Taipei to usher in 2011 with a bang

Taipei will greet the arrival of 2011 with one of the most spectacular fireworks displays in the world, centered on its landmark Taipei 101 building.

Officially the tallest building in the world between 2004, when it was opened in the Xinyi district of the Taiwanese capital, until it was supplanted by the Burj Khalifa structure in Dubai earlier this year, Taipei 101 was the first building in the world to break the half-kilometer mark and has 101 floors above ground and a further five subterranean levels.

Since its opening, Taipei 101 has been the focus of New Year celebrations for residents of Taipei, but this year Chinese artist Cai Guo-qiang has something special planned.

Speaking at a press conference on December 28, Cai described the building as a "huge stage" that he will use to show off 15 individual firework displays and thousands of pyrotechnics.

The 288-second display will alternately turn Taipei 101 into a red lantern, a waterfall, a pagoda and a rocket, the 53-year-old artist said. He will also create a huge flower design on the skyscraper, after which a golden dragon will appear to scale the outside of the building.

In addition, Chinese characters will appear in the sky around the tower reflecting the "common voice of the people," Cai said, although he declined to reveal exactly which characters would be exploding in Taipei's night sky.

The show will conclude with a series of "flare bomb" fireworks that are designed to turn the night into day, Cai said. "When the sky returns to dark again, I hope it will create a sentimental atmosphere," he said.

Cai has an impressive background in orchestrating fireworks displays on a grand scale, having served as chief visual effects designer for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and organizing the fireworks for the Shanghai summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in 2001.

The cost of the firework extravaganza is estimated at $2 million (€1.51 million), which is being borne by 10 local companies that are sponsoring the event.