The newest design for the 101-story, 1,614-foot-tall Shanghai World Financial Center shown to journalists on Tuesday showed the circular hole replaced by a four-sided slot.
Its developer, the Mori Building Co. of Tokyo, acknowledged receiving complaints but said the change was made for technical reasons.
"There was sensitivity," said A. Eugene Kohn, chairman of the tower's designer, Kohn Pederson Fox Associates.
The developer's president Minor Mori explained the change by saying that during lengthy planning delays in the 11-year-old project, he began to think the original design had "lost its freshness."
Construction of the slender, wedge-shaped building began in the mid-1990s and is due for completion in 2008. The original design called for a 164-foot-high circular hole through the tower's peak to reduce wind pressure on the structure and give it a distinctive profile.
But Chinese critics said the hole resembled Japan's "rising sun" flag, an image associated in China with Tokyo's brutal conquest of much of China during the 1930s and '40s.
Anti-Japanese sentiment runs deep in China. This spring mobs in Shanghai and other cities threw rocks and bottles at Japanese diplomatic installations, overturned Japanese cars and smashed Japanese businesses.
Kohn said the round hole was not based on any Japanese image but on the moon gate, a circular gateway used in traditional Chinese gardens.
The building, and its hole, had been praised by other architects.
The redesign is the latest chapter in an 11-year journey to completion for the skyscraper, being built at a cost of $910 million. It ran into trouble when the Asian financial crisis virtually obliterated demand for new office space.
Shelved for six years, the project was revived, but criticism of the design soon surfaced in Shanghai and elsewhere, especially on Internet forums.
Another design proposed in the late '90s would have broken up the circular hole by putting an observation deck across the bottom of the space.
Kohn's new slot was "more beautiful, functional, less costly and easier to design," Mori said.
In 2003, Taiwan completed building the world's tallest skyscraper, a 1,676-foot-tall building that is about 165 feet higher than the former highest office building, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The highest freestanding tower remains the CN Tower, a 1,815-foot communications structure and outlook point in Toronto.