June 19, 2024

Across China, Skyscrapers Brush the Heavens

China is home to 60 of the world’s 100 tallest buildings now under construction. But the skyward aspirations of Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, have inspired incredulity tinged with hostility.

Broad Group, a manufacturer based here in Changsha, has been planning to erect the world’s tallest building here this winter, and in record time. The 202-story “Sky City” is supposed to be assembled in only four months from factory-built modules of steel and concrete early next year on the city’s outskirts. The digging of foundations began on July 20.

But the project’s scale and speed have set off a burst of national introspection in recent days about whether Chinese municipal leaders and developers have gone too far in their increasingly manic reach for the skies.

“The vanity of some local government officials has determined the skylines of cities,” an editorial in the People’s Daily newspaper, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, said on Aug. 12.

On Tuesday, the tycoon behind the project said in a telephone interview that he had ordered a pause in work at the site while waiting for further approvals from regulators in Beijing.

“It’s because of all the concern in the media and on the Internet, the government is a little wary and has slowed down the process,” said Zhang Yue, the chairman of the Broad Group.

But he vowed to finish the building, saying that he expected a delay of no more than two to three months, with completion of the building in June or July next year instead of the original plan of finishing it in April. Workers have already dug a large hole in the ground for the foundations and have just laid a four-lane road to the site to bring in large earth-moving equipment.

“No matter how high the obstacles, I will for certain overcome them to make sure this project is completed,” Mr. Zhang said. He declined to identify who in Beijing had delayed his project, but said that he had not been asked to make any tweaks to the design.

David Scott, a prominent structural engineer in London who has worked on many extremely tall buildings, said that regulatory delays were a periodic problem for such projects all over the world, but could usually be overcome.

Local officials here say that while they have transferred the land for Sky City to Broad Group and have been installing electricity and water lines for the project, final approval for the project is still “in progress” from building safety experts in Beijing.

The blueprints for Sky City call for a stack of long, skinny rectangles that taper to a narrow top, like a very tall and angular wedding cake. It bears a blocky resemblance to the 110-story Willis Tower in Chicago, formerly the Sears Tower, which was the world’s tallest building until 1998 but is now being left in the shade by numerous rivals.

Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Chongqing, each similar in population to metropolitan New York, are now finishing one building apiece that will top the Willis Tower. Wuhan, the size of greater Houston, is erecting two buildings taller than the Willis Tower and Tianjin, the size of metropolitan Chicago, is constructing three, according to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, the Chicago nonprofit that tracks skyscraper bragging rights.

Ambitious local officials, together with state-owned companies and state-owned banks, stand behind most of these projects, raising fears that taxpayers may eventually pick up the bill if projects prove uneconomical.

“If you let the market decide, I don’t think a lot of these tall buildings would proceed,” said Chau Kwong Wing, a professor of real estate and construction at Hong Kong University. Despite public concerns, there is no sign so far that any of the many very tall buildings under construction in China has been blocked by regulators in Beijing, he and Mr. Zhang both noted.

Hilda Wang contributed reporting.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/28/business/global/across-china-skyscrapers-brush-the-heavens.html?partner=rss&emc=rss