Sky-high build­ing boom sprouts in na­tion

China Daily (Canada) - - BUSINESS - By BLOOMBERG

The eastern Chi­nese city of Suzhou is not even the big­gest in Jiangsu province, but it’s join­ing a na­tional rush for the sky with what’s slated to be­come the world’s third­tallest build­ing.

By 2020, China may be hometo six of the world’s 10 high­est sky­scrapers, in­clud­ing Suzhou’s 700-me­ter Zhong­nan Cen­ter. De­vel­op­ers fin­ished 37 struc­tures higher than 200 me­ters, or about 50 sto­ries, in China last year, the most in the world, ac­cord­ing to the Chicago-based Coun­cil on Tall Build­ings and Ur­ban Habi­tat, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that main­tains the world’s largest free data­base on tall build­ings.

China is wit­ness­ing a sky­scraper boom, with low­ertier cities like Suzhou vy­ing to erect ever-big­ger struc­tures and count­ing on the pres­tige and po­ten­tial com­mer­cial ben­e­fit those megabuild­ings might bring. Con­struc­tion has been fu­eled by a tripling in prop­erty val­ues since 1998 and govern­ment pol­icy that has moved 300 mil­lion peo­ple — al­most the en­tire pop­u­la­tion of the United States — into cities since 1995.

“What’s hap­pen­ing in China is sim­i­lar to what hap­pened in the US 80 to 100 years ago, on a dif­fer­ent scale,” Antony Wood, the coun­cil’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, said in Shang­hai. “Cities are com­pet­ing both within China and also glob­ally for at­ten­tion and for the ap­pear­ance that they are first-world.”

The coun­cil said Suzhou’s will be the world’s third-tallest build­ing when it’s com­pleted in 2020. Other cities plan­ning or build­ing sky­scrapers that could join the world’s tallest in­clude Shenyang in Liaon­ing province, Wuhan in Hubei province and Tian­jin, a city 109 km south­east of Bei­jing that’s plan­ning a replica ofMan­hat­tan.

None of the tow­ers would ex­ceed the world’s cur­rent tallest build­ing, Dubai’s Burj Khal­ifa, or the one set to sur­pass it — King­dom Tower in Jid­dah, Saudi Ara­bia, slated to be 1 kilo­me­ter high.

But what China lacks in height it makes up for in quan­tity. All to­gether, the main­land, Hong Kong and Tai­wan al­ready have half of the world’s 20 tallest build­ings.

Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang has cham­pi­oned ur­ban­iza­tion asa“hugeengine” for ex­pan­sion as he seeks to shift the world’s sec­ond-largest econ­omy to­ward a model that re­lies on con­sump­tion rather than in­vest­ment and ex­ports. The govern­ment pre­dicts that more city dwellers and their higher wages will mean more money spent on tele­vi­sion sets, travel and newhomes.

“With roughly 250 mil­lion peo­ple set to move into Chi­nese cities in the next decade or so, the pace of ur­ban con­struc­tion — in­clud­ing road, rail and wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture, and cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions, in ad­di­tion to tall build­ings — has out­stripped any pre­vi­ous pe­riod in hu­man his­tory,” the tall-build­ings coun­cil said in a re­port. The full re­port will be re­leased when the coun­cil holds its an­nual congress in China in Septem­ber.

The sky­scraper build-out comes as Chi­nese lead­ers grap­ple with the best way to con­struct cities and ac­com­mo­date that swelling ur­ban pop­u­la­tion. The Na­tional Devel­op­ment and Re­form Com­mis­sion is study­ing a plan to im­prove city plan­ning by lim­it­ing sprawl, China Busi­ness News re­ported on Thurs­day.

China’s sky­scrapers are no guar­an­tee that the surge in prop­erty val­ues will con­tinue. New home prices fell in 55 of 70 cities in June, ac­cord­ing to govern­ment data. High­rise ma­nias in­NewYork, Kuala Lumpur and Dubai all pre­ceded eco­nomic slumps.

The planned Sky City sky­scraper in cen­tral Chang­sha may be­come a sym­bol of the burst­ing prop­erty bub­ble as well as the sky­scraper boom. Broad Group, an air-con­di­tioner maker, once promised to erect the 838-me­ter build­ing in less than a year — by April 2014. As yet, the site is sprout­ing only watermelons.

“China will get to the point where eco­nomic re­al­ity — whether that’s on the level of a sin­gle de­vel­oper, lo­cal govern­ment or the cen­tral govern­ment— will be­come a big fac­tor that over­takes am­bi­tion,” Wood said.

Still, Suzhou may find com­fort in a 2011 study by three Amer­i­can univer­sity pro­fes­sors, Sky­scraper Height and the Busi­ness Cy­cle, which found no sup­port for the so-called Sky­scraper In­dex — the the­ory that the most in­tense com­pe­ti­tion for the tallest tow­ers oc­curs just be­fore a busi­ness down­turn.

There is no sign yet that am­bi­tions have been crimped by a weaker prop­erty mar­ket or pro­jec­tions of slower eco­nomic growth. Aplan an­nounced last month by theUnited King­dom firm Chet­woods Ar­chi­tects would take on Jid­dah’s King­dom mega-sky­scraper with a devel­op­ment in Wuhan fea­tur­ing a pair of tow­ers.

Wuhan is a trans­porta­tion hub in cen­tral China in the midst of its own real-es­tate frenzy. Last month, ECA In­ter­na­tional, a con­sult­ing com­pany, ranked the city Asia’s 29th most ex­pen­sive for ex­pa­tri­ates, beat­ing Mumbai and Kuala Lumpur. Wuhan is al­ready plan­ning a tower of more than 600 me­ters un­der con­struc­tion by China’s Green­land Group.

“Hu­man­ity has the am­bi­tion to do what it can’t do; part of that is to build the tallest build­ings,” Wood said. “Many of the iconic tow­ers now ris­ing in China have lent world recog­ni­tion to cities that rel­a­tively few Chi­nese — let alone Western­ers — were pre­vi­ously aware of.”

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