World tallest skyscraper in Dubai? No, Changsha.

Sky-CityWhere will the world’s tallest skyscraper be erected next? In Dubai, London, New York, Shanghai? The correct answer is in Changsha, Hunan. Currently, few people outside China can point Changsha out on a map. The city is best known for its communist past (Mao spent his youth in Changsha), but that will change if it becomes home to the “Sky City” tower.

The plans for the “Sky City” state that it will reach 838 meters and will take only 90 days to build. This rapid and unprecedented construction will be possible thanks to the use of pre-fabricated units1.

However, last July authorities halted construction because the building company had not completed all the necessary legal procedures2. Furthermore, experts are concerned about safety issues and question the company’s ability to build such a tall structure, as it has previously only constructed a handful of small buildings.

It is possible that this company, “Broad Sustainable Building”, has the innovative technology to construct high structures; in which case, their architects will soon be as famous as Gustave Eiffel. Be that as it may, perhaps a more important question relating to this project is why are taller and taller structures constantly being built?

Certainly, his “Sky City” tower would help Changsha increase its attractiveness. I am sure tourists would enjoy visiting this unique structure. But for how long? The problem with this kind of “record-breaking building” is that soon another “record-breaking building” will be planned and steal the limelight. In less than two decades, the race to build the tallest structure has taken a frantic pace. In 1998, Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas towers (452 meters) were inaugurated and became “iconic” thanks to a blockbuster movie (“Entrapment”) setting its climactic moment on their skybridge. Then, in 2004, Taipei broke the record with the 509-meter Taipei 101. Since then, tallest buildings have been constructed in New York, Mecca, Shanghai, Dubai (Burj Khalifa with 828 meters). There is no reason to believe new structures will not be planned. In this case, Changsha tower will only be one among many, and its construction will simply not be worth investment.  I understand that the “Sky City” could become Changsha and maybe even provincial China’s flagship. However, the same technology, if reliable, could be used to construct social housing for migrants, quickly and cheaply. This would make Changsha a truly innovative city and achieve global appeal in a much more sustainable way.

  1. LIU, E., (July 25, 2013), China starts work on tallest building, CNN, http://edition.cnn.com/2013/07/24/travel/sky-city-breaks-ground/index.html, accessed October 2, 2013 []
  2. Sky city tower halts construction after just 10 days’ work, Curbed.com, http://curbed.com/tags/sky-city-tower, accessed October 2, 2013 []

Sebastien Goulard

Ph.D. in political science (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in social sciences (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in international relations (IRIS, Paris), B.A. (Hons) in international political studies (ESE - Nottingham Trent University)

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