Sky-high building boom sprouts in nation
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.”