Tangled yarns from London's passers-through

004 : Nick Barham at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Jin Mao Tower , Pudong
Born in in the 70s in the UK, Nick Barham currently works as a strategist at Wieden + Kennedy, and as a mischievist at large. Why Shanghai? To watch a city mutate. He digs the following Shanghai bits: the speed, the height, the change, the friendliness, the fearlessness. He is, however, a bit miffed by the random summer smells, the dawn-drilling, the dirty lungs, the Eurotrash, the banks. For more info on Nick Barham you should send an email.

image: N. O'Connor

“Like many aimless thirtysomethings, I balance violent fantasies of self-destruction with monthly pension payments. ”

Like many aimless thirtysomethings, I balance violent fantasies of self-destruction with monthly pension payments. The Jin Mao Tower[1], until recently Shanghai’s tallest building, provides an architectural correlative to my dreams of suicide and security.

The first time I visited, the serene environment, the hushed tones of the staff, the muted woosh of the high-speed elevators all reassured me that I was at a suitable distance from the pain and obstacles that modern life serves up.

I was seized by a monstrous urge to kill myself quickly and take a few smug guests with me.

The third time I took the lift to the 85th floor, I was on my way to the bar. But I never made it. Instead, I kept going, past the door to the lift that climbs the final three floors, until I was overlooking the shining white atrium. A clear drop of 30 floors.

It is impossible to stare at this magnificent space without wanting to hurl yourself over. That night, I stood tiptoe, testing my weight, thinking how easy it would be to lift and flip, spiraling down effortlessly to take out the pianist and a few tables of cocktails.

This must be the thought that greets so many guests as they exit their rooms with breakfast on their minds and are tricked into contemplating their mortality.

The Grand Hyatt[2] is not a hotel. Or, at best, its hotelness is secondary to a far grander purpose. Looking at the rooms curving away below me, at the glittering atrium, resembling a launch pad for a luxury breed of star cruisers, it became clear that Jin Mao is a half-kilometer tall memento mori, built to tease, tempt and terrify high-flying bizness travelers, five-star whores and plump tourists. To remind them it can’t last forever. To suggest that, perhaps, today is their day.

In the lift up, a voice had appeared in my head, saying quite clearly, “You’re not taking this baby back down”. After flexing and wondering some more, I knew I wasn’t jumping. So I let myself out through the fire escape doors to the stairs. It took half an hour to walk down, and I had to call reception to let me back in.

referenced works

  1. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the Jin Mao (or “Golden Prosperity”) Tower is skyscraper rising 1,380 feet above Shanghai’s Pudong District. Until September 14, 2007, it was the tallest building in China – the honours recently transferred to the neighbouring Shanghai World Financial Centre – and the fifth tallest in the world. Like the Oriental Pearl Tower, the Jin Mao Building is a key architectural landmark in Shanghai. Modern materials – metal and glass – are employed in elaborate Art Deco designs; tiered, pagoda-inspired roofs pay tribute to China’s history. The building has 88 stories, as eight is an auspicious number for the Chinese.

  2. The five-star, 555-room Shanghai Grand Hyatt occupies floors 53 to 87 of the Jin Mao. It is the highest hotel in the world in terms of distance from the ground, but the tallest building to be used exclusively as a hotel is the Burj Al Arab in Dubai. Fun fact: the world’s longest laundry chute runs down the full length of the tower to the basement, and incorporates buffers to slow down the laundry during its descent.

location information

  • Name: the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Jin Mao Tower
  • Address: 88 Century Boulevard, Pudong
  • Time of story: Late NIght
  • Latitude: 31.235300
  • Longitude: 121.505900
  • Map: Google Maps


  1. Vainui in Tahiti thinks: I may not have had any urge to jump, but I certainly felt that rush, that awe as I discovered this majestic golden sight you’re talking about: the inside chimney of the Hyatt.
    I wonder if they are insured against any “accident” where the “victim” would end up down there… Because there really is no safeguard!


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