Tower of Power: Tokyo Sky Tree Officially Completed on Leap Day 2012

Tokyo Sky Tree, the world's tallest free-standing broadcasting tower, was officially completed on Leap Day of 2012. The 2,080 ft (634 meter) tall tower soars almost twice as high as the 1958-built Tokyo Tower and will take over most of the orange & white downtown landmark's digital broadcasting duties.

Back in 1958 when Tokyo was still in post-war recovery mode, Tokyo Tower seized the nation's imagination as a symbol of great things to come. The 1,091 ft (332.5 meter) tall Eiffel Tower lookalike dominated the city skyline for several decades, overlooking seminal events such as the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the highrise construction boom of the 1980s.

Ironically, the prosperity that followed in the wake of Tokyo Tower eventually eclipsed its usefulness as a radio and television broadcasting antenna: signals were being distorted by the presence of the surrounding highrises.

The problem was expected to interfere with Japan's plan to switch from analog to digital TV broadcasting by the summer of 2011. Something had to be done, and in 2003 a study was commissioned to set the specs for a new, much higher broadcast transmission and observation tower.

In late 2006, the design of the “New Tokyo Tower” was published and the public was invited to suggest a better name. The winning entry, “Tokyo Sky Tree”, was announced on June 10th, 2008. Just over a month later, the first shovel hit the ground in downtown Tokyo's Sumida ward.

Construction proved uneventful with the only running change being a slight boost in height from 610 to 634 meters in order that the completed tower would be the world's highest self-supporting steel tower. At press time, Tokyo Sky Tree surpasses the 1,969 ft (600 m) tall Canton Tower in Guangzhou, China, and is the second-tallest man-made structure in the world after Dubai's 2,723 ft (829.84 m) tall Burj Khalifa skyscraper.

The tower's appearance is both a break from tradition and a return to it. Firstly, the designers eschewed Tokyo Tower's white and international orange paint scheme in favor of “Sky Tree White,” a bluish-white hue inspired by the Japanese traditional color “aijiro”. Since Tokyo Tower's paint job was required under Civil Aeronautic Law, it's uncertain why Tokyo Sky Tree (or other modern towers) are allowed to bypass those regulations. Viewers will note two alternating illumination schemes that will bathe the tower in Sky Tree Blue and Purple LED lighting.

Tokyo Sky Tree boasts an reinforced concrete central shaft extending 410 ft (125 m) in height. From that point upwards to the (375 m) mark the shaft is attached to the tower's outer skin via specially designed oil dampers which can absorb 50 percent of the energy from a serious earthquake. Since Tokyo's history is punctuated by a long series of powerful quakes (the last one was in 1923 and took over 100,000 lives), it's very likely Tokyo Sky Tree's state of the art earthquake resistance features will be put to the test sooner rather than later. The tower's cross section is triangular at the base but gradually morphs to cylindrical as it rises in order to withstand the forces exerted by strong winds.

There's more to Tokyo Sky Tree than the tower itself, though observatory levels at the 1,148 ft (350 m) and 1,476 ft (450 m) marks are certainly a major attraction. The tower's base will rise up from a “town with a tower”, a complex of shops, plazas and parks meant to evoke the atmosphere of old Edo.

Though February 29th, 2012 is the official completion day, Tokyo Sky Tree won't open until May 22nd. Tickets are only available by reservation only and information on how to purchase tickets can be found at the Tokyo Sky Tree official English-language website. (images via Tokyo Sky Tree, Marvzmartinez, MSNBC PhotoBlog, Joseph A. Glockner, and Japanese Snack Reviews