Why Did Chinese Officials Halt Work on the World's Tallest Building?

By Adam Clark Estes on at

Remember Sky City, the ambitious plan to build the world’s tallest building in 90 day (out of prefab parts)? Construction began in July as planned, but Chinese officials have halted the project indefinitely—and some are wondering whether Sky City may signal a looming bust for the country’s skyscraper boom.

Workers had just finished laying down a highway that will bring parts to the Sky City site on July 20 when Beijing officials brought construction to a screeching halt. The official reason? Permitting issues. But this week, The New York Times questioned whether the move wasn’t also a reaction to the growing outcry in China against “the vanity of some local government officials has determined the skylines of cities.”

According to Zhang Yue, the CEO of the corporation overseeing the project, this delay is a normal, and altogether expected, part of the building process. But The Times' Keith Bradsher also connects the delay to the Chinese media, which has criticised the developers behind such outrageous projects all over the country:

But the project’s scale and speed have set off a burst of national introspection in recent days about whether Chinese municipal leaders and developers have gone too far in their increasingly manic reach for the skies. […] “If you let the market decide, I don’t think a lot of these tall buildings would proceed,” said Chau Kwong Wing, a professor of real estate and construction at Hong Kong University.

We know that skyscrapers always rise and fall in rough relationship to the economy. And it seems that—even if it's ever completed—Sky City may be destined to serve as a bellwether for the health of China's larger real estate boom.