The world's tallest building is not going to be a vertical trailer park

evening
Screen capture Broad Sustainable Building

It is sometimes hard for me to explain why I am such a fan of Broad Sustainable Building's construction technology. They have been dogmatic and determined in their attempt to do what Henry Ford did for cars: turn it into a true manufactured system with real production line efficiencies. It promises to make high quality multifamily housing a lot cheaper and a lot better.

Sky City, Broad's plan to build the world's tallest building, is another story. It's that tall to get the world's attention, and it has. Some of that attention has been negative and some of it is, I think, misguided.

Take Christopher Mim's post in Quartz, which I missed when it came out last month but saw when it was picked up by Fast Company's Ariel Schwartz. The title of Chris's post is "The world’s tallest building will basically be a giant stack of trailer homes."

It is a title designed to grab your attention, but it is wrong on so many levels.

© Broad Sustainable Construction

Christopher (who I admire greatly as one of the best bloggers around) writes:

A look at the plans (upper floor shown above) for Sky City One reveal that the maximum width of each unit of the building will be just 3.9 meters, or 12.8 feet. That’s the width of a “single-wide” mobile home in the US. Save a dizzyingly tall interior atrium extending from the first to the 170th floor, any interior spaces wider than that will be interrupted by the steel columns that define the edge of each pre-fabricated unit.

Let's parse this.

Broad Sustainable Construction/Video screen capture

1) the structure is made of prefabricated floor assemblies that are indeed 3.9 meters wide as Chris notes. But there are columns at the corners, period. (see photo above) There are no "steel columns that define the edge of each pre-fabricated unit", it is a wide open floor plate that can be divided any way the designers choose.

© T30 Presidential Suite, Broad Sustainable Building

Chris notes that Lauren Hilgers of Wired wasn't impressed with the space in the T30 Hotel; clearly she didn't hit the presidential suite where you can see, look ma, no walls every 3.9 meters.

Kenner girder and panel set/Promo image

It's a column and slab building; they can divide it up any way they want. Every office building in America is built this way; I played with it as a kid with my girder and panel building set. Most concrete residential buildings have concrete shear walls that define the edge of the unit and so do most modular buildings, but this is neither.

© Resolution: 4 Architecture

2) Chris throws in the line " That’s the width of a “single-wide” mobile home in the US." He's right. But it is a particularly disparaging way of putting it, chosen specifically to sound like trailer park trash. I am sure Chris knows perfectly well that a lot of architects (like Resolution 4, designers of the "single-wide" above) have shown that the dimensions of a unit that can be built in a factory and delivered by road has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the construction or the comfort of the interior. But it is not even relevant since again, single-wides and modular buildings have walls; Broad's slab-and-column design does not.

© Broad Sustainable Construction

3) Finally, a there is no " dizzyingly tall interior atrium extending from the first to the 170th floor". There are a series of stacked spaces that will serve many different recreational and commercial uses, usually three stories high. Photo of testing model above.

I am not going to defend the decision to make this the world's tallest building, but I am going to defend it as engineering and manufacturing genius. Bucky Fuller said "People should think things out fresh and not just accept conventional terms and the conventional way of doing things", and I think Broad is doing exactly that. To deride it as "a giant stack of trailer homes" is ridiculous and wrong.

Tags: Architecture | China

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