Tag Archives: skyscraper

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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The 40th anniversary of a Parisian skyscraper

When visiting Paris, Chinese tourists are often struck by the absence of skyscrapers within the historic centre. The height of buildings in Paris is limited by the municipality. Although there has recently been some discussion about constructing higher buildings, the Eiffel tower still dominates the city. Until now, skyscrapers have, for the most part, been located outside the city itself, for example in “La Défense”, a business district. The only skyscraper in Paris is the “Montparnasse” tower. Last week, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of its construction. By Chinese standards, this skyscraper is rather small (210 meters), but it is the second tallest building in France.

Forty years ago, there were active demonstrations against its construction, and even today a certain resentment about it remains. There is a joke claiming that the best view of Paris is from the Montparnasse tower, because from there you obviously cannot see the tower.

I remember visiting this tower when I was a child. I was very impressed by the view. But at that time, I did not know that an entire district had been torn down to develop this new project. This old district was not a typical one, but had a strong artistic significance. During the first half of the 20th century, many world-famous artists lived and worked in Montparnasse.  Most of their workshops disappeared because of the construction of this tower.

Even though it has been renovated, the Montparnasse tower, the symbol of France’s post-war prosperity, appears rather dated.  We can well imagine that if the older Montparnasse district had been preserved it would have become a very distinctive Parisian quarter with a special atmosphere and many art galleries to attract tourists; it would thus have become a stronger Parisian symbol than the Montparnasse tower.

I am not writing about the Montparnasse tower in order to blame the developers. Of course, cities need to change; otherwise they would simply become open-air museums. However, in both Europe and China, municipalities need to plan urban re-development carefully, always taking into account the long-term consequences.  The consequences of development, in social, cultural and economic terms, may be more costly than the preservation of the older districts. 

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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