Is the Latest World’s Tallest Building a Boondoggle?

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By Doug Hornig, Senior Editor Casey Research

The sky’s the limit these days.

People communicate with one another via Skype. No new football stadium is complete without the construction of pricey skyboxes. James Bond revisits his ancestral home in the hit movie Skyfall. And so on.

China – awash in trade-surplus profits after decades of communist austerity – is a country where the outrageous has become commonplace. Thus it is no surprise that human habitation there is also reaching for the sky.

And how. Whatever else may be said of that country, the Chinese have never been accused of thinking small, as you can see in the plans for Changsha’s new Sky City.

That’s right. The Chinese are endeavoring to erect the tallest building in the world – leapfrogging Dubai’s gaudy 2,719-foot Burj Khalifa by 30 feet – and to do it in 90 days!

That’s over 2.4 floors per day, for those keeping score – a pace that’s all but incomprehensible. (For comparison purposes, the Empire State Building, with a labor force of 3,000, went up at the rate of 4.5 floors per week.)

It sounds like a hoax. Yet the Broad Sustainable Building Group, a company that has built 20 super-tall structures in China so far, is dead serious. Pending final government approvals, foundations are due to start pouring before the end of the year. The building is expected to be fully finished by March of 2013.

The specs are mind boggling: the building’s 220 floors will require setting in place 220,000 tons of steel. The final product will constitute a self-contained small city that’s 83% residential, housing 31,400 people in both “high and low income communities,” the company says. The other 17% will contain offices, schools, hospitals, shops, and restaurants, and 104 high-speed elevators to whisk the inhabitants from here to there. Don’t worry about forgetting your American Express card; you’ll never leave home without it, because you’ll literally never have to leave home. (Whether people will jump at the chance to spend their entire lives enclosed in a glass cocoon is another question.)

Broad Group proposes to bring construction expenses in at $1,500 per square meter, a stunning figure compared with Burj Khalifa, which cost ten times as much and, because of the lofty spire at the top, features a mere 163 habitable floors. (The Empire State Building, counterintuitively, actually cost less. Because of the Depression, it was completed for only $1,450/sq. meter in 2012 dollars.)

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