Petronas Twin Towers Open Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

At the time of their completion, the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur were the world’s tallest buildings. The stately towers, which incorporated elements of Islamic art, were a symbol of Malaysia’s confidence in its future as well as a great source of national pride.

Summary of Event

The Selangor Turf Club (STC), built in 1896, in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, stood for nearly a century as a symbol of British colonial dominance in Malaya. By 1960, the flood of traffic at the club was so great that Wednesday races had to be moved to Sunday. At the time, Malaya was in its third year as an independent nation. It was already one of the world’s leading producers of rubber, tin, and palm oil, as well as a major producer of iron ore. Malaya became the Federation of Malaysia in 1963. In 1973, world oil prices quadrupled; oil became a major national resource for Malaysia. The Malaysian economy rapidly expanded at an annual average growth rate of 8 percent. Resources became available for accelerated industrial growth in electronics, automobile assemblage, iron and steel, petrochemical, and textile industries. Architecture;Petronas Twin Towers Skyscrapers;Petronas Twin Towers Petronas Twin Towers [kw]Petronas Twin Towers Open (Aug. 28, 1999) [kw]Twin Towers Open, Petronas (Aug. 28, 1999) Architecture;Petronas Twin Towers Skyscrapers;Petronas Twin Towers Petronas Twin Towers [g]Southeast Asia;Aug. 28, 1999: Petronas Twin Towers Open[10460] [g]Malaysia;Aug. 28, 1999: Petronas Twin Towers Open[10460] [c]Architecture;Aug. 28, 1999: Petronas Twin Towers Open[10460] [c]Engineering;Aug. 28, 1999: Petronas Twin Towers Open[10460] Pelli, César Mahathir bin Mohamad, Datuk Seri Azizan Zainul Abidin, Tan Sri

The population of Kuala Lumpur grew rapidly and so did the weekend crowds at the STC. In the early 1980’s, the STC was instructed by the government to relocate to the edge of the city, thus freeing 100 acres of prime land.

An international competition was held in 1990, to develop a master plan for the site. The competition was won by Klages, Carter, Vail, and Partners—a firm from Costa Mesa, California. The plan called for the development of a city center—containing office buildings, condominiums, hotels, and a mosque—which would encircle a 50-acre, landscaped park replete with a children’s playground and jogging track. An elaborate shopping center and concert hall were planned to be built underground, along with parking for four thousand and five hundred cars.

Early in 1991, Malaysia’s national oil company Petronas decided to become a 49.5 percent shareholder in the project. Petronas’s chairman, Tan Sri Azizan Zainul Abidin, added world class corporate headquarters to the building project. Subsequently, eight international firms drafted designs for the office buildings. The winning design, chosen in August, 1991, was from an American firm, César Pelli and Associates, based in New Haven, Connecticut. Its primary architect and chief executive officer, César Pelli, was formerly dean of the School of Architecture at Yale University from 1977 to 1984. He designed two, slim, eighty-eight-story towers with gradually decreasing circumferences, thus giving the illusion that the buildings spiraled toward the heavens. A sky bridge on the forty-first and forty-second floors linked the two buildings. Pelli intended the pedestrian bridge to create the image of a portal to the sky and a door to the infinite.

The towers were designed to blend with the Kuala Lumpur landscape. They were built mainly of reinforced concrete, with a steel and glass facade that included patterns similar to those found in traditional Islamic art. Local materials and designs were used in the interior of the two buildings and the floor pattern was of an eight-point star, typical of Islamic design. The reinforced concrete made the building twice as earthquake resistant, but also twice as heavy, as steel. The foundations were 120 meters deep to support the weight. Laying the foundations required a massive amount of concrete.

Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

(Ángel Riesgo Mart �nez/CC-BY-SA2.0)

The last race at the old STC was held in August, 1992. The following month, the Kuala Lumpur City Center venture was officially launched. In March, 1993, excavation of the twin towers’ incredibly deep foundations began. The towers were constructed between 1995 and 1998. At the peak of construction there were seven thousand workers on the site. Upon completion, the buildings stood at 1,483 feet, surpassing Chicago’s Sears Tower Sears Tower by 33 feet. The highest occupied floor in the Sears Tower was 200 feet higher than that of the highest occupied floor in the Petronas Twin Towers, and the antennae on the Sears Tower made the building taller than the Petronas Twin Towers; however, antennae do not count in height calculation because, unlike spires, they lack aesthetic qualities. Therefore, with their spires, the Petronas Twin Towers were technically higher than the Sears Tower. (Standards for judging skyscrapers are set by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.)

The Petronas Twin Towers officially opened on August 28, 1999. It cost $1.6 billion to build and contained 4.25 million square feet and thirty-two thousand windows. Adding to the cost was a complicated and unique vertical transportation system: twenty-nine double-deck, high-speed passenger elevators in each building—the top deck serviced even floors and the bottom deck serviced odd floors; short and medium haul elevators; shuttle elevators that connected to the skywalk; and a comprehensive series of escalators.

Tower One was fully occupied by the Petronas Company and its subsidiary and associate companies. Tower Two was open for lease to other companies and was soon occupied by major corporations such as Microsoft, IBM, Boeing, and Bloomberg. In Tower Two, the Reuters news service and the Arabic television network Al Jazeera became neighbors. The opening of the towers coincided with a major economic depression in Southeast Asia, making complete occupancy of Tower Two a difficult task to accomplish.


The towers filled Malaysians with pride and confidence that the national goal to no longer be a developing nation by 2020 could be reached. The towers were monuments to the spectacular economic transformation of Malaysia. Standing as the world’s tallest buildings from 1998 to 2004, the Petronas Twin Towers were a source of power and prestige. However, as the towers opened, Taiwan was beginning work in economically booming Taipei on a building that would top the Malaysian towers.

The “topping-out” ceremony for the Taipei 101 building, named for its 101 stories, was held on July 1, 2003. The Taiwanese tower measured 1,671 feet from the ground to its structural top, a full 188 feet taller than the Petronas Twin Towers. The measurement from Taipei 101’s ground floor to its highest occupied floor was 1,441 feet, eclipsing the Chicago Sears Tower. The Taipei 101 building officially opened on December 31, 2003, in a spectacular New Year’s Eve celebration.

The Petronas Twin Towers remained the largest twin towers in the world and continued to be a source of fascination as one of the world’s top structures. The towers played a major role in the film Entrapment (1999) and in the Indian hit film Don: The Chase Begins Again (2006). The most important aspect of the towers, however, was the simultaneous incorporation of the past cultural heritage of Malaysia with Malaysian optimism for future national development. Architecture;Petronas Twin Towers Skyscrapers;Petronas Twin Towers Petronas Twin Towers

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Abel, Chris. Sky High: Vertical Architecture. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2003. An examination of the cultural and technological changes behind the emergence of extremely high skyscrapers by an internationally known architectural writer and educator.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Andaya, Barbara Watson, and Leonard Y. Andaya. History of Malaysia. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2001. Standard history of Malaysia includes coverage of recent years and outlines major themes in Malaysian development.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pelli, César, and Michael J. Crosbie. Petronas Towers: The Architecture of High Construction. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2001. A description of the project coauthored by its chief architect.

Opening of the World Trade Center

Mahathir Begins Rule in Malaysia

Opening of the World’s Largest Suspension Bridge

Categories: History