Monday, May 20, 2013

ALL EYES ON CHANGSHA

THE Tiger Father would never assume anything about the intelligence of his readers. But I know for a fact there is something you don't know very much about.

That thing is Changsha, a regional city down south in Hunan, a province known as the world's largest producer of Mao Zedong.

In fact, the author here only knows about Changsha from a British friend who had to live there for two years for her husband's job, who wrote that there "wasn't very much to do" there and that she "might kill herself" as an alternative to living there much longer.

But now all that's about to change because Changsha, of all places, is about to hold that most fleeting of honours - the site of the world's tallest building!

One of those rare places to be described as "a large industrial Chinese city", Changsha is home to 7.04 million people. This is an official figure according to the 2010 census. However, applying the usual Chinese caveats - factoring in outlying suburbs and unregistered migrant workers - it is safe to assume  Changsha's population is somewhere between 8 and 50 million people.

Despite all this, there's not much there.




That's why critics of the new "world's tallest building" plan allege it might "stick out a bit".


An artist's view of the planned
building Skycity.


Still, just because you're small doesn't mean you can't dream big. Media outlets reported today that approval has been granted for the building, to be made by the Broad Sustainable Construction group.

Skycity will be 838 metres high - or half a mile plus 38 metres, just to confuse people more. This will make it 10 metres higher than the current tall building gold medallist, Dubai's Burj Khalifa.

These sort of things can of course be gimmicky big PR stunts. The Burj Khalifa has had many well documented problems, such as initial low occupancy which forced huge cuts in rents.

However, Skycity supporters say there are many reasons why Changsha needs to have the world's tallest building.

The most obvious on is that the builders are based there. But another is that the city government insists the building is a great idea for its ecological benefits - living vertically, instead of laterally. It is planned, for example, that the building with house 4,500 families. Normally, if you spread those families out in traditional single-storey accommodation in China, it would take up a space the size of six tennis courts.


An artist's impression Skycity
tower, with some statistics.


An artist's impression of Skycity if it was built alongside
four other big towers in some sort of "Ostentatious
Architects Wonderland Theme Park", which would
also be built in China.



An artist's impression of a map of China,
which looks like a chicken.

See? You have to assume the feet are either beneath
Myanmar and Vietnam, or have been removed for
culinary reasons.



No, that's a joke. It would be more than six tennis courts.

To be fair, there is a touch of showboaty gimmickry about the new world's tallest building. Originally the planners boldly declared they would "knock it up in about three months".

It's true. Broad has a reputation for erecting pre-fab buildings quickly, and set a 90-day target for this monster.

Usually, hurried construction times are a cause of great concern in loosely-regulated, earthquake-prone, building-collapse-bemoaning China.

But Broad seems to have a trick, not even related to China's occupational health and safety laws, or lack thereof. They once built a 30-storey skyscraper in just 15 days! You can watch that by copying and pasting this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hdpf-MQM9vY

Still, news of approval for Skycity's construction revealed they had backed away from their three-month target. Now they have set a far more pedestrian goal of nine months. The Burj Khalifa took five years.

Skycity will have 202 floors and 92 elevators. If you want, you can walk instead by taking a curling ramp which is six-miles long (380,160 inches). It will also have schools, a hotel, sporting and shopping facilities, and all else you associated with a vertical city built in a field.

But what of Changsha itself? What is it? Who needs it? Can we live without it?

Let's take a closer look at some other important bits of this mysterious city.


Changsha has previously only made the news once in
human history. It was for this.


And this.


The so-called "cows grazing in a rubbish dump" scandal made the news in 2010 after cows began grazing in a rubbish dump. Farmers explained they had allowed their cattle to roam hills near Changsha to look for food, and that some had wandered into a landfill site, and that it didn't happen all the time really. Local authorities were quick to rule out the chance of any food-tainting issue caused by cattle eating filth and grime.


The city will also soon have this -
the Changsha International Culture and Art Centre,
the so-called "Melted-Down Sydney Opera House of
the East".

Changsha also has this man as major - Zhang Jianfei, a man
whose name I was convinced meant Zhang Lose Weight
until told I had the wrong tones. It actually means
Zhang Sword Fly, which is much better. The mayor stands
apart from other Chinese mayors for three main reasons:
1. He is a thoroughly modern man with great drive and vision.
2. He won back-to-back world comb-over champion titles
in 2009-10.
3. He has not been tainted and humiliated in a major
scandal involving bribery, sex, murder, etc etc.


There are six other cities in the world with whom Changsha shares the title of "sister cities" - a weird sort of arrangement believed to mean that one will help the other city out if she splits up with her boyfriend city or is caught smoking.

Changsha's aren't much good: Gumi, South Korea; Kagoshima, Japan; Kimberley, South Africa; Mons, Belgium; Latenapula, Sri Lanka and Saint Paul, United States. No Parisses or Londons or New Yorks there, but they were probably already spoken for.

Not everyone is a fan of the fanciful Skycity project, however. The China Daily newspaper recently ran a story quoting an assembled group of nay-sayers who, seemingly without a lot of facts at their disposal, seemed to say such a building was not God's plan.

"With so many people living and working in the building, there will be risks everywhere," said Li Xun, vice-president of the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design. "What if there is a fire, or an elderly man has a heart attack?"

The paper pointed out that fire rescue ladders generally only reach a height of 100 metres, some 738 metres short of Skycity's peak. It is to be hoped that in designing the world's biggest thing, architects probably made some plans to cover address this.

Wang Youwei, vice-president of the China Academy of Building Research, was even more excitable.

"Such a huge building may cause serious problems, even a disaster," Wang said. Then again, you could equally say it may not cause serious problems, or even a disaster.

Wang went on to concede: "I'm not familiar with the geological features of Changsha".

Still, let's hope everything's alright, and that the eight-mile-high and nine-month-long tower doesn't fall over or, as Wang says, there could be trouble.

But as bizarre as it sounds, here's to plucky little Changsha for having a go.



* Thanks, readers, for doing what you do best - reading. More on Thursday!

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