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Breaking Down the Hiccups and Screeching Halts of Sky City, the World's Next Tallest Structure

There was perhaps no development story stormier and head-palmier last year than the saga that is Sky City Tower, the 220-story skyscraper and world's next tallest tower that developers once insisted—then recanted, then insisted again—would take just 90 days to build. More than a year ago, in Sept. 2012, Broad Sustainable Building (BSB) announced plans to break ground that November. Well, November passed, and so did December, January, and—well, let's just say the developers have spit out more excuses than renderings and more defensive press releases than stories. To make sense of it all, let's break down the epoch into bite-sized narrative chunks. Then maybe, maybe we'll be closer to deciding whether 2014 will be the year the thing actually gets built.

June 2012: A developer based in Hunan, China, announces plans to build the world's tallest tower—to be just 10 meters higher than the reigning champion, the Burj Khalifa—in 90 days. In the design? 104 elevators and a structure made of 95 percent prefab elements manufactured off-site. If that's not ambitious enough, Broad Sustainable Building was going to do it for just $628M—or roughly 42 percent of the $1.5B it took to build the Burj. [link]

Curbed commenters raged: "Is the point to make it tall enough so that all of China's millions of starving can see it?" and "Bullshit!"

Sept. 2012: BSB waffles on the 90-day deadline but insists the project will break ground (in the middle of a field in Hunan Province) in November. The company founder told Wired: "Traditional construction is chaotic. We took construction and moved it into the factory." Then: "It's not a construction company. It's a structural revolution." [link]

Oct. 2012: The developers officially (and not for the last time) renege on the three-month promise, saying instead the tower will actually take 210 days to "build." (There's some debate about this term as "assemble" may be more fitting.) Though more than twice the original construction time, a 210-day construction timeline still means the tower will be built nine times faster than the Burj.

As noted at the time: "It's hardly the first time a design firm has blown a deadline—one such North Korean example is about 23 years behind schedule—but it's fairly odd that the project would blow off their talkiest selling point prior even to breaking ground."

Nov. 2012: Rumors percolate that construction has begun. And, more interestingly, BSB again insists the project would be complete in 90 days. Neither newsbit turned out to be true. [link]

May 2013: The press junketeers for BSB say the building will break ground the "next month"—never mind the fact that construction was supposed to begin in November and finish up by March. To reinvigorate the media flurry, BSB releases more renderings of the 2,749-foot tower, which will now take seven months (not 90 days) to build.

The renderings reveal a "network of rooftop gardens," pools, and terraces, along with alternate shots of the building suspended in the rather architecturally barren Changsha district. There's also a video, which offers a cool, if overly dramatic and cinematized, look into just how Sky City Tower will get completed. [link]

Not 10 days later, developers tell Gizmodo: "Hopefully we'll start in September." [link]

July 2013: Co.Exist defends the, uh, lack of architectural splendor inherent to the designs for Sky City: "All city-goers want to live in beautiful buildings. But the reality is that ugliness may be the price we pay for sticking the majority of the world's population into cities." [link]

Later that month, finally, is the groundbreaking. Everybody is excited. Never mind that BSB says Sky City will now take nine months to build, it's being built. [link]

Except it isn't.

After 10 days of construction, work halts. The developers officially kibosh their promise to build the world's next tallest skyscraper in a breakneck 90 days 210 days nine months. Due to a paperwork mishap (a Changsha Urban Planning Department representative told CNN that BSB has secured permits to obtain 22 acres of land, "but that's it") the developers push their project completion date to April. [link]

Aug. 2013: The New York Times runs a piece about Sky City Tower, clarifying not only the nature of the tower ("to be assembled in only four months from factory-built modules of steel and concrete") but also the ripples undulating from its construction, including "a burst of national introspection in recent days about whether Chinese municipal leaders and developers have gone too far." In it, the BSB chairman blames "the media": "It's because of all the concern in the media and on the Internet, the government is a little wary and has slowed down the process."

The best quote from the piece comes from Zhang Yue, chairman of the Broad Group: "Things that I envision are definitely going to get done, no doubt ... Ordinary people do not know the challenges and issues I face every single day. There are so many issues, 24 hours in a day are not enough for me to deal with all of them." (The Times Keith Bradsher writes that Yue "exudes confidence ... even at the risk of immodesty.") [link]

Sept. 2013: With construction stalled, the developers go ahead and build a slice of the tower "to test and refine the design," writes TreeHugger. Pictured: a full-scale replica of what will be floors 165 to 173. [link]

Since then? The news stream has again trickled to a stop. As far as anybody knows, there are still approvals to be collected, excuses to be made, and, well, 200-plus stories to be built. And the beat goes on.

· All Sky City Tower posts [Curbed National]
· All Year in Curbed 2013 posts [Curbed National]