China to soar over the Burj Khalifa: the latest construction competition


A popular feature of articles that I frequently encounter in construction news is which ‘astounding’ city/country/developer has managed to build the tallest swanky new skyscraper. But since when did building become entirely consumed by who could build the ‘biggest and the best’ and what does this obsession mean for quality? Perhaps our age old competitive attitudes and desire for an aesthetically pleasing world are in part to blame for the mostly unimproved state of our construction sector.

Once upon a time skyscrapers were not seen as the towering, impressive pillars of society that they are now. They were in fact born out of crisis in 1870’s New York and Chicago. Skyscrapers came about due to rising capitalism and the need to build up, rather than across, because of the increasing prices of land.  They were most certainly not a glistening tower of hope for the wealthy and competitive.

Today, the current tallest skyscraper in the world is the Burj Khalifa, dramatically towering above us all at a soaring 2,717ft (828m), a theatrical 293 times the size of the Eiffel tower. Designed by the Chicago based firm- Skidmore, Owings and Merrell, It is perceived by many as a pinnacle of glory, a triumph of the capabilities of man. But what if one actually learns of the dire conditions of its construction? In Dubai, the majority of construction workers barely earn enough to eat, let alone live and support their families. Furthermore, during its erection, many of the workers rioted. Heinous cover-ups were attempted as exhausted and slave-driven workers had died from overwork, the overwhelming heat and even suicide during its construction. This is most certainly not what one reads about in the glorified, glossed-over articles that pop on one’s news feed.

Additionally, with so many articles now hinting towards the need for a ‘greener’ construction industry and even non-construction related articles emphasising the critical need for us all to live greener lives, the Burj Khalifa with an air-conditioning system that is melting the equivalent of 12,500 tons of ice a day is hardly the epitome of sustainability. Nevertheless, this is hardly what you read in the press surrounding the infamous skyscraper. Then there was the revelatory news that China will have the tallest skyscraper in the world called Sky City (how fitting) by March 2013, which will just top the Burj Khalifa by 10m. Not only this, but it’s going to be built in just 30 days. It will be built by the same firm that famously built a full 30 storey hotel in 15 days. Indeed, this is a terrific feat, however I merely found it comical that despite trawling through countless articles, I was completely unable to find how long the pre-fabrication took. A rather important fact that has seemingly been glossed over.

So then what of Europe? Up until recently, bragging rights were owned by London’s Shard at a mere 309.6 metres (child’s play, really). However since its grand opening and unveiling back in July 2012, Moscow have swooped in to reclaim the title in September, when their ‘magnificent’ office and residential tower named Mercury City topped the height of the Shard before it had even reached completion. The Shard lasted a meagre 3 months as ‘the top of the pops’. It is evident that Europe is merely playing in the little leagues as the Burj Khalifa still remains 2.5 times taller than Mercury City. I assume this will not come as a shock as the U.A.E have always had somewhat of a talent when it comes to out- shining us.

There is no denying that life is indeed one big competition; who drives the best car, has the prettiest girlfriend, has the most in the bank account- but should this be the same for our most crucial industries and sectors? At the very least, when we are reading about the construction of these new skyscrapers, do we not have the right to be told the truths behind their construction, as surely this is the whole point behind reading the news anyway? One is not meant to be fed only the glossy, shiny facts of any newsworthy story or it would be impossible to come to a legitimately informed decision or worthwhile opinion.  Perhaps I may be so bold as to state that if countries, including ours weren’t all so quick to compete as to who can build the biggest, most dramatic, new building and actually concentrate on trying to slowly resolve the reasons as to why the construction industry appears to be the last major industry stuck in recession, then not only our economy but also our moralities would be in slightly less of a dire strait.

But what are the health and safety issues regarding the construction of these buildings? Generally they all claim to be perfectly sustainable and safe, however when the focus of these buildings is upon the aesthetic it is hard to believe this. Speaking to Maria Commane, Managing Director or a specialist construction recruitment company, SiteMasters Plc, she commented that “Although these buildings all claim to be safe, construction as an industry has a notoriously dubious health and safety record because of its nature. Despite our company’s immaculate health and safety record, not all companies possess this and errors and miscalculations are more likely to occur if a job is completed in haste. This really is something we must be wary of”.

Alas, it has now been announced that China have finally started on the construction of their super-scraper. (Or perhaps super-super (super super?) scraper). Indeed, the facts have changed slightly and it’s estimated that it shall now instead tower intimidatingly over the nation at 2739ft. Just over a mere 20ft taller than the Burj Khalifa. The Sky City tower is being built on the rural outskirts Changsha, a city in China’s Hunan province, accompanied by a somewhat stratospheric price tag of around 5.25 billion yuan (£560 million). We have all this and more to look forward to supposedly by April 2014.

The shrieking cry of capitalism and consumerism bellowing through the outlet of our ever competing and ever growing skyscrapers is unlikely to cease. But if we do have to read about it all the time, some decent straight facts wouldn’t go a miss please.

By Tammy Fernandez-Cox