The ground-breaking ceremony for Sky City last Saturday was supposed to be a private affair; there is not going to be much to see for a couple of months while they dig down 27 meters (89 feet) and install the foundations.
However the the word (and the photos) leaked out. The coverage in the South China Morning Post is pretty negative, quoting a professor of architecture at Tsinghua University who calls the scheme "insane" and says "This project is the child of hot-headed government officials and technological geeks." No wonder Broad Sustainable Building (BSB) keeps a low profile.
The real fun will begin when the foundations are done about January 1, 2014; Thats when the prefab floors and structure (now being manufactured offsite) start flying; Broad claims that the building will be topped off by April, 2014, just four months later.
Beside the obvious reason for going up 202 floors, namely to be recognized as the world's tallest building, the building is intended to change the course of Chinese urbanization. BSB writes:
It is more than the world’s tallest building, but also an exploration on the healthiest way of living and the energy saving, land-saving and material saving building.
Conventional development would take up 2 square kilometres of land and need parking for more than 2000 cars. Instead, Sky City packs residences, offices, schools, shopping, a hospital and recreational facilities all into the one building.
You can walk from the ground floor to the 170th on the continuous internal ramping street (wide enough to drive a car), past 56 stacked 5,000 square foot "sky gardens" that serve different recreational purposes, from "civic squares" to playgrounds, tennis courts, swimming pools and theatres. (This is my biggest complaint about the design; gardens should have windows and natural light yet these are stacked on the interior.)
The walls have 8 inches of insulation, the windows are quadruple -glazed and they actually have operating exterior awnings. There is "100%" fresh air run through a triple filter on the way in and through a heat recovery ventilator on the way out.
The technological geek in me could keep going forever, there are so many superlatives. There are 280,000 pieces being put together with a process "similar to aircraft component management." It's eleven million square feet and costing a billion and a half dollars. BSB says:
SKY CITY will the direction of Chinese urbanization with its concept of energy saving & land saving and it will be the new benchmark of sustainable development in the world.
It's not everybody's idea of sustainable development, and there really isn't any need for it to be 202 storeys high, but Broad Group chairman Zhang Yue has been trying to get his prefab building system noticed for a couple of years and nobody was paying attention; they will now.
There are issues; I am not certain that it's a good thing to be able to spend your whole life without having to go outside. Some are worried about how long it might take to evacuate in an emergency; others about its ability to resist earthquakes, although it has been designed to withstand Magnitude 9.
So why am I such a cheerleader for this? After years of writing about the benefits of prefabrication and factory built construction, about the importance of density vs sprawl, about the need for real energy efficiency in buildings, it is hard not to be excited when somebody actually practices what we have been preaching for so long.