Despite skepticism from the global building community, a Chinese company staged a ground-breaking ceremony this week to announce the start of construction on the next world's tallest building.
Changsha-based China Broad Group says it will build the 838-meter-tower, dubbed Sky City, in nine months using the company's pre-fabrication techniques. The tower would be 10 meters taller than the current world's tallest, Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which took five years and $1.5 billion to build.
Local Chinese media outlets are reporting that the government still has not issued formal approval for the project, but China Broad appears intent on moving forward.
Sky City will include offices, apartments, shops, schools, a hospital and a "vertical garden sufficient to feed 30,000 residents," according to the company.
"People don't want to have to get on trains or drive a car to get to work," Zhang Yue, chairman of the Broad Group, said recently. "Sky City will take some 2,000 cars off the road simply because its residents can find most of what they need right where they live."
The ground-breaking ceremony for the $855 million project has done little to mute skepticism of the project, even within China.
"What about wind? Or earthquakes? Or a fire?" Yin Zhi , a professor of architecture at Tsinghua University, told the South China Morning Post. He labelled the idea of an 838-meter pre-fab tower "insane."
Broad Group says the 202-story tower has been thoroughly tested in wind tunnels and can handle a magnitude-9 earthquake.
However, beyond the engineering issues, Sky City has raised social and cultural questions within Chinese society.
"The obsession with being number one is actually a manifestation of a lack of confidence," Wang Qi wrote in People's Daily Online. "For example, in Europe and the U.S., no matter how vigorous their economies, they don't madly pursue 'the tallest building.'
"The reason is that their strength does not need to be proved via 'the tallest building' and 'the largest project,' because they've already won the respect and admiration of small countries."
But the project does have its supporters. The pre-fab techniques could make tall buildings more efficient and more economical.
"Unlike many of China's other super-tall skyscrapers that are under construction, Sky City is a vanity project that, if successful, could transform high-rise construction into a more sustainable enterprise that uses less construction materials to achieve super-tall results," Adam Minter wrote for Bloomberg's "World View" blog.
The Broad Group originally announced plans for the building more than a year ago, provoking snickers from the established tall building industry. The skepticism increased when several announced start dates at the end of 2012 passed without activity.
In recent months there have been unconfirmed reports that Broad Group was moving forward, but the ground-breaking ceremony was the first real indication that the company was ready to start the construction process.
Broad Group, which is best known in China for selling air conditioning units, is using the tower as a marketing tool for its pre-fabrication system, which it hopes to franchise around the world. The company created a YouTube sensation two years ago by building a 30-story tower in 15 days. The video (see below) has received more than 5.6 million views.
If Sky City is built, it won't be the world's tallest for long. Construction has started on Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, which will be more than one-kilometer tall.