October 7, 2013
Fate of Sky City up in the air
Construction Corner | Korky Koroluk
It's been several weeks with no word about the fate of China's Sky City, about which I wrote recently. We still don't know whether it will be built or not.
In the meantime, the world construction press has continued to speculate. One writer even suggested that the project will never be built, that it’s just a giant scam concocted to get international publicity for Broad Sustainable Building, the firm that has proposed the building. Others have suggested that it’s all an ego trip for Zhang Yue, the Broad Group’s chairman.
We know he conceived the project as the world’s tallest building, erected in just three months using prefabricated modules. The delay seems to be a matter of building permits. Some, however, have raised safety questions. So, for the moment, the job is on hold.
But I think it’s important that it be built — for a number of reasons.
Back in 2008, the McKinsey Global Institute told us it expected that between 2009 and 2025, something like 350 million people would migrate from rural China to its eastern cities. This, of course, would post huge challenges for housing, infrastructure and social services for the migrants. The report also said the Chinese government would build several new megacities to accommodate the migration.
Some new cities have been built, mostly adjacent to established centres. Some were slow to fill up, leading some North American media outlets to dub them “ghost” cities. But they’re filling up now, and the media sneers have stopped.
There is a need for Sky City, all 202 storeys of it, if not today, then tomorrow. The world is facing the challenge of reducing energy use and environmental damage.
But if we build cities that imitate those we already have, which were built around the idea of the car as the main means of transport, it simply won’t work. We’ll just have endless sprawl accompanied by even more congestion and pollution.
To achieve energy savings, cities have to be more densely populated and that means they must be taller. And in that context, Sky City’s 202 storeys may not be so outlandish.
Consider some of the features that are to be built into it. Each apartment is to have an automatic thermostat to keep temperature constant between 20° and 27° C. It is to have roughly three times as much insulation as other large buildings.
Windows will all be at least triple glazed, although some will have as many as five layers of glazing. Every unit will have an air purifier. And these apartments will cost about 30 per cent less per square metre than other new housing.
Of course, you can forget the word “luxury.” These apartments are meant for real people, not for high-salaried executives or celebrities.
As well as housing 30,000 people, Sky City will have space for offices, shops, restaurants, schools, hospitals, and a hotel. There will even be “sky gardens” on five of its floors. There will be communal open space on every floor, space for sports — everything you think of when you think of a city.
It seems clear that the developer conceived of Sky City as a test bed — first for the company’s building system, which involves prefabrication of most elements in factories away from the building site, then rapid assembly using several strategically placed climbing cranes. But it will also be a place to test a number of HVAC technologies.
In short, the building could answer some technological questions. Unfortunately, it won’t answer social questions.
We still don’t know how people will react to the sheer immensity in Sky City, nor do we know what kinds of social problems might arise.
But viewed as a technology test bed, Sky City is a project that should be built.
Korky Koroluk is a regular freelance contributor to the Journal of Commerce. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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