‘Vanity projects’: China to introduce tighter limits on skyscrapers

Buildings higher than 250 metres to be banned in cities with fewer than 3 million people

China has said it will restrict smaller cities from building “super skyscrapers”, as part of a broader crackdown on “vanity projects” and to reduce energy consumption.

Skyscrapers taller than 150 metres (490ft) will be strictly limited, and those higher than 250 metres will be banned for cities with a population of fewer than 3 million.

The authorities will also limit structures taller than 250 metres for cities with more than 3 million people.

This is not the first time Chinese regulators have stepped in to limit the height of skyscrapers. In July, China’s national development and reform commission, the country’s top planning agency, banned new skyscrapers taller than 500 metres and restricted those taller than 250 metres.

It said at the time that new high-rises taller than 500 metres would no longer be approved, and those exceeding 250 metres would be strictly limited. Exemptions may be granted after the government has checked detailed building plans, such as those related to firefighting capabilities.

The regulator also tightened the rules for buildings taller than 100 metres this summer. They included requirements for the towers’ anti-earthquake capability, and whether they could match the fire and rescue capability in the cities they are located.

The latest statement was jointly issued in the last few days by China’s ministry of housing and urban-rural development and ministry of emergency management, a cabinet-level executive department responsible for emergency management and work safety.

It added that those who approve new projects that violate the latest rules would held to “lifelong accountability”.

China is home to some of the world’s mega towers. The 128-storey, 632-metre-tall Shanghai Tower, for example, is China’s tallest and the world’s second-tallest building. China is also one of the biggest markets for designers such as the London-based Arup. And for years the fast-developing country has been an experiment for ambitious international architects such as Rem Koolhaas and the late Zaha Hadid.

But the authorities have in recent years found it increasingly difficult to manage these buildings. Reports of potential health and safety incidents in these skyscrapers often appear in state media and on social media.

In March, a fire broke out in a high-rise residential building in the northern Chinese city of Shijiazhuang. And in August, another occurred in the north-eastern city of Dalian, in Liaoning province. Both incidents generated intensive discussions on Chinese social media.

In May, a 72-storey, near-300-metre building in southern Shenzhen began mysteriously shaking, prompting an evacuation of people inside while pedestrians looked on in horror. It was later found to have been caused by a combination of winds, underground rail lines and fluctuating temperatures.

In recent years, regulators have openly criticised some of the bold designs, calling them “vanity projects” that would only encourage Chinese cities to compete with each other in the wrong way. Earlier this year, Beijing banned “ugly architecture”.

“We’re in a stage where people are too impetuous and anxious to produce something that can actually go down in history,” Zhang Shangwu, the deputy head of Tongji University’s College of Architecture and Urban Planning, was quoted as saying by the South China Morning Post in April.

He added: “Every building aims to be a landmark, and the developers and city planners try to achieve this goal by going extreme in novelty and strangeness.”

According to the state-run Global Times, regulators last year issued a document clarifying how to further strengthen the management of architecture in Chinese cities. They concluded large buildings that had a strange style were “a waste of resources”.

Architecture websites such as Archcy.com encourage citizens to spot curious designs around the country and vote for a “hall of shame” listing of China’s Top 10 “ugliest” buildings.

The organiser of the competition said the purpose of the vote was to “provoke thinking about the beauty of and ugliness of architecture and promote architects’ social responsibility”.


Vincent Ni China affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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