Brian's Blogs

Build 'em Tall; especially in China!

It's been a good week for skyscrapers. Well, good depending on your point of view of course. But how many of you picked up on the fact that September 3rd was International Skyscraper Day? Yes, even skyscrapers have a day dedicated to their elegance and magnificence, when people are encouraged to climb to the very top of the tallest building in their city and marvel at the view that only the birds get to enjoy every day.

Well, that's the idea of course, though I wonder how many are actually allowed inside what are fast becoming exclusive retreats for the rich and famous. The world's tallest skyscraper is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai - double the height of one of the early megaliths…the Empire State Building in New York. You can get up to the public viewing platform for a hefty fee and a waiting list that is sometimes three days long, but try going in through the main entrance and the chances are you'll be stopped pretty quickly.

September 3rd was also the day that Britain's 52-year-old Duke of York descended Europe's tallest building to raise money for good causes. He abseiled from the top of the Shard building in London to help raise £1m for charity, covering a distance of 820ft – beginning on the 87th floor and finishing an hour later on level 20.

Skyscrapers are nothing new. Perhaps the oldest such building was the biblical Tower of Babel, though George A. Fuller is credited with "inventing" the first skyscraper - the Tacoma building in 1889 which was the first building where the outside structure did not carry the weight of the building.

Nowadays they are to be found everywhere. And while at the end of 2011 there were 61 buildings taller than 300 meters in the world, by the end of 2017 it is estimated there will be as many, if not more, in China alone. Right now there are 239 buildings taller than 200 meters in advanced stages of development in China, far more than any other country. Skyscrapers currently in development include Shenzhen's 660-meter Ping An Finance Center, which will be the second tallest building in the world when it is completed in 2015, and the 632-meter Shanghai Tower.

Not everyone in China is enamored with them, it has to be said, with some claiming the buildings are too big and too expensive for their purpose. But China's new found love for skyscrapers has caused a fundamental shift in the construction of super-tall buildings. In 1970, 92 of the world's 100 tallest buildings were located in North America. By the end of 2012 that number fell to a mere 29.

Beijing's current tallest building -- the China World Trade Center Tower 3, which is 330 meters in height, will be dwarfed in 2016 by nearby "China Zun," , a 528-meter 108-storey building, which is being developed by the CITIC Group who will fork out RMB24 billion on the project. Chongqing, meanwhile, is seeing RMB10 billion being poured into the 470-meter-tall Chongqing International Financial Center.

But lest the big cities think they are doing all the running in this regard, consider Changsha, capital of central China's Hunan Province, which aims to construct a building that will be 10 meters higher than the 828-meter Burj Khalifa in Dubai, giving it the world crown... until it too is overtaken, perhaps by the Saudis.

Skyscrapers, it appears, are a very firm public statement for a city to say "Hey. We've arrived!" But not only are they costly to build, they're also fiendishly expensive to operate. Consider, for instance, the 420-meter-tall Shanghai Jinmao Tower which, it is said, costs RMB 1 million each day to run!

Not that that is stopping anyone. In Tokyo, for instance, they have recently opened the world's tallest broadcasting tower. At 634 meters, Tokyo Sky Tree welcomed some 200,000 visitors on its first day alone and expects around 32 million visitors in its first year.

Those with seemingly more money than sense are also getting in on the act. In Nashville, Tennessee, a multi-millionaire has sketched out a 32-storey guitar-shaped glass building and is hoping to pick up a site for the design in central Nashville with a rumored price tag of between $3 - 5 million. Nashville is, of course, the country and western music capital and many think it quite an appropriate future landmark!

Over in Russia, though, things have turned sour between the St Petersburg authorities and UNESCO who fear that the planned Lakhta Center belonging to Gazprom will distort the historical view of the city. There are concerns that the 472-meter-tall building, which is the center-piece of Gazprom's future business complex, might mar the historical panorama of the city's center and disrupt the architectural integrity of St. Petersburg.

Likewise, Pierre Cardin, the famous French fashion designer, wants to build a billion-euro tower near Venice on an industrial site. Many of Venice's residents are up in arms wanting to protect the city's rich architectural heritage and historic skyline.

Venice's mayor Giorgio Orsoni has already given the go-ahead for the large towers but many are concerned it will ruin the Venice skyline forever, with some architects believing the building will cause damage to the UNESCO World Heritage City.

But one thing is for sure. Whether the towers are built in New York, San Francisco, Venice or Mumbai, most of the newest residential skyscrapers are marketing overseas, aiming to attract wealthy foreign buyers – especially Chinese buyers. At Trump International Hotel & Tower in Toronto, which became the tallest residential building in Canada when it was completed earlier this year, roughly 60% of buyers have been from outside the country.

Suddenly it appears that everyone is courting the Chinese. How times have changed from even just a decade ago!

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