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Skyscrapers Overnight: China's Obsession With Turbo-Prefab

Jonathan Kaiman takes a look at a new hotel in China's Hunan Province that's pushing the envelope of how quickly high-rise buildings can be constructed – and raising eyebrows, and safety concerns, in the process.
March 9, 2012, 10am PST | Ryan Lue
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Like so many other development projects in China, Broad Sustainable Building's (BSB) "T-30" hotel appeared out of the ether, boasting a glamorous newness that stands in stark contrast to the aging concrete buildings and muddy alleys below. But what distinguishes T-30 from other projects is just how quickly it sprouted up: the project went from empty lot to thirty stories (the tallest in the county) in just fifteen days.

A time-lapse video of the construction garnered international attention for the project "and left Western architects speechless," writes Kaiman.

The project is emblematic of the unprecedented growth of China's cities: since 1990, the urban population has grown by nearly 400 million – more than the entire population of the United States – due in large part to economic and cultural forces funneling people out of the countryside. Many of those people are hungry for Western luxury "after decades of scarcity under Mao," says Beijing architect Zhang Li, compounding pressures to modernize – and fast.

BSB's prefab construction techniques allowed it to complete construction in one-third to one-half the time it would normally have taken. Zhang Yue, chief executive of Broad Group, BSB's parent company, argues that the approach is actually safer, since much of the work is done in a factory. "The faster, the safer. It's like crossing the road. If you slowly walk back and forth in the middle of the road, that's not safe."

And while the company "hopes to establish partnerships in the United States," its record-setting model may need some revisions to conform to local labor and fire safety laws.

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Published on Thursday, March 8, 2012 in Los Angeles Times
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