Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Reaching for the Sky the Chinese Worry That the Next 'World's Tallest Building' May Be a Bad Omen

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Reaching for the Sky the Chinese Worry That the Next 'World's Tallest Building' May Be a Bad Omen

Article excerpt

As recently as July 1, cattle apparently grazed in the fields intended for the world's tallest skyscraper in the rural outskirts of Changsha, in China's Hunan province. That wasn't the original plan: Sky City, as the concept is known, was scheduled for completion earlier this year after a mere 90 days of construction.

Understandably, few people inside or outside China believed such a deadline was possible. It wasn't. Work never even started on the project, which was delayed in part by the government- approval process.

But reporters and micro-bloggers took notice three weeks later when Zhang Yue -- chairman of the Changsha-based Broad Group, which is developing Sky City and, for what it's worth, owns a pyramid in the Hunanese countryside -- touched down on the alleged construction site in his helicopter. The occasion was the long-delayed Sky City ground-breaking, and Mr. Zhang made up for his own 10 minutes of tardiness with a dash across the fields to the podium for his big announcement.

The building, he explained, will be built from prefabricated steel and concrete modules and will rise 202 stories. That will make it 2,749 feet high -- about 30 feet higher than Dubai's Burj Khalifa, the world's current tallest building. It will come complete with malls, residences, schools, a hotel, a hospital and a vertical garden sufficient to feed 30,000 residents. It will also be capable of sustaining a magnitude-9 earthquake.

Sky City, 2013 edition, apparently will require a modest nine months and roughly $850 million to complete. Burj Khalifa took five years and $1.5 billion. But if any developer deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to cost and timetables, it might be Mr. Zhang: Last year, his company built a prefabricated 30-story hotel in 15 days. Sky City will be built using the same energy-saving methods.

Despite the project's ambition and its potential to be a model of fast, sustainable development, it has met with quite a bit of skepticism. This is to be expected: The Chinese economic slowdown, combined with a host of empty mega shopping malls and newly built "ghost towns," has sapped the public's taste for ostentation on the part of real-estate developers. On Sina Weibo, China's most popular microblogging platform, such skepticism has at times turned in an apocalyptic direction. Jiang Ruxiang, a Beijing-based management consultant and frequent commentator on economic and business issues for Chinese television, offered this over-the-top message: "An economic crisis is coming! 838 meters tall, 5.25 billion yuan! Offices on the sixth to 15th floors, apartments of different sizes on the 16th to 170th floors. Hotels on the 171st to 202nd floors. U.S., Japan and Dubai all built 'tallest' buildings before their economic crises. China is not an exception. Take care, Chinese companies! …

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