The Ugliness Of The Future Tallest Building In The World

As we’re building as quickly as possible to jam more people into cities, do we also have to sacrifice beauty?

The world’s population living in cities is expected to grow dramatically in the coming decades. By 2050, seven out of all 10 humans on Earth will live in cities. When you have that many people cramming into relatively small spaces, aesthetics aren’t always going to be at top of mind.

Think about that while you’re watching this video of Sky City One, a prefab skyscraper in Changsha, China, that will take only 90 days to build—and will be the world’s tallest building when it’s finished.

Over at QZ, Christopher Mims calls the residential building, which has 202 floors, "a giant stack of trailer homes." That’s fairly accurate.

He writes:

A look at the plans…for Sky City One reveal that the maximum width of each unit of the building will be just 3.9 meters, or 12.8 feet. That’s the width of a "single-wide" mobile home in the U.S. Save a dizzyingly tall interior atrium extending from the first to the 170th floor, any interior spaces wider than that will be interrupted by the steel columns that define the edge of each pre-fabricated unit.

Here’s the rub. The rapid growth of cities means that a lot more buildings need to be constructed. In China, construction quality is often an issue. But Broad Sustainable Building, the developer of Sky City One, emphasizes the quality of the building materials—and the fact that its prefab nature means it will be difficult for builders to mess up. From Wired:

In a nation where construction standards vary widely, and where builders often use cheap and unreliable concrete, Broad’s method offers a rare sort of consistency. Its materials are uniform and dependable. There’s little opportunity for the construction workers to cut corners, since doing so would leave stray pieces, like when you bungle your Ikea desk. And with Broad’s approach, consistency can be had on the cheap: The T30 cost just $1,000 per square meter to build, compared with around $1,400 for traditional commercial high-rise construction in China.

What more can a rapidly growing city ask for besides cheap, safe construction? Perhaps earthquake resistance (the structure can resist a 9.0 quake) and energy efficiency (the video claims that the structure decreases "CO2 per capita usage from 5.5 tons to 2 tons").

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.

Add New Comment


  • Recently the CEO of Ellis Don made a comment about the threat of prefabrication in Construction and the permanent elimination of traditional jobs because of it, within North America. It will change things overall in the very near future. I do know of companies that are involved in innovative forms of prefabrication of homes but not of sky scrapers. It is absolutely fascinating and yet quite disturbing at the same time. Opens up new opportunities and creates unique situations as well. Going to look at this further.

  • Joe Corea

    I am no pro-China person and not an architect so I can't comment on if it will fall down or not. But what I can say the building is NOT ugly. It looks just as good as any skyscraper. And it looks much better than lots of the artsy looking buildings around the world. Call me old fashioned, but I really think form needs to follow function. And that it does.

  • Joshua Greenfield

    I don't think Sky City One is ugly. I would live there. I would also enjoy the atrium with my thousands of neighbors. I would learn Chinese to live in such a building. I think it is visionary and would prefer it to a suburban jail I can't afford to leave except to run the most mundane of errands.

  • Stijn Vogels

    Bad things will happen to this building. The Burj Dubai required extensive research before construction. It even had to be designed to withstand windchanges between top and bottom. I don't see any of that here. Even if it claims to be able to resist a 9.0 magnitude earthquake.

  • Wes "Double You" Parrish

    Pre-fab futurism or not, this is still an outmoded way of thinking. Tall buildings to house many people yes - but this design still has no way of being self sufficient from the surrounding ecology. There have been so many numerous designs, done by bright minds around the world, that showcase how staggered levels of any building can be dedicated to growing food, along with energy and water collection. Then at the base contain a full suite of personal human services like medical, clothing, cafes, grocery etc. Buildings of the future must be autonomous.

  • Nicholas M. Cummings

    You won't find many people as eminently biased towards America away from all the (somewhat unwarranted and overhyped) pro-China rhetoric that's out there today than me, but I agree with the comment below about pre-fab construction being a major part of the future and I think that the success of this square-Burj-Khalifa that is somewhat of an eyesore and literally sticks out from that skyline like a sore thumb will at least help advance new technologies in construction.

    Ideally and eventually, engineers could find a way to build things like the egg-shaped building in London using pre-fab parts as well, giving buildings beautiful customization in addition to pre-fab efficiency, but disruptive technologies start at the low-end and eat their way up through the industry.

  • niico100

    It's less ugly than many buildings in China.

    They have the right idea - not every building in the world can be made to order - and built like a one of a kind, 'hand crafted work of art' - like towers in London say.
    Construction is a very backward conservative industry - and it is this kind of prefab thinking that is required to bring it up to date.

    It just needs to be paired with world class design & architecture.

  • Germondi123

    I think this is much better both technically and aesthetically than MANY of the so-called architectural landmarks of America.

  • Cantilever

    So far the comments are about engineering virtuosity and boilerplate abstractions about footprint. What would it be like to live there? "Closer to nature...a true change in urban living." How is living on the 200th floor closer to nature? Well, it's a change in urban living for sure. Vertical suburban sprawl. The video suggests that it's miles from anything truly urban. How does one get to a city? Are the Chinese really going to plant hundreds of acres of trees? Speaking of trees, nothing's going to grow on those setbacks. Gale-force winds and blistering heat. As for the architecture, it's the kind of banality and monotony that makes one want to jump out the window. Speaking of windows, are they operable at 2,700 feet? I doubt it. Aesthetics is the least of this project's problems. It's a futuristic nightmare.

    Take a look at Hong Kong's density:

  • GE | PE

    Would you call the Pyramid of Giza ugly?

    It’s no secret when pushing the height limits in building,
    one must think symmetry.  Personally, I
    think it is a beautiful idea to build higher instead of wider.  Think of all the surface area on Earth saved
    by this building.  According to BSC the
    building’s footprint only uses 10% of the site. 
    The rest is used as park area. 


    Make no mistake, this isn't China’s attempt to build the
    prettiest building.  This is China flexing
    its engineering muscle.  And when looking
    at the plans, the “units” referred to in this article are simply part of the
    structural grid, not the load bearing wall of a “trailer home.”  According to the BSB website, apartments will
    range from 645 to 5,000 SF.


    It’s fascinating to think of all the technology going into
    this building, but also discouraging to realize how far behind American
    engineering (and thinking) is.  If these journalists
    aren't complaining about the CO2 footprint of a building, they’re
    complaining about the “aesthetics”.  Instead
    of taking the negative, uniformed view of global affairs, we need to be
    brainstorming and supporting our scientists in order to compete.


    Westerners are missing the point of this monumental


    P.S. the .gif in this article doesn't support the argument.  That’s one of the prettiest images I've ever

  • Kevin

    It is on the bland side from an architectural PoV, but it's no where near as ugly as the Sears Tower or World Trade Center towers.  For everything it delivers, and given the pre-fab nature, it's actually pretty nice.

    It does look dramatically out of place, though.