Is Changsha the future of the global economy?

Karl Smith loves to do posts touting the latest breakthroughs in fracking or solar panel technology.  So I thought I’d try one of those, for modular construction.

I’ve been waiting for the famous Changsha mega-structure to actually get underway, but I can’t wait any longer.  Otherwise Tyler might scoop me.  In any case it does have a OK to go forward in August:

Architects and record-keepers had been waiting for months to learn the status of Broad Group’s “Sky City,” a 220-story skyscraper that was supposed to be built in just 90 days this winter in the Chinese city of Changsha. Thirty feet higher than the Burj Khalifa and constructed of pre-fab modules, the prospective tower languished in government-approval limbo.

The wait is over: the title of world’s tallest building really will be transferred from oil-rich Dubai to this mid-sized provincial Chinese city. Last week, Broad Group announced it has received approval from the Chinese government and will break ground on the project in August, though according to Quartz‘s Lily Kuo, Broad Sustainable Building has pushed the building’s schedule to a more modest seven months.

That pace will make for less flashy headlines, but with more than a completed floor per day, Sky City will still be a historic construction project. More importantly, this titanic arcology will cost $140 per square foot to build, one-tenth the price of construction on the Burj Khalifa.

These innovations in speed and cost are thanks entirely to Broad Group’s pioneering use of modular construction. In 2011, BG’s subsidiary Broad Sustainable Building caused an Internet sensation with this timelapse video of a 30-story hotel built in just 15 days, its factory-prepared components slotted together like giant tinker-toys. (It’s since been viewed over 5 million times.) BSB’s hotel is still the world’s tallest modular building, but the technology is spreading. A 32-story competitor is rising in Brooklyn, a 29-story imitator in London.

The implications for the future of construction, architecture and urban planning are huge. Less labor will be required, and many workers will move from the site to the factory. Architects could find their visions curbed by factory specifications. Developers and governments may also find that housing is cheaper, easier and faster to build.

With Sky City, BSB has the opportunity to prove modular construction’s potential. The building’s 30,000 residents will be carried in 92 elevators to 4 helipads and amenities like schools and stores.* Segments of the building were being manufactured even before the Chinese government had issued its approval.

When I was young, almost all of the 20 tallest buildings in the world were in America (basically New York and Chicago.)  By 2020 19 out of 20 will be in Asia, and the only exception (the Freedom Tower) gets there by “cheating,” with a tall spire on top.

BTW, This is being built in a rural area outside Changsha.  In American terms that would be like building the world’s biggest mega-structure in a rural area outside of Memphis, Tennessee.

But it’s not a bubble!

PS.  Most people are Asian, so I often use the terms ‘global economy’ and ‘Asian economy’ interchangeably. I see that the Europeans are still resisting the coming onslaught of “gee-whiz” architecture.



8 Responses to “Is Changsha the future of the global economy?”

  1. Gravatar of ChargerCarl ChargerCarl
    25. May 2013 at 09:32

    I really hate chinese urbanism.

    It’s not even urbanism, its like they’re building suburbs of supertall skyscrapers. The buildings might be tall but the city is completely unwalkable because its so spread out.

    Also that is the ugliest building I have ever seen.

  2. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    25. May 2013 at 13:20

    Chargercarl, You said;

    “I really hate chinese urbanism.”

    European urbanism >>>> American urbanism >>>> Asian urbanism

    But we are slowly catching up to Europe.

  3. Gravatar of david david
    25. May 2013 at 18:20

    “Suburbs of supertall skyscrapers” works pretty well, e.g., the residential neighbourhoods of Hong Kong and Singapore.

    There is a role for the state here. Singapore’s is much more walkable than Hong Kong’s, due to the accidental innovation they call the ‘void deck’. The ground floor is completely open – just pillars, no walls.

  4. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    25. May 2013 at 19:33

    An amazing story. 220 stories in 90 days. If it works, skyscraper construction will be revolutionized.

    Not sure it is a good idea—it is, if the users like it, and people around the building like it too.

    BTW, the Empire State Building was built in only 14 months. 80 years ago. For some reason, construction times have gotten longer, not shorter.

  5. Gravatar of david david
    25. May 2013 at 20:29

    Speed costs money.

  6. Gravatar of Brett Brett
    25. May 2013 at 21:25

    Go China! Now they just have to built a super-elevated freeway high off the ground, and we’ll be in The Future.

    Seriously, though, that’s cool. It must be nice to build skyscrapers in a place where you don’t have to spend years fighting every NIMBY and “historical preservation” advocate in sight just to get started. That said, they need to go higher – where’s the Mile-High Tower?

  7. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    26. May 2013 at 06:32

    David, Good point. But the big problem in HK is restrictions on land usage.

    Ben, Good point.

    Brett, The first mile high tower will be in Asia (not Chicago, where it was initially proposed.)

  8. Gravatar of Doug M Doug M
    28. May 2013 at 09:59

    care to comment on the “tallest building recession indcator” — whenever a country sets a new record for completing the tallest building a recession hits the region soon thereafter.

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