Before anything’s even been said in this BBC news report, the title “Flatpack Skyscrapers” makes this building sound like something cheap and mass-produced, and definitely not something handmade and of quality and classy like, say, William Morris wallpaper. We’re not even past the title and already we’ve encountered the reaction to the very same Industrial Revolution that was supposed to make useful things less expensive and more available.
Despite the report being bandwidth-hungry for no good reason, it somehow manages to describe the work of a certain Mr. Zhang who’s making headlines because he and his team can erect buildings faster than anyone else on the planet. I say “erect” because most of the work is done offsite and, once the foundations are in place, site work is limited to assembling the pieces at a rate of about three floors per day. Mr. Zhang’s integrated system for building design and construction has many advantages.
- It’s faster than conventional design and construction and so the benefits of the building are available earlier.
- It’s less expensive. The shorter time until the building is providing a return-on-investment means that total financing costs are less. This should also, in theory, free up more capital to provide more buildings.
- It’s safer to build than conventional construction. Prefabricating parts of the building complete with services offsite should, again in theory, be safer and allow for higher quality.
Now, for many, being cheaper, faster and safer isn’t good enough. This article, for example, raises doubts about the theory with regards to safety, timing, funding, and need. The main objection seems to be that it will be in the middle of farmland.
Even if renders could be trusted to reliably depict future realities, the argument seems to be that skyscrapers are ok in Manhattan where the economics of land necessitates tall buildings. This doesn’t mean those tall buildings are any more necessary – a question that’s being raised now the new slew of superslender supertalls is casting superlong shadows across Central Park.
The “need” argument seems to be a form of veiled prejudice. Shanghai isn’t Manhattan either but it doesn’t attract this prejudice because it looks like more like a city than say, Dubai, another attractor of the same prejudice.
The potential problem of cashflow needed to maintain Sky City One is mentioned, as is the problem of supplying it with food everyday. These things do need thinking about and I hope someone has.
But what if that farmland stayed farmland and some of Sky City One’s residents farmed it? We don’t know – we’ve never actually given it a try. It could just be a viable way to live on this planet. Why shouldn’t those green spaces be productive farmland instead of the traditional lawns and parkland? The supposed reason for the existence of tall buildings was land pressure in cities such as Chicago and New York meant people had to work closer together in this new thing called office work. Food was missing from the equation. Perhaps, just perhaps, it might be a good idea to sort out food and shelter at the same time, and then see how office work can fit in?
The Western press has been predictably negative regarding this project. The usual social angst about non-millionaires living in tall buildings is mentioned. The fact that windows will be non-operable is mentioned even though this is standard for buildings that height for it lessens wind resistance. Me, I’m actually not too keen on some of the apartment plans.
This next image implies they’re thinking about mixing uses on each floor. Horizontal mixing of use in vertical buildings could be a good idea.
After all, our horizontally organised cities have always had some sort of vertical mixed use.
No, the biggest crime of this building and the one I suspect is really driving the negativity and criticism is summed up in the statement “Its blocky glass and steel form may be unlikely to win any architectural beauty awards”. Sky City One’s crime is to not do the twisty, growy thing like Gensler’s latest for Shanghai.
Or the bright and shiny future thing like Foster’s vertical city proposal for offshore Tokyo.
Or do the symbolic climbing, striving, aspiring thing like skyscrapers have done since way back when.
Instead, Sky City One is what it is and no more or less than the processes that made it. It is totally free of metaphorical and allegorical baggage. It has an existential beauty