Chinese Firm Gains Approval, Hype to Raise World’s Tallest Building in Only 90 Days

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China has ten cities bigger than New York. Almost half of the world’s 20 tallest skyscrapers under construction today are in China. Naturally, China’s builders are chomping at the bit to get things done, like yesterday. But no one can erect the tallest skyscraper on the planet in three months…right?

We may find out later this year. Broad Sustainable Building (BSB) says its Sky City scraper will hold the title by the end of 2013—and they haven’t even broken ground.

BSB first announced its intentions to build a skyscraper taller than Dubai’s Burj Khalifa last year. The plan was to break ground in December, pending approval from the central government. It took as long to get the paperwork done as it would have to build. But no more waiting. BSB has the green light to begin construction in June.

Readers with a viral video habit may have heard of BSB or at least seen what they can do. The firm builds prefabricated parts offsite, transports them to a chosen location, and raises the final structure lightning quick. It’s a matter of process and pre-assembled parts packed with bolts in place and snapped together on site. In 2011, they raised a 30-story apartment building in 15 days. The time lapse is surreal.

The Burj Khalifa took five years to finish. But for Sky City, BSB will fabricate the parts offsite over four months and spend three months erecting the building on location, at a pace of five stories a day.

Once finished, Sky City’s 11 million square feet will host a school, a hospital, offices, and apartments and hotel rooms for 30,000 people. Residents can take one of 104 elevators or a six mile ramp curling around the interior to access courtyards with basketball, swimming, tennis, and theaters. The walls will provide 900,000 square feet of vertical farming space. It’s to be a skyscraper city.

Sky City will be an incredible feat if safely completed on schedule. Not only will the building go up ridiculously fast, its projected cost of $628 million is roughly half of the Burj Khalifa's cost ($1.5 billion). But you’re forgiven for a touch of skepticism. A 30-story building is an altogether different beast than a 220-story, 2,750 foot colossus.

Head of Structures for WSP Middle East, Bart Leclercq, told Middle East Architect,  “I don’t think it’s possible to build [an 838m tower] as quickly as they claim. If they manage to build this structure in three months then I will give up structural engineering. I will hang my hat and retire. I will be eating humble pie as well.”

Leclercq likes the idea of prefabrication but says concrete poured onsite in tall buildings provides stiffness, and the time it takes concrete to cure is non-negotiable. He thinks the five-year mark set by the Burj Khalifa is about as good as it gets with current techniques and technologies.

Meanwhile, BSB says Sky City's planning involved engineers who worked on the Burj Khalifa; that they’ve engineered the building to withstand 9.0+ earthquakes; that 10 government assembled research groups have looked over the plans; that they've tested scale models in wind tunnels.

My sense is there's a lot of hype and confused information on this one. Given the audacity of the proposal and the delays to this point, it may simply be a matter of wait and see. We can say that prefabrication likely has great efficiencies to be learned and applied, even if it doesn't happen on the grandest scale. And however long it takes to erect Sky City—if and when it happens—we look forward to the time lapse video.

Image Credit: Broad Sustainable Building

Jason Dorrier

Jason is managing editor of Singularity Hub. He cut his teeth doing research and writing about finance and economics before moving on to science, technology, and the future. He is curious about pretty much everything, and sad he'll only ever know a tiny fraction of it all.

Discussion — 20 Responses

  • Andrew Atkin June 4, 2013 on 3:28 pm

    It actually moves in the wrong direction, relative to total-world urban development. Mass-consumer demand is for low-density – not high. Studies have shown that 85% or more of the market wants a detached home. But that doesn’t say there might not be plenty of people wanting to fill it, nonetheless.

    Also high-risers like this are incredibly materials-expensive, because all those bottom floors have to hold up the top floors (putting it simply), massively increasing structural requirements per-floor as it supports its own crazy weight. And the energy required to build such structures, per floor, blows out the eco-arguments on their own.

    Here is the real future (according to me):

    • Gianna Giavelli Andrew Atkin June 21, 2013 on 12:27 pm

      I disagree. I think the new trend will be away from isolated houses in the burbs and more towards walking streets and piazzas of europe where there is community. Look at the highest priced real estate in america an dits all places where there is neighborhood. the real trick is can you copy all the great walking cities of old and rebuild interesting piazzas with monuments towers and art buildings to look at so theres somethign to see when you sit and eat your sandwich while listening to vivaldi playing live on the piazza stage. That is the goal, not detached scary suburbs

  • Lionel June 5, 2013 on 6:38 am

    It’s not 90 days anymore. They recently changed it to 7 months.

    • Eric Lambart Lionel June 6, 2013 on 11:19 am

      I believe that nothing’s changed. 4 months of pre-fabrication, 90 days to erect the structure.

  • Chaz June 5, 2013 on 2:01 pm

    Andrew, you are talking about what people want in the western world and in particular the USA. I lived in Germany for years and most people there want to live in the heart of the city, not in a single family home in a suburban setting, that goes for most of the rest of Europe too, with the exception maybe of the UK. Even if 80% of the world’s population did want that, which they don’t, it isn’t possible. China for example is a country of more than 1.34 billion people, India is 1.2 Billion people, if they all had single family homes in a suburban setting, there would be no room left for farming. Heck if you took Europeans and gave them all single family homes in a suburban setting, there would be enough land to house them all. Same goes for the Chinese, Indians, Japanese only more so. The only solution is to build upwards rather than outwards. And I know from experience of having lived in other countries, that that is just what the populace of many other countries would rather have, they would rather live in a vibrant city and have less personal space than live in a suburb. Suburbs are many people’s idea of a nightmare. Not everywhere is the USA, Canada, Australia or to a lesser extent the UK. You’re simply wrong, you can’t apply what North Americans and Australians want to the rest of the world.

    • Andrew Atkin Chaz June 5, 2013 on 8:47 pm

      Chaz: Are you sure? Britain is about 9% urbanised, crudely speaking. Only about 2.7% of their land is actually built over (houses, commercial buildings and roads, etc) according to a recent intensive analysis.

      Much of urban housing demand is radially distorted via the artificial outlawing of land supply. Countless people often don’t want detached homes for no other reason than they can’t afford it, because they can’t pay rural values for land at the fringes (unlike in places such as Houston, Texas, where you can buy houses for what they’re really worth in non-inflated terms).

      Green sprawl, as I call it, does not need to environmentally destructive – in fact the real urban footprint can be very small, with masses of tree and garden in between the houses, and much more ‘eco’ that a paddock. With the world’s land area being only about 1-2% urbanised (and I’m not sure how much of that is directly urbanised – probably much, much less) there is massive room for intelligent urban expansion.

      Did you know: A farming area equal to 50x Australia’s current geographical urban footprint has been taken out of production, since 1981, due to yield advances in farming systems. We’ve got a heck of a long way to go before we starve from out cities.

      • Chaz Andrew Atkin June 6, 2013 on 5:50 am

        Andrew, yes I am sure. I did say “with the exception of the UK” This single family home thing is peculiar to the English speaking western world. Which includes Australia, North America, NZ. Go to mainland Europe and people
        don’t want to live in suburbs, they want to live in the middle of the city. Suburbs or living outside the city in New Towns or villages are most peoples worst nightmare in many European countries. It doesn’t matter how much land is urbanized, people don’t want to live in suburbs in most of the world and especially in western Europe. Germans, for example, make fun of people who live in villages surrounding big cities and towns. Land prices and home prices in rural areas in Germany are much much lower than in cities. Also you are ignoring the fact that we need to grow food. Take Australia as an example. There really isn’t that much habitable land, most of Australia is desert with just the coastline being fertile and green enough to live on and farm. This isn’t true of the USA though, which is very sparsely populated. Gardens and tree in between homes that sprawl over a very large area, do not feed people. You said “1-2% urbanised (and I’m not sure how much of that is directly urbanised – probably much, much less) there is massive room for intelligent urban expansion.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want endless suburban sprawl. I have that here in the States, and it is not pleasant. You can drive from Boston to Washington DC without ever really leaving a populated area. That strip of land is known as Boswash. the heavily populated area extending from Boston to Washington and including New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. That’s not something I would want all over the world. Even when you are in rural areas, they are still quite heavily populated. We may have enough room in North America and a few other places, but that doesn’t mean it is something people really want. Endless subdivisions and strip malls are not what most people in the world want. Suburban sprawl kills cities and in particular downtowns. All you end up with is Los Angeles County.

        • Andrew Atkin Chaz June 6, 2013 on 3:01 pm

          LA practices forced urban containment (has done since the 60’s), which is responsible for driving up their property prices to the point of crazy (MUL’s are the supply lid on the pot, which allows the financial games to begin). It leads to carpet sprawl – where the pressure for within the boundaries development becomes intense from the (artificial) land shortage, and the developing result leads to the effect of nothing but housing/commercial development with no rural style break-up. Yep – ugly.

          I think you’re assuming too much about people preferences. You need to look for Surveys.

          Food is not a problem. There is no shortage of farmland to feed us, and it will not be problematically affected by urban expansion.

          • Andrew Atkin Andrew Atkin June 6, 2013 on 3:11 pm

            Also, metropolitan LA is the highest density metro in America; an effect of anti-sprawl policy – forced urban intensification, that is.

            Be careful what you wish for! You might not understand what you’re actually gonna be getting.

          • Chaz Andrew Atkin June 7, 2013 on 9:44 am

            I am not talking about forced land containment or their property prices I am talking about a city that is just a huge, characterless suburban conglomeration of subdivisions (aka housing estates) and strip malls. It isn’t a city, it’s just lots of houses in the same area completely lacking in any kind of personality or character and connected by freeways, which makes one completely dependent on the automobile (whatever it’s kind may be) I would hardly call Los Angeles county (not city) short of land, it is very low density housing spread over a very large area. There is no shortage of farmland right now in the USA, because the USA is very thinly populated, except on the coasts. Tell the Japanese there is no shortage of farmland and you would be wrong. Tell most Europeans that they could all have single family homes on a half acre lot and you would be wrong. There isn’t enough room for the homes and the farmland required to feed them all. There is no problem with enough farmland now, but if you fill all that land with houses, then the people of Germany, Luxemburg , the Netherlands etc. for example have to rely completely or to a great extent on other less heavily populated countries for their food supplies.

          • Chaz Andrew Atkin June 7, 2013 on 9:55 am

            You said “Also, metropolitan LA is the highest density metro in America; an effect of anti-sprawl policy – forced urban intensification, that is.”

            It may have the highest population density (US cities tend to be very low density anyway) So being the highest of relatively low density cities isn’t saying much. You see it all over the USa, cities that just go on and on and on, but not in the true sense of a city, like, London, Paris, Tokyo etc. which are true cities, but just surban sprawl that is almost never ending, such as the Boswash region or or San Angeles (the region that runs down the coast of California, where you never really leave a populated area. I am not assuming anything. I have looked at surveys. Most people do NOT want to live in endless suburbia. They might like the idea of a single family home, but when all the drawbacks, like a two hour commute on choked Long Island Parkway or the Santa Monica Freeway, things change rapidly. People like to live in the country or in the city, but not generally in never ending characterless suburbia. Suburbia is too disturbia.

      • Jason Charnov Andrew Atkin June 6, 2013 on 6:54 am

        I’m not sure where you got your numbers, but Great Britain as of 2010 was 90.1% urbanized, not 9%, and the US was 87%.

        Anecdotally, I have seen a massive increase in urban population in my city where we have increase downtown apartments and condos by nearly double in just 6 years and we are one of the slowest growing cities in the US (Indianapolis).

        • Chaz Jason Charnov June 6, 2013 on 8:45 am

          Jason, We have the same thing here in Raleigh NC (one of the fastest growing cities in the USA. We have lots of suburban developement going on, but also Lots and lots of downtown development. Lots of new condos, lofts and even a high right (The RBC tower) which includes offices a TV station and apartments. Apart from the normal suburban single family home development, empty spaces in in what was suburban Raleigh (aka North Raleigh) are being filled in with apartment and multi use apartments with shops and offices on the ground floor. Making what was suburban much more urban in feel and appearance. The existing properties around areas like North Hills have shot up in value due to this Neo Urbanite development. People like being able to walk to the thearter, shops, restaurant etc. Before North Hills was redeveloped into what it is now, it was a typical suburban area with a small shopping mall. It was nothing special. Now it is one of the most sought after areas in Raleigh and is referred to as Midtown Raleigh.

        • Andrew Atkin Jason Charnov June 6, 2013 on 3:04 pm

          …Talking about population, not geography? I’m talking about the percentage of urban land cover over the nation.

    • Erik WP Chaz June 9, 2013 on 7:02 pm

      Most Chinese don’t want to live in a detached home. One of the reasons I don’t want to move to China is that I’d be virtually obliged to live with my family in law in one big house. As a Westerner that’s not something to look forward to. However in the East most families are clustered together with several generations living in the same building.

  • Andrew Atkin June 6, 2013 on 3:20 pm

    Finally: So will the demand be for hyper-dense cities with doorstep access to downtown – or mega-green flavoured hyper-sprawl?

    I don’t know about the demand in Asia or Europe, but there is demand for both, anyway. the ratio-split is the question.

    However, beware assumptions relating to real demand by observing people’s purchases. People will always crave apartments when lower-density options are just completely unaffordable, of course.

    • Chaz Andrew Atkin June 7, 2013 on 9:59 am

      I’m not making any assumptions. I have lived in England and Germany as well as here in New York and in North Carolina. I know what people want and like. There’s a good reason that suburbs are rare or unloved in most of Europe. People DON’T want to live in them. they want to be where the action is in the middle of town.

      • Andrew Atkin Chaz June 9, 2013 on 11:20 pm

        Hmmm…I think you should look at the actual ratio of suburbian to urban in Europe. I think you might be speaking to the (literally) “in” crowd.

        I’m not sure, but Europe may be far more suburbanised than you realise.

  • Frank Whittemore June 7, 2013 on 7:25 am

    And now this…

    China to Build Larger, Alternative Panama Canal –