And Finally

Unfinished business

What Greenland’s Wuhan skyscraper says about the broader economy


A model of the Greenland tower

Last year 143 buildings over 200 metres in height went up worldwide. The majority of these skyscrapers, 88, were, once again built in China. The Americans – in second place – completed construction of 13, according to the US-based Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH).

But that doesn’t mean all is well in the world of Chinese high-rise real estate. Earlier this month work on one of the country’s tallest skyscrapers had to be halted after the developer defaulted on payments to contractors.

Shanghai-based Greenland Group is still vowing that work on its 475m tower in Wuhan will resume soon. If construction is completed according to the current design, it will be the 10th tallest building in mainland China (the tallest is still the Shanghai Tower, which measures 632m in height).

In fact, the CTBUH says there are more than 80 skyscraper projects “on hold” or “incomplete” in China. Among the group is the long-awaited 838m Sky City in Changsha (see WiC332) and the 729m Zhongnan Centre in Suzhou, both of which ran into difficulty within weeks of breaking ground.

Mainland China got its first 200m building in 1990 with the construction of the Guangdong International Building. Since then it has built over 500 such structures.

Despite a professed dislike of “weird” architecture, Chinese President Xi Jinping seems to approve of most of the high-rise towers. Indeed, he was the one to sign off on the design for Shanghai Tower during his brief stint as the city’s Party secretary in 2007. He also inspected the building as part of a trip to the city in 2018.

Xi’s broader message on the property sector is that apartments are for living in, not for speculative investment. He has also warned real estate firms against taking on too much debt.

Some commentators think that skyscraper construction is a solid indicator for the fortunes of the wider sector. “Unfinished super-tall skyscrapers, which cost a huge amount of funds to build, are a typical sign of economic recession… They are financed by credit and will run into trouble when lenders begin to scale back,” the Financial Times quoted one analyst as saying last week.

Greenland’s tower in Wuhan has been designed as a mixed-use project, hosting a five-star hotel and luxury mall, as well as high-end offices and apartments. The project – which boasts the contours of a sleek fountain pen – broke ground seven years ago. Photos from four months ago show the external structure to be almost complete.

Greenland has built dozens of buildings around China and has at least one other super-tall tower under construction in Xi’an. (Super-tall is defined as being over 300m in height).

With an unofficial motto of “a skyscraper in every second-tier city”, Greenland is betting on building more towers across the country. But Jiemian quoted an architect as saying the fad for super-tall buildings is passing in China. “Smart buildings are what everyone wants now,” he added.

Meanwhile it is worth noting that designs by British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid are still sprouting in China, three years after her death. Her Leeza SOHO tower – featuring the world’s tallest atrium – opened in Beijing last week. Hadid also designed the same city’s new starfish-shaped Daxing Airport, which opened as part of the celebrations marking 70 years of Communist rule last month.

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