December 19 2013

Soaring Skyscrapers: Local Governments Have Fallen Into Height Worshipping Trap

Starting from the first skyscraper in Shanghai Lujiazui to the Broad Group high profile announcement of the world’s tallest building – Changsha ‘Sky City’ plan, there has been increasingly dense concrete jungle growth during the past two decades.


Compared to the heated growth of skyscrapers in America in the 1930s, which represented the rising power of capitalism, the Chinese pursuit of skyscrapers possesses a unique characteristic, which is government led. Since the Chinese local governments have absolute authority in deciding skyscrapers’ height and style, design companies have figured out an iron rule to appeal to the local officials and win the bids: proposing to build “the world’s tallest building,” or the “region’s tallest building.” These titles symbolize the local government’s political achievements.

Skyscrapers in the major metropolitan cities maximize the land value in limited space and promote local economic and urban development. However, some second and third-tier cities in China that do not possess sufficient “skyscraper spending power” also attempt to use skyscrapers to brand their image and attract investments. Changsha’s “Sky City,” Guiyang’s “17 Skyscraper Plan,” and Fangchenggang’s Asian International Financial Center all have more symbolic meaning than practical use.


In 1999, Deutsche Bank economist Andrew Lawrence first proposed the concept of “skyscraper index,” which is also known as the “Lawrence Curse.” The Skyscraper Index demonstrates that when the skyscraper construction starts, it is a period of economic overheating; by the time the skyscraper is completed, it is a time of economic recession.

Experts have pointed out that United States high-rise developments were mainly based on enterprise investments, which means that after the completion of the building, the pressure of rentals and operations can be partially digested by the investing enterprises. But in China, investment comes mostly from real estate investors, so after the completion of these buildings, they will face tremendous sales and rental pressure.

In fact, these expensive high-rise buildings are not best suited for living. All the small problems occurring in ordinary buildings will be magnified in the high-rises. In the event of fire, skyscrapers will become a giant chimney, and high-rise residents will have no place to escape.

What do you think are the negative consequences of skyscraper worship in China?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

The original article, published in Chinese, can be found here.

Jue Wang

Jue Wang is a Master of Urban Planning student at the University of Southern California (USC) with a concentration in sustainable land use planning. Born in a small town along the Yellow River and having grown up in the Pearl River Delta in southeastern China, she experienced the rapid transformation of rural and urban China in the past two decades. Inspired by the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, she decided to translate her passions towards the betterment of the natural and built environment to a career in urban planning. Being an Angeleno for five years, she has claimed Los Angeles as her second home. Through her work as a translator and content coordinator, Jue hopes to help more people learn about China's planning and environmental design issues.

This entry was posted on Thursday, December 19th, 2013 at 9:57 am and is filed under Architecture, Community/Economic Development, Government/Politics, Urban Development/Real Estate. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


Leave a Reply

eight × 3 =


Follow US