The VICE Channels

    The World's Next Tallest Buildings Will Be Mass-Produced in a Chinese Factory

    Written by

    Brian Merchant

    Senior Editor

    Images: BSC

    Building tall things is among our human-est proclivities. The divine collapse of Babel didn't stop us, so taller and taller we go, often for little other reason than we can. Governments, corporations, and architects have long built record-breaking skyscrapers simply to bask in the glory of the feat itself (and the attendant press frenzy, of course). Hell, the world's tallest building at the moment is the Burj Khalifa, and that thing isn't even hooked up to a proper sewage system.

    But there's something particularly remarkable about the next World's Tallest Building—it will be erected in just over half a year, and, if it pans out, it's going to be replicable and mass producable. Before long, in fact, there may be dozens of the next world's tallest building.

    The Broad Sustainable Construction company has announced that it plans to break ground on Sky City, a 220-story, 2,750-foot skyscraper in a remote field in Changsha, China in June this year—and aims to finish erecting the final story by December.

    That may sound insane—and it kind of is. But BSC's building, Sky City, isn't like other skyscrapers. It's a prefab building—soon to be the world's biggest—which means all of its parts are manufactured to spec and pre-packaged for (relatively) easy assembly. The component parts are mass produced in modular factories, so yeah—BSC is hoping that this Sky City will merely be the first of many. 

    So, should we cheer or jeer the prospect of mass-produced biggest-ever skyscrapers? And also: why mass-produce ginormous skyscrapers in the first place?

    Well, if the specs BSC provides are to be believed, mass-manufacturing prefab skyscrapers is much more efficient than our more traditional towers. It's five times more energy efficient, can be built at half the cost, and packs a lot more people into a smaller space. BSC is going to stuff 30,000 people into these self-contained skyscraper communities—a resident of Sky City will use up 1/100th of the land used by a typical Chinese citizen. 

    And it really is a city in and of itself—4,450 apartments, nearly 100,000 square feet of indoor vertical farms, 250 hotel rooms, 92 elevators, 30 foot courtyards for athletics, and a six mile ramp that can be used to walk or run around the entire city. 

    Once again, BSC intends to build this thing in seven months. How will that work? Treehugger's Lloyd Alter explains: "16,000 part-time and 3,000 full-time workers will prefabricate the building for four months and assemble on site in three months." (For a closer look at all of the design specs, see Alter's in-depth piece on the project.)

    That's right. The parts will be built in a factory, and then this thing will fly up in just three months. Three months. Remember how long it took to build the Freedom Tower? Like ten years. BSC thinks it can build the tallest building in the world in a single season.

    If it succeeds, it will be a loaded feat indeed: Made-to-order skyscrapers bigger than any the world's ever seen–that's resource- and energy-efficient to boot–may well become a hot commodity in our quickly urbanizing world—remember, by 2030, the UN expects 5 billion people to live in cities. And once they're there, we're going to need space to live. Cheap, massive skyscrapers may be a viable option. 

    Obviously, there are concerns aplenty, and not just with the structural soundness; the reliablity of a 2,500 foot city manufactured in 3 months. There's a more distant concern that this may not be the most pleasant way to live; stacked atop one another, separated from open air and nature. Plus, that cookie cutter aesthetic could eventually sap the architectural diversity of the cities of the future, and turn our most notable population hubs into towering Levittowns. 

    Or maybe it's exactly what we need, with resource consumption and energy use spiraling out of control. Maybe our best hope is to churn out a host of massive, identical, self-contained Sky Cities to house the booming population—maybe this is the future of how we'll live on a teeming planet.