By next March, a 220-floor skyscraper will stand in Changsha that will measure 838 meters (2,749 feet) in height, what will be the world's tallest building. And amazingly, construction hasn't even begun. While it took Dubai more than five years to build the Burj Khalifa building — what is currently the world's tallest at a majestic 828 meters (2,716 feet) — the Chinese are hoping to pull off a similar feat, but in only 90 days. So can they do it? Probably not — but it could be close.
Called Sky City, it will house 31,400 people and be equipped with offices, schools, hospitals, shops, and restaurants. Residents and visitors will travel up and down the building using 104 high-speed elevators (yes, you read that correctly).
It will cost $637 million dollars to build, and require over 220,000 tons of steel. But it'll also be state-of-the-art - a building that will require only a fifth of the energy required to power a conventional skyscraper. For this to work, the engineers will use novel construction methods, including quadruple glazing and 15cm-thick exterior walls for thermal insulation.
And it'll all come together in just three months! Or, more accurately, it's won't.
First, given that construction itineraries are almost never accurate, a 90-day schedule is ridiculously ambitious. For everything to come together in such a short amount of time — from suppliers through to the actual building of the skyscraper itself (including unforeseen problems) — it would be a logistical masterpiece the likes of which humanity has yet to experience. This is not likely to happen — and certainly not in quasi-communist China where most things run as efficiently as molasses.
Second, the architects at Broad Sustainable Building (BSB) — a unit of the air conditioning maker Broad Group — are using a construction company that has never built anything taller than 30 stories before. That's gonna be a problem.
Lastly, this is just another example of the Chinese government's bombast — an attempt to instill confidence in a population currently on the verge of a housing shortage.
Now all this said, BSB does have a plan. Sky City, which was designed by engineers who worked on the Burj Khalifa, will be assembled in a modular fashion. Nearly 95% of the building will be click-locked into place with pre-fabricated materials, allowing the construction workers to raise the building at a breakneck pace of five stories per day. Interestingly, BSB recently built a 30-storey hotel in just 15 days.
And indeed, given just how butt-ugly and simple the building's design appears to be (it looks like something a four-year-old designed with cereal boxes), they may very well come close to their 90-day target.
Moreover, China is very motivated to build and to build quickly. As the UK's Independent recently reported, there are 179,000 people moving into urban areas every week. To deal with the situation, there are 239 buildings taller than 200m being constructed in China, with plans to build many more.
For the record, I would love for them to prove me wrong — but let's hope the final result is something that's both sensible and safe.