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"with its 838 meters high, the building will become the highest in the world, surpassing the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai."
"with its 838 meters high, the building will become the highest in the world, surpassing the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai."
Gabriel Grésillon

CHANGSHA – Is it a stroke of genius or a gigantic bluff? The Chinese conglomerate Broad Group announced on July 20 that it had started preliminary work on the construction of the “Sky City” tower near the central Chinese city of Changsha. This is a project with exceptional dimensions: with its 838 meters (2,750 ft.) in height, the building will become the tallest in the world, surpassing the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai.

Even more breathtaking, Broad Group promises to finish the construction of “Sky City” in just 10 months, with completion slated for April. The Dubai tower was built over five years.

The budget of this latest Chinese mega-project is estimated at around 9 billion RMB ($1.4 billion), 43% less than the Burj Khalifa.

In order to realize this feat, Broad Group founder Zhang Yue is counting on the use of prefabricated elements that will merely require to be fitted together. This modular technology has already allowed him to build a 29-story building in just 15 days.

Still, "Sky City" would exist on a whole other dimension -- not simply height. With his futuristic vision of an ecological city where all terrestrial movement is reduced to a minimum, Zhang wants to create, as its name suggests, a truly functional vertical city in the middle of a rural area. With its one million square meters, the 208 floors will include apartments, schools, malls, hotels, restaurants, parks, swimming pools, movie theaters, hospitals and even a promenade to take a stroll from the ground level to the 169th floor.

The tower is meant to become a living habitat for its 30,000 potential residents.

Technical doubts

It is still unclear whether all this is realistic or not. Until recently, the observers estimated that the probability of the project receiving a green light from planning authorities was very low. The fact that the foundation stone was laid does not mean that these question are gone, since building promoters use this strategy to try to accelerate approvals.

And clearly, not everybody approves of this project in Beijing -- including the official Communist party newspaper People’s Daily, which criticized in its microblog “the blind veneration given to skyscrapers with excessive height.”

In fact, “Sky City” is also a reminder of the megalomania of its would-be creator. Zhang Yue is already known for having built his factories in the middle of a park, which also includes a 30-meter golden pyramid, a Château de Versailles replica and sculptures of historical figures from Confucius to Socrates to Napoleon.

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Artist conception of "Sky City" - Photo: Broad Group

On a technical level, worries include the seismic resistance of the building. Broad Group insists that its building would resist an earthquake of 9.0 on the Richter scale. There are also questions about evacuation procedures in case of a fire.

But mostly, as one Beijing-based European architect noted, with such massive structures, "the physical constraints are enormous, and therefore, the continuity of the material is important. Opting for a modular structure means that during the assembling, there will be a need to use junction points that can support extreme forces.” Indeed, this architect believes the tower, if it is built, will not rely solely on the modular approach, but will use a "hybrid technology.”

And so, for that April deadline? Here again, skepticism is palpable. But for Zhang Yue, a part of the battle is already won, as his bold announcement got the Chinese media’s attention. “Everybody is asking us about this tower," says the European architect, "and asking us why we aren’t doing the same thing.”

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