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Zhang Yue says construction work on Sky City should start and be completed "soon". Planners in Changsha have raised objections to the project. Photo: Reuters
Billionaire Zhang Yue grabbed international headlines with his ambitious plan to build the world’s tallest building from pre-fabricated units.
But when his 9-billion yuan (HK$11.5 billion) vision for the 838-metre tall Sky City in Changsha in Hunan province stalled in 2013 amid concerns from regulators, Zhang began to fade from view.
Now he is back in the spotlight following the recent construction of a building dubbed Small Sky City, more than 200 metres tall, in an eyebrow-raising 19 days.
Questioned by reporters at the Boao Forum for Asia last month, Zhang, 55, insisted the ‘big’ Sky City was not a lost cause, despite the local government’s suspension of the project amid controversy over its safety, environmental impact and source of funding.
“[Construction] shouldn’t be far away. We’ll start soon and complete soon,” said Zhang, who is estimated by the Hurun Global Rich List to share a personal fortune of 7.9 billion yuan (HK$11.5 billion) with his wife.
As the president of Broad Group, a company that began life building air conditioners, Zhang was once considered one of the leading entrepreneurs in mainland China. And even now, despite the problems surrounding the would-be world’s tallest building, the keen environmentalist has a style of talking big.
He said the high-profile, energy-saving project had received “too much attention, which scared the officials”, as he explained why at present the project was little more than a big hole in a village in suburban Changsha, where his company is based.
Plans for the building are nothing if not eye-catching.
Not only would it be 10 metres higher than the world’s current tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, it would host everything from apartments, offices and restaurants, to supermarket stores and even schools so that its residents could live, work and play in its confines without the need to battle – or add to – the pollution outside.
At the Boao Forum Zhang demonstrated an air-quality reading machine and passed out business cards that were an environmentally-friendly half-size, as he urged businesspeople and officials to change to greener lifestyles.
Zhang claims to have embraced such change himself.
While in 1997 he became the mainland’s first private business owner to have a private jet, Zhang ditched both his personal planes in 2008 and now drives only Smart and electric cars.
He says he made the decision after finding that a flight from Changsha to Beijing emitted eight tonnes of carbon dioxide. It would take eight trees 60 years to absorb such an amount, he said.
“When the plane took off, I would look out of the window and think [about] the trees,” he said.
However, media reports covering the ground-breaking ceremony of Sky City in July 2013 showed Zhang arriving at the site in a US-made Bell Helicopter.
He co-founded Broad in 1992 with his brother Zhang Jian. The company specialises in four areas: air conditioners, air purifiers, sustainable buildings, and combined cooling, heating and power units. Air conditioners are the company’s biggest source of profit so far.
An article posted on Broad’s website in 2011 was ridiculed for boasting that Beijing’s Zhongnanhai, the central government compound in the centre of the city, had started using its air purifiers and ventilation systems.
This was mocked by internet users who commented that even the air in China’s centre of power was now specially supplied.
Zhang now takes a low-key approach, telling the South China Morning Post: “We have millions of customers and Zhongnanhai is one of the smallest ones.”
Zhang places his greatest hopes for his future business on prefab buildings, which can be constructed speedily block by block using steel modules built off site.
So far, the market appears unconvinced. Broad has six franchises and most of the more than 30 buildings it has constructed were for its own use. Only five or six were built for commercial orders, Zhang said.
“I don’t like making things showy. I’m not willing to build houses according to others’ will. I like them to be upright and foursquare,” he explained. “So there’s often disagreement [with potential clients].”
Modular construction is popular in China and the rest of the world, but Broad was different because of its unusually high-level of factory production, he said.
“About 90 per cent of our payroll goes to workers in factories. Usually it’s 20 to 30 per cent, like in the US and Japan.”
Zhang was reported to have proposed co-operation with Feng Lun, chairman of the leading real estate developer Vantone, who had been promoting a similar venture named GREAT (Green, Relational, Economical, All-Encompassing, Technology) City, but no deal could be made.
“Zhang Yue hails from Hunan. Hunan people won’t stop until they make things extreme,” Feng was quoted as saying by the China Economic Weekly.
“I believe [Sky City] can be handled in terms of technology, but I don’t think the conditions are mature enough regarding economic and social management,” said Feng.
Zhang graduated from a teaching school in Chenzhou in Hunan, before starting work as an art teacher in his hometown more than three decades ago.
He quit the job in 1984 and dabbled in various businesses including selling camera films and motorbikes, decorating, and even ran a café.
In 1992, he and his brother Zhang Jian started making non-electric air conditioners in Changsha. At a time when electricity was in acute shortage the business boomed.
However, the brothers split in the late 1990s as Zhang Jian proposed to diversify the company’s business by merging with Japan’s Mitsubishi, something that crossed Zhang Yue’s principle of “no diversification, no debt and no public listing”.
This prompted Zhang Jian to start his own company, Broad Homes, which has grown into a leading player in precast concrete construction. Years later, Zhang Yue broke his own principle by introducing franchising for his company, Broad Group.
Broad Group’s earnings are unclear. Its spokeswoman Zhu Linfang said that as it was not a public-listed company it was not obliged to disclose the information.
But Zhang has been quoted as saying that the company made about 6 billion yuan in 2012, of which more than 2 billion yuan came from air conditioners.
Most might be happy with such an amount, but it is small change when compared to a city in the sky and a 9-billion yuan dream.
Shanghai Tower: A Crown For The City's Futuristic Skyline
Updated: 16 hours ago.
When it's completed, the twisting Shanghai Tower (right) will be the world's second-tallest building.
Shanghai is one of the world's most vertical cities, a metropolis where 50-story buildings are routine. At night, the cityscape is so cinematic, it's been featured in both James Bond andMission Impossible films.
This year, Shanghai Tower, the world's second-tallest building, will open and put an exclamation point on Shanghai's futuristic skyline. The structure, which measures 2,073 feet, is loaded with symbolism.
It rises out of Shanghai's riverside financial district, which as recently as the 1990s was a mix of warehouses and open fields, even home to a dairy farm. The tower twists and tapers like a glass and steel geyser hurtling toward the sky illustrating both Shanghai's and China's ambitions.
The building is so tall only the Burj Khalifa (2,717 feet) in Dubai is taller the views can be disorienting. From an observation deck on the 120th floor, visitors can stare down about 600 feet to a neighboring skyscraper, the Jinmao Tower. By comparison, the Jinmao, which opened in 1999 and resembles a pagoda, is taller than the Empire State Building.
On a clear day, you can see more than 30 miles from Shanghai Tower to the East China Sea, says Jun Xia, a Shanghai native and regional design director for Gensler, the American firm that designed the building.
To prevent the building from swaying in heavy winds, workers used a crane to stack steel plates and build a 1,200-ton, tuned-mass damper near the top of the tower. The damper is computerized and surrounded by pistons, which push it in the direction of strong winds to counter-balance their force. Without a damper, the top of the building could sway as much as 5 feet during typhoons, says Daniel Winey, Gensler's managing principal for the Asia-Pacific region.
"If you don't have something like this in a building of this height, you can actually get nauseous," says Winey.
Beyond its height, what distinguishes the structure is its design.
Shanghai Tower is a building within a building. The interior where offices and a hotel will be located is a cylinder wrapped in a skin of glass and steel, which creates a series of atriums that run up the sides of the structure. An atrium on the eighth floor is a dozen stories tall and has palm trees, granite benches and a panoramic view of the city.
"It creates what we call a vertical, urban community," says Xia.
Once the building is completely open, 20,000 to 30,000 people will pass through each day, says Winey. People can have lunch, grab a coffee or hold meetings in the atriums, called sky lobbies. Winey says the sky lobbies should offer enough amenities that some people won't feel compelled to leave the building during the work day, which will save on elevator rides and electricity.
"It's really more a study in urbanism than anything else," says Winey. "It's taking the ideas of Shanghai, where you have all these little parks and neighborhoods, and (turning it) from a horizontal plane to a vertical plane."
In all, there are 21 sky lobbies that's not a typo which are mostly public space that can't be rented out to make money. Winey says these sorts of design elements ensure a building like this would never be constructed in the United States, because the return on investment would be a long way off.
"From an economic standpoint, it would never pencil out," he says. "I don't think there would be any U.S. developers who would make that kind of investment."
Shanghai Tower, though, isn't a conventional investment. It was built for about $3 billion by the Shanghai Tower Construction and Development Co., a state-owned enterprise. The company declined an interview request from NPR.
The structure, which is ultimately owned by the city, is more than a building. It's a statement, an anchor for Shanghai's showcase skyline and a symbol of China's economic rise. From the government's perspective, given the message it's trying to send to Chinese people and the world, the money is probably worth it.
Shanghai Tower's reign as the world's second-tallest building, though, won't last long. Ping An Financial Center in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen will surpass it when it opens next year.
Midtown’s Nordstrom tower is set to beat out 1 World Trade Center as the city’s tallest building
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Published: Monday, May 11, 2015, 1:17 PM
Updated: Tuesday, May 12, 2015, 10:50 AM
Freedom's just another word for . . . the nation’s second-tallest building.
One World Trade Center — the so-called Freedom Tower, which has been the tallest in the city since 2012 — would no longer hold that lofty designation under a developer’s plan to supersize his existing design for a 57th St. residential skyscraper.
Gary Barnett wants to raise the top of the spire at his Nordstrom Tower to 1,795 feet — 19 feet taller than the one atop 1 World Trade Center, according to new renderings obtained by New York YIMBY, a prodevelopment blog.
A rep for Barnett declined to comment on the new design Monday, which shows a roof and spire that are high enough to earn the bragging rights. But early Tuesday, his representative "categorically" denied YIMBY's claims, saying the building would not rise above the World Trade Center.
Either way, the developer of the World Trade Center was being a bigger person, if not a taller tower, on Monday.
“There isn’t a lot of sleep being lost over here,” Durst Organization spokesman Jordan Barowitz told the Daily News.
Any move to upstage 1 World Trade Center is seen by some as a PR play.
“Developers are all trying to edge out their competition in the race for high-net-worth buyers,” said Robin Schneiderman of Halstead Property Development Marketing.
Barnett’s plan would indeed help cement the reputation of W. 57th St. as Billionaires’ Row. Barnett has already built One57, a luxury tower between Sixth and Seventh Aves., and the new property a block away is expected to draw wealthy investors from around the globe.
The bottom of the building aims to be as impressive as the top, with a seven-floor Nordstrom department store.
Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, a firm associated with some of the world’s tallest buildings, is reportedly involved in Barnett’s project. The firm is also designing what will be the world’s tallest building, the 3,281-foot-tall Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
The 57th St. building is one in a string of giant structures planned just south of Central Park. Park advocates have long been opposed to the spate of new towers, saying that it will cause long shadows over the park.