China's Pre-Fab Skyscraper: Revolutionary or Mad? Two Architects Debate...

The architecture world has been abuzz over news that aChinese construction company plans to build the world's tallest building— and to do it in just 90 daysusing a proprietary prefabrication technique.

Construction on the 838-meter highrise in Changsha, called Sky City One, is expected to begin this month.

After the project was announced, we reached out to Christian Sottile, the Dean of the School of Building Arts at the Savannah College of Art and Design,who gave us his takeon why the project is a terrible step for architecture and urban living.

But not everyone is skeptical about Sky City One.Stan Klemanowicz,an architect and planner in Los Angeles with Project Development Associates, reached out to tell us why the project is actually revolutionary. He has allowed us to publish his response to Mr. Sottile's critique.

Read Sottile's and Klemanowicz's conflicting opinions, after the break...

CON: Christian Sottile

Courtesy of SCAD, via Business Insider.

Pre-fabrication has revolutionized the building industry — applying this now as a strategy for tall buildings under the right conditions is brilliant. The irony is that at the same time, if you look at the outcome of this endeavor urbanistically, it is at best a folly, and at worst, madness.

The proposition that a city can be contained within one building is unnatural and devastating to the human spirit. This project would, however, not be the first to propose such an end. It follows a long tradition of audacious architecture attempting to rethink the city. But in the end, the city always wins. I am speaking of the evolved city of over 7,000 years of transcultural human history — cities that honor the human being, as well as the art, craft, culture and resources of places.

One might do well to remember the Italian Super Studio movement in the 1960s proposing radical new forms of the city. Many of its founding members later went on to reject their propositions in favor of more universal ideas embodied in the traditional city. Among them, Adolfo Natalini once told me that “I started my career as a pyromaniac and ended it as a firefighter.”

In an era of blind adherence to the marvels of technology, we are all too often seduced into believing that any result of its application will advance our collective well-being. We do this without considering all of its possible effects. We might remember that while nuclear physics is in itself a wonder of scientific achievement, it can be used either to create clean energy or fatal weaponry. In the case of Sky City One, the application of this technological feat, even if executed successfully, is ultimately a loss.

Whether you build it in three months, or not, you still lose. [...]

The process of making buildings as a local activity enriches the local economy, draws on local resources and develops local skills. The efficiencies gained in off-site modular prefabrication come at the risk of impoverishing the uniqueness, identity and regional wisdom that evolves in different places. This is not to ignore that certain elements of buildings will be sourced or fabricated elsewhere, but that the majority of the act of building should be a sector of a local economy. The more that the activity of building happens remotely, the more individual places are deprived of their own expertise, identity and self-determination. [...]

The standardization of the building format for Sky City One, repetition of structural elements, and proportionately high volume of space enclosed by the design all add up to significant cost savings. Also, realizing the efficiencies that arise from pre-fabrication and limiting costly construction time on-site reduce the real costs of construction.

The irony of building quickly and cheaply is that we ultimately live with our buildings for decades to come, maybe centuries. Buildings that allow long-term use accommodate restoration and reinvestment. In the category of ultra-tall buildings, quick and cheap may be fitting. I say this because these buildings really have no long-term future. The technologies involved are so specific to one moment in time and one manufacturing process that they later prove to be un-restorable. They can be thought of as single-use buildings. Think of Sky City One as the Paper Plate of Architecture.

Sottile's full response at Business Insider

PRO: Stan Klemanowicz

Courtesy of Stan Klemanowicz, via Business Insider.

Mr. Sottile misses an important point in the design and construction of this project. It revolutionizes the process in a way hardly ever before seen in the building industry.

One might argue the standardization of building parts and systems in modern architecture was similar but, that belies a shallow understanding. This is very different! It is a revolutionary approach.

In Sky City One we see standardization of components and details, off-site construction of building components to the largest feasible sizes, and organized and well-synchronized fitting and assembly in the field never before seen nor attempted.

Construction can be one of the slowest industries. We still set brick one-by-one and install individual sheets of drywall in the field. Why can't they, and almost every other building component, be fabricated and assembled to the fullest offset?

There has been prefabrication of building components for many years including fabricated housing, precast construction, and modular construction. But there has not been anything of this scale with similar time constraints attempted.

Whether this attempt is successful or not, others will try, and try again. New records for types of construction, complexity of design, and tighter time constraints will be achieved. Labor is being taken off the job site and into the shop. Projects will require a different, and likely, smaller labor force to the benefit of owners and users.

Union workers, specifically and construction labor, in general, will suffer. There will be some real tooth and nail battles to come.

Reviewing what has been foisted on the Chinese urban landscape by "name" starchitects in the past several years, one can hardly criticize this truly indigenous project. When it is compete it will be a success beyond reproach regardless of whether the Sky City One concept truly works or not.

This story, by Julie Zeveloff, was originally published on Business Insider. Check out other great content at Business Insider, such as:

Chinese Company Says Construction On World's Tallest Building Will Begin Next Month

The 9 Tallest Skyscrapers That Are Being Built Right Now

China Is No Longer The World's Dominant Source Of Growth

About this author
Cite: Julie Zeveloff, Business Insider. "China's Pre-Fab Skyscraper: Revolutionary or Mad? Two Architects Debate..." 18 Jun 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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