The story behind the 220 stories of Sky City, the world's tallest prefabricated skyscraper

sky city
© Broad Sustainable Building

Zhang Yue is the Chairman of the Broad Group and the man behind Broad Sustainable Building, which is trying to build the world's tallest tower using their unique prefabricated construction system. TreeHugger has been following this project (see related links to left) because of its technology and because Zhang Yue promises significant environmental benefits. While a groundbreaking ceremony was held recently, the project has been controversial in China and work was subsequently put on hold.

Broad just sent TreeHugger this release which we reprint, unedited in its entirety as requested by Broad and because it is a fascinating document in which Zhang Yue explains his reasons and his goals. Illustrations are from Why Sky City PDF.

why sky© Broad Sustainable Building

With a pious heart, we are building a Sky City, only to meet with criticisms and doubts.

Our project was never called off, yet it is greeted with boos and jeers. Even some irrational comments from the West appeared on Chinese mainstream media. I have a habit of being straightforward, I seldom participate in online or offline debate. But this time, I decided to make a response. My colleagues tried to discourage me from doing so, as they believe that it may inevitably debase myself and offend many, or even worse, it may invite even more criticisms. Regardlessly, my response does not only concern Sky City, but the greater planet and humanity.

why sky© Broad Sustainable Building

First criticism, Sky City is a destruction on cities. This is the habitual thinking about “landmark buildings”.

Why not refer to the 15 page report "Why Sky City", which can be downloaded from the official website of Broad Group? This document elaborates and illustrates the concept and technologies of the Sky City. The Sky City is a mixed community building with multiple functions, where people can live, work, shop, entertain, go to school and see a doctor under the same roof. The Sky City is designed to reduce the city’s dependence on roads and vehicles and thus reduce traffic jam. It is a revolution of the "zoned communities". In Sky City, you can find anything you need from cradle to grave except a crematorium. I hope this all-embracing concept can awaken those who have turned the livable cities into vehicle-dependent cities. How wonderful if we can live in a walkable city? Of course, we are aware of all the difficulties regarding the operation and maintenance of a gigantic mixed community in a super-high-rise. But if the Sky City can draw people’s attention to the significance of the “inclusive community”, all our effort is worthwhile. Even if we fail in the end, our intention and effort are admirable rather than condemnable.

why sky© Broad Sustainable Building

Second criticism, the Sky City is criticized for the destruction of the ecosystem, but it's missing logic.

When you build tall, land can be more efficiently used, thus saving more land for trees and fields, which is surely more eco-friendly than low-rise and sprawling cities. A Sky City can save up to two square kilometers for afforestation, on which 100,000 trees can be planted. What a beautiful picture!

why sky© Broad Sustainable Building

Third criticism, Sky City is criticized for wasting energy and thus being anti-environmental. It is fundamentally erroneous.

The national building insulation standard for cities like Changsha is 2.5 cm, and for cities like Harbin is 8 cm, while the Sky City boasts not only 20-cm insulation layers but also quadruple-glazed windows. Its insulation effect is even better than that of refrigerators. Plus heat recovery fresh air machines, power-generating elevators and LED lights, rational professionals will definitely agree that no other buildings are more energy-efficient than the Sky City, not even those in Germany.

Heating and cooling consume 30 to 40 percent of the world energy, most of which is wasted by poorly insulated exterior walls and windows. Six years ago, we realized the gravity of this problem and immediately renovated the insulation layers of a dozen of Broad buildings by giving them 15-cm insulation layers and triple-glazed windows. We hoped that others would follow suit, because this way we can reduce up to 80% air-conditioners. Years passed by, very few people did the same. Some are skeptical: a company that exports central air-conditioners to 80 countries is making an effort to eliminate air-conditioners. It must have an ax to grind. As far as I am concerned, building insulation should be the world's most pressing and prioritized issue. Why? Because it requires no fancy high tech, yet sadly people pay little attention. Therefore, I hope that our eye-catching Sky City—the world’s highest building can give an acupuncture to those who are indifferent to this issue. Truth to be told, that is my primary purpose.

why sky© Broad Sustainable Building

Fourth criticism, Sky City is labeled as a window-dressing project for some officials, companies or billionaires. That is ungrounded guessing.

The truth is that by now, no officials have offered any preferential policies, and the penthouse is not designed for luxurious headquarters (office space is below the 15th floor). Our budget is 9 billion yuan, which leaves no room for flaunting wealth.

How is it possible for us to flaunt wealth? Why Sky City explicitly says that it is made up of 1160 units of 60-square-meter apartments, 1398 units of 90-square-meter apartments. Can you imagine that rich people are willing to reside in such small apartments? There are 1892 units that are larger than 90 square meters, which accounts for 43% of the total. This mix is by no means upmarket. That is why we disclosed our budget—we have never intended to sell at high prices. In addition, it is built at the suburbs. The location also decides that it is impossible to sell at high prices. The Sky City is built to solve the housing issue of the masses. How is it possible that it will invite “the curse of Lawrence”?

(ed- This refers to Andrew Lawrence's 1999 correlation of skyscraper construction and economic collapse "These are a Lawrence spell. It says the skyscrapers are a omen of economic recession. when the skyscrapers are finished, the economy will recess".)

why sky© Broad Sustainable Building

Fifth criticism, some are skeptical about the 9-billion-yuan budget.

Some experts argue that it should at least double the amount, otherwise Sky City would be nothing but a shell or it may need some “miraculous breakthroughs”. They are actually right: Sky City is indeed the result of many breakthroughs, technology-wise, economy-wise and management-wise.

Sky City will be built from BSB technology (Broad Sustainable Buildings) rather than conventional building methods. Ninety per cent of the building is factory fabricated by industrial workers. There is no multi sub-contracting, no idleness due to poor organization, and no fancy deco. Plus short capital return, the budget of course does not have to be that high. That is why we do not brag about the budget as some landmark buildings that worth tens of billions did. The factory-made building is indeed a “miraculous breakthrough”—that is why the clip of Broad T30 Hotel on Youtube has been viewed over five million times. If you log on our website and get to know Broad products of the last 25 years, you will find that each product represents a “miraculous breakthrough”.

why sky© Broad Sustainable Building

Sixth criticism, some doubt the 7-month construction time. They think it is too short to be true and it must be a hype and the quality cannot be guaranteed. They are weightless words.

Yes, from groundbreaking to completion the Empire State Building took only 13 months, which, however, occurred 80 years ago. Did humanity regress? The key to a short construction time lies in factory-made. Over 20,000 workers at Broad Sustainable Building Company (BSB) and its outsourcing partners will work produce for four months in factories. Over 3000 workers will work for the installment on site for another three months. For hard-working BSB workers, these 2 million plus work days are more than enough for a building with a 960,000-square-meter construction area. The efficiency and competency have already been proved by over 30 broad sustainable buildings. To play safe, it would be much better if we announce a longer period completion time and when we accomplish in advance, wouldn’t it be even more dramatic and eye-catching? However, we are habitual truth-tellers. Unfortunately, we are accused of hyping, which I have always detested. Broad Group alone has provided central conditioners and related installation, operation and maintenance for all the 250 pavilions of the 2010 Shanghai Expo. The preparation time was much tighter than seven months for Sky City. However, we delivered perfectly and guaranteed zero mistakes during the World Expo, which was held during the hottest days and received the largest number of visitors.

Why the foundation construction only needs six months? It is thanks to the competence of China Construction 5th Engineering Division Corporation and the excellent geological conditions of the location. That is also one of the reasons why we choose such a remote location. The contract period with China Construction 5th Engineering Division Corporation is exactly six months. And the Corporation is not only the foundation constructor for the Sky City, but also the general contractor responsible for the installation. Its competency and qualifications are unquestionable.

why sky© Broad Sustainable Building

Seventh criticism, safety of the Sky City is questioned, which shows these people have little understanding about the approval procedures and state laws regarding super-tall-highrises.

Since we announced the Sky City Plan in 2010, BSB has done hundreds of experiments with national and foreign experts; for instance, for wind tunnels alone, we have done four experiments in three labs in both China and foreign countries. Hypothetically speaking, even if BSB had ignored the safety issue, what about the prestigious experts on the National Seismic Review Committee for the Construction of High-rises beyond the Code Limit and the related competent authorities at all levels? How could they afford to be sloppy? Besides, it would be insane to go against the basic business principles by taking the safety risk, when what at stake are nine billion yuan and an international brand that enjoys a strong presence in 80 countries besides China. In China, there are no laws, regulations and codes stipulating what kind of steel should be used for high-rises, yet for Sky City, we are importing several hundred thousand tons of steel from Luxembourg, the global leading steel provider. The Luxembourg steel is already very expensive even without high tariffs and enormous logistic cost. If we were not serious about safety, why bother to go that great lengths? I also felt bad about the carbon footprint resulting from importing so much steel from over 20,000 kilometers away, but I understand safety goes before environment-friendliness. Some people suspected that we launched the project without submitting the application. This accusation is ridiculous. No company, would make such a stupid mistake, neither would Broad nor the government.

why sky© Broad Sustainable Building

Eighth, some concerned about the financing of Sky City, which is over worrying.

Since 1995, Broad Group has never applied for a single loan. It is truly rare even globally to find a company worth of billions of dollars that never applied for a loan in the past eighteen years. It does not mean that the Sky City does not need loans; it just speaks volumes of Broad's sensibility. For years, we have been offered a credit line of billions of dollars, yet we have never borrowed a penny. For years, many people, including some Broad users, even if they do not understand Broad technologies (such as why Broad air-conditioners powered by natural gas or waste heat can slash energy consumption by half, why our fresh air machine can reduce 80% energy consumption and filter 99% PM2.5, and why our mobile air quality monitor is able to calculate the PM2.5 level within 30 seconds), they are quite familiar with the three marketing principles of Broad Group: no pricing war, no arrears with payment and no bribery. And many even learn by heart the Seven Don’ts and One No of the Broad Group, which serves as our moral compass: don’t pollute, don’t steal technology, don’t cheat customers, don’t engage in malicious competition, don’t involve in triangle debts, don’t evade taxes, don’t bribe and thus no guilty conscience. Call me not modest, but I am confident to say that rationale of Broad is exemplary.

why© Broad Sustainable Building

Finally, I am called a bogus environmentalist.

I heard accusation that on one hand I am dissuading Chinese billionaires from buying executive jets, yet on the other hand I myself fly helicopter to attend the groundbreaking ceremony. Sixteen years ago, I bought a chopper when I knew nothing about environment protection. Later, I knew better. In the past six years, my two executive jets were sitting idle at the airport. In my defense, I fly helicopter only occasionally for matters of urgency. Let me ask this: how many people are willing to take buses and leave their private cars idle in the garage? What concerns me is that last year alone China purchased 150 executive jets. I do hope those jet owners can also wake up soon. If I am only paying lip service to environment protection, then I do not deserve the laurel of Champions of the Earth awarded by the United Nations, a honor only three Chinese have ever received.

To err is human, and I admit that I must have made mistakes, and you may even find mistakes in this article too. However, I am eager to share with you my thoughts and reflection. In the era of mass-information, we should remain sober; otherwise we will be lost in rumors and speculations that cloud our judgment. For a purposeful life, we should rely on independent observation and thinking, respect for morals, hard work and wisdom, be open-minded for innovation and return to sincerity, trust, modesty,prudence and other plain values, which are the kind of positive energy that China needs.

why sky© Broad Sustainable Building

The story behind the 220 stories of Sky City, the world's tallest prefabricated skyscraper
The Chairman of the Broad Group says it is better for the environment as well as higher, faster and cheaper than any other building.

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