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CBBC Insights: Architecture | Rising above the haze: China’s ever-growing list of supertalls

BritCham / CBBC
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By Patrik Li
Sector Lead for Energy, Environment & Infrastructure
China-Britain Business Council
 
 
During the whole of the 20th century, the record for the world’s tallest building grew just 70 metres. Since the turn of the 21st century, it has shot up almost 380 metres, and is poised to rise much higher over the next decade. Today's tallest skyscrapers are new in every respect: new structures, new materials, designed and tested with new methods. The result is not just taller buildings but an entirely new category of building: the supertall skyscraper. 
 
China likes to achieve big things and set records, and buildings are no exception to this. According to the US-based Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, in 2015 China had the world’s most 200m-plus completions with 62 altogether, or 58 per cent of the global total. It has topped this list for eight years straight and will most likely continue to do so; out of the 10 tallest buildings to be completed worldwide in 2016, six will be piercing China’s skylines. 
 
Still room for foreign experts
UK companies have greatly contributed to China’s ever-growing catalogue of architectural landmarks and they are continuing to push the limits of what can be achieved, thanks to the aspiration of local developers to create architectural icons and to an unsated appetite for high-end office space in both established and up-and-coming cities all over the country.
 
During a recent panel discussion hosted by the China-Britain Business Council in Beijing, UK building experts discussed how the current boom in supertalls in China will lead to a new wave of innovative structures that maximise floor space and create sustainable environments through the adoption of energy-saving technologies. They agreed that although housing construction activity has clearly declined in the last two years, there is still room for foreign experts to play a significant role in the development of niche market segments, including supertalls.
 
One area where there is demand for international expertise is in the operation and management of tall structures. With more and more complex tenant models coming into operation, local building managers are facing a steep learning curve and are still catching up with international players. British companies such as Savills, JLL and CBRE already have vast experience of managing complex high-rise developments and their services are in high demand: CBRE is managing Shanghai Tower, and JLL will take on the management of Beijing’s tallest building, China Zun, once it is completed in 2018. Other companies such as Arup, Aedas and PLP Architecture are sought-after for their in-house expertise on BIM integration in the project process.
 
Partnerships essential
The CBBC seminar also made it clear that partnerships are essential for complex structures such as high-rise buildings. Most of the panellists had been involved in joint projects in China, and all of them agreed that teaming up as early as possible and integrating not just design and engineering but also operation and maintenance into the process is the best way to satisfy the needs of stakeholders in multilateral and long-term projects. 
 
While some analysts caution that China could be growing too tall too fast, supertalls are no longer just landmark buildings, but are becoming a new expression of urbanism. And with the continuing push towards urbanisation, they might just become a new means of controlling urban sprawl.
 
For more information about CBBC’s work in this field, please contact the author in Beijing: patrik.li@cbbc.org.cn 
 
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