This mesmerizing time-lapse video clip shows the rapid construction of the Ark Hotel in Changsha, China. It's not amazing that this clip has been making the Internet rounds - it is amazing that a 15-story hotel could be erected in just under a week. There's an even more fantastical element in the tale of this hotel: it's builders claim it is an example of 'sustainable' architecture. Which made me think more about first the company, Broad Sustainable Building, and then the people, the construction workers, who actually made this magical feat happen. It turns out that Broad is an air conditioning company and was one of the central partners at the recent Shanghai Expo that erected the six-story Broad Pavilion in just one day, and provided what it called 'low carbon' central cooling to all 200 pavilions at the Expo.
Below is a time-lapse of that construction (just one day):
The feat of one-week construction is due to a lot of prefab of the segments and sections of the buildings, and an extremely well-synchronized schedule. According to Broad, both the Broad Pavilion and the Ark are built to the highest level of earthquake protection (level 9).
Just like with the Broad Pavilion, the Ark Hotel's claims to sustainability are centered around three main areas: triple-glazed plastic framed windows, thick thermal insulation for walls, and "exterior solar shading and fresh air heat recovery" which together are supposed to reduce the building's energy consumption up to 80% compared to a similar building without these technologies.
The company said in documents that the Ark Hotel, for example, used just 53 kilos of steel and 43 kilos of concrete for each square meter of construction - comparatively, the Beijing Library used 180 kilos of steel and 355 kilos of cement for each square meter of construction. That drops the carbon dioxide related to building construction from the Beijing Library's example of 883 kilos of CO2 per square meter of construction to 147 kilos of CO2 for the Ark Hotel.
The hotel will also use solar collectors for hot water and have a combined Broad 'direct-fired' (gas-powered) air conditioning, and solar air conditioning system.
What they don't detail, but you can certainly get a sense of in the clip, is that delivering all that prefab and doing all that work so quickly must have entailed a huge amount of transport-based CO2. To call the building sustainable without giving some hint as to what it takes behind the scenes to make all the prefab and scheduling happen is a bit of a pity.
So how does an air conditioning company create a radically more efficient way to erect buildings? Broad itself answers this question by saying: "Since the Wenchuan Earthquake devoted all of its efforts to its earthquake-resistant building research...All of our products come from our own research, and grow out of our innovation
focused corporate culture."
While Broad may be putting effort into all three of the tenets of sustainability - environmental, economic, and social aspects, they don't much mention that many workers that helped to make the projects actually come to fruition. For a glimpse into the world of the Chinese migrant worker, I can recommend the film 'The Last Train Home' by Lixin Fan. It's a look at some of the manpower that is driving China's industrial prowess, and some of the blowback from the effort.
Read more at TreeHugger about prefab:
Prefab: Green or Greenwashing?
Another Reason Prefab is Tough: Construction Financing
Building a Urban Prefab: Some Things Never Change