Spiderman' Robert.
The 452-metre twins became an unmistakable symbol of Kuala Lumpur.
And today? Such is the pace of skyscraper building in Asia, that the Petronas Towers do not even make it to the current top 10.
At 508 metres, Tapei 101, which took the world title from Kuala Lumpur in 2004, still clings to a place in Asia’s top 10 but has since dropped to seventh.
Asia is now the place where you build fast and stand tall. Seven of world’s tallest buildings are there, five of which are in China.
Mainland China, including Hong Kong, also claims seven of the top 10 tallest buildings in Asia, but there are also places for Taiwan, South Korea and Vietnam.
All are taller than the Empire State Building, as is the 634-metre high Tokyo Skytree, which is classified as a tower rather than a building as its primary use, as is Guangzhou’s 604-metre Canton Tower.
Collectively they are a powerful symbol of rising Asia and the region’s tiger economies.
When it opens next year, the 118-storey, 644-metre Merdeka 188, also in Kuala Lumpur, will become the second tallest in the world.
Fifteen out the the world’s tallest buildings under construction are in Asia – 12 of them in China.
When they are done, the Petronas Towers will barely make the top 30.
Here are the top 10 tallest buildings in Asia:
Shanghai Tower, Shanghai, 632 metres
Ping An Finance Centre, Shenzhen, 599 metres
Lotte World Tower, Seoul, 554 metres
Guangzhou CFT Finance Centre, Guangzhou, 530 metres
Tianjin CTF Finance Center, Tianjin, 530 metres
China Zun / Citic Tower, Beijing, 528 metres
Taipei 101, Taipei, 508 metres
Shanghai World Financial Centre, Shanghai, 492 metres
International Commerce Centre, Hong Kong, 484 metres
Vincom Landmark 81, Ho Chi Minh City, 461 metres
1. Shanghai Tower
Height: 632 metres
Second in height only to the Burj Khalifa, Shanghai Tower could boast the world’s highest observation tower at 562m when it was completed in 2015. With a price tag of about $2.4 billion, the building’s double glass facade is designed to minimise its carbon footprint.
2. Ping An Finance Centre, Shenzhen
Height: 599 metres
Opened in 2017, this was the second tallest building in China and the fourth in the world, also (just) taking the title of world’s highest observation platform at 562.2m. Part of Shenzen’s business district, it is connected to a second 290 metre structure called South Tower via a skybridge.
3. Lotte World Tower, Seoul
Height: 554 metres
This is the tallest building in South Korea and fifth in the world. It is designed to withstand a magnitude 9 earthquake, opening to the public in April 2017. Two Russian “urban explorers” climbed to the summit of the unfinished tower in 2016, earning over 600,000 views on YouTube - and a lifetime ban from the building.
4. Guangzhou CFT Finance Centre, Guangzhou
Height: 530 metres
Completed in 2016, this is the larger of Guangzhou's twin towers, the other being the 439-metre International Finance Centre. Its lifts are said to be the fastest in the world, reaching 21 metres per second or 75 kph.
5. Tianjin CTF Finance Center, Tianjin
Height: 530 metres
The eighth tallest building in the world is notable for being the tallest with less than 100 floors. It is also the second tallest structure in Tianjin. The Goldin Finance 117 tower was planned to be 597m, but despite being started in 2008 remains unfinished. And if you haven't heard of Tianjin, you should have - it's a port city of 11.5 million people, located just 100km south of Beijing.
6. China Zun / Citic Tower, Beijing
Height: 528 metres
The Chinese capital’s tallest building opened in 2018. Popularly known as 'China Zun' after a zun, or ancient drinking vessel which inspired its design. New rules now prohibit buildings of more than 180 metres in Beijing to reduce density.
7. Taipei 101, Taipei
Height: 508 metres
Opened in 2004, this was the world’s tallest building until Burj Khalifa arrived in 2010. The design is full of symbolism, with the 101 referring to both the number of floors and the start of a new century. Its eight segments reflect a pagoda, with the number also associated with good luck and prosperity. A firework display is shown worldwide as Taiwan celebrates New Year.
8. Shanghai World Financial Centre, Shanghai
Height: 492 metres
Completed in 2007, Shanghai's second entry on our list features a hotel from the 79th to 93rd floors. Construction began in 1997 but was then hit by the Asian finance crisis the following year. Its most noticeable feature is a trapezoid opening at the summit, which although intended to reduce wind pressure has earned the nickname “the bottle opener.”
9. International Commerce Centre, Hong Kong
Height: 484 metres
Originally planned at 574 metres, the building’s height was scaled back, reportedly because it would have overshadowed nearby mountains. Opened in 2010 in West Kowloon on the mainland, it features the five star Ritz Carlton on the 102nd floor and a swimming pool and bar at the top.
10. Vincom Landmark 81, Ho Chi Minh City
Height: 461 metres
Built in just three years, the tallest building in South East Asia and Ho Chi Minh City was completed by January 2018 and opened the following year. A potent symbol of Vietnam’s growing economy, it features a sky deck on the 81st floor. Don’t be put off by the ticket price of 500,000 Vietnamese dong, which is actually Dh80.
A version of this article was first published on October 7, 2020