Chinese City To Chop Off Tops of Buildings For Heritage Status

unesco world heritage hangzhou china skyscraper west lake photo

Hangzhou officials demolished a building at Zhejiang University last year
Unesco World Heritage status, that coveted prize of global cultural tourism, has become a popular pursuit for Chinese officials. So too, of course, is the compulsion to build tall buildings, in an attempt to one-up other municipalities in China and around the world. But in Hangzhou, China's "most beautiful city" (a title claimed by a few cities in China), the two impulses are clashing. To achieve heritage status, the local government intends to lop off the tops of a few skyscrapers. From the BBC:
The top floors of several high-rises in the Chinese city of Hangzhou are to be lobbed off to help the city's bid for world heritage status, officials say.
Two exclusive hotels, a TV tower and a number of other buildings around the beautiful West Lake area will all be made shorter, the developer said....
"We have hired foreign firms to draft detailed plans of how to reduce the height of the Shangri-La, whose owners will be compensated," Mr Wang was quoted by the China Daily newspaper as saying.
He went on to say that the main tower of the Huabei hotel and a television tower were also among the buildings that needed to be made shorter.
China applied 12 years ago for the area around the city's West Lake -- a famous destination among Chinese tourists, and lesser known to foreigners -- to be named as a heritage site in a bid to boost tourism. Authorities have said that all buildings more than 24 metres (79 ft) tall on the lake's eastern shore would be shortened.

Unesco requires preservation of historic sites, and the 40m yuan plan is the latest element in Hangzhou's attempts to beautify the site. Last year, the city demolished its then tallest building, the main teaching building of the Hubin district of Zhejiang University.

Said Wang Shuifa, who will head the redevelopment project: "We have hired foreign firms to draft detailed plans of how to reduce the height of the Shangri-La, whose owners will be compensated."

But a spokeswoman for the 382-room hotel told the Associated Press: "We haven't received any order or notice about it. We're also very concerned and will pay close attention to this."

Unesco has threatened to remove heritage status from some areas in China due to degredation, including the Three Parallel Rivers area in gorgeous Yunnan province. The area is slated to be transformed by a series of dams and mines.

Meanwhile, the ancient city of Lijiang, also in Yunnan, demonstrates the double-edge sword of cultural tourism and Unesco heritage status: the city has been transformed into a Disney-fied version of itself, attracting millions of visitors a year.

Among the buildings targeted by Hangzhou authorities are the seven-storey east wing of the upscale Shangri-La hotel, the main tower of the Huabei hotel and a television tower. The project is expected to be completed by April.

From a cynical perspective, the effort might be seen as part and parcel of Chinese clean-up projects, from painting hills green to giving Beijing a clean, rain-free and blue-sky face for the Olympics.

But perhaps Hangzhou's building-slicing method might also be used as a warning to the many brash prestige building projects across China that fail to meet China's increasingly ambitious energy efficiency standards.

China's UNESCO sites

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