BEIJING – The 121-story Shanghai Tower is more than China’s next record-setting building: It’s an economic lifeline for the elite club of skyscraper builders.
Financial gloom has derailed plans for new towers in Chicago, Moscow, Dubai and other cities. But in China, work on the 2,074-foot (632-meter) Shanghai Tower, due to be completed in 2014, and dozens of other tall buildings is rushing ahead, powered by a buoyant economy and providing a steady stream of work to architects and engineers.
The U.S. high-rise market is “pretty much dead,” said Dan Winey, a managing director for Gensler, the Shanghai Tower’s San Francisco-based architects. “For us, China in the next 10 to 15 years is going to be a huge market.”
China has six of the world’s 15 tallest buildings — compared with three in the United States, the skyscraper’s birthplace — and is constructing more at a furious pace, defying worries about a possible real estate boom and bust. It is on track to pass the U.S. as the country with the most buildings among the 100 tallest by a wide margin.
“There are cities in China that most Western people have never heard of that have bigger populations and more tall buildings than half the prominent cities in the U.S.,” said Antony Wood, executive director of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.
China is leading a wave of skyscraper building in developing countries that is shifting the field’s center of gravity away from the United States and Europe.
India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia have ultra-tall towers under construction or on the drawing board. In the Gulf, Doha in Qatar and Dubai — site of the current record holder, the 163-story Burj Khalifa — each has three buildings among the 20 tallest under construction, though work on all but one of those has been suspended.
The shift is so drastic that North America’s share of the 100 tallest buildings will fall from 80 percent in 1990 to just 18 percent by 2012, according to Wood. He said by then, 45 of the tallest will be in Asia, with 34 of those in China alone.
“So 34 percent of the 100 tallest buildings will be in a single country. That has only happened once before, and that was with the USA,” he said.
In China, skyscrapers are going up in obscure locales such as Wenzhou, Wuhan and Jiangyin, a boomtown north of Shanghai. It is building a 72-story, 1,076-foot (328-meter) hotel-and-apartment tower that will be taller than Manhattan’s Chrysler Building.
China’s edifice complex is driven by a mix of demand for space in a crowded country with economic growth forecast at 10 percent this year and local leaders who want architectural eye candy to promote their cities as commercial centers.
Dozens of midsize Chinese cities are building new business districts to replace cramped downtowns. They look to the model of Shanghai’s skyscraper-packed Pudong district — China’s Wall Street — created in the 1990s on reclaimed industrial land….
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