Monday, March 18, 2013

HK vs. SZ Top Ten Tallest

As a follow up to yesterday's post on riding in Shenzhen, I thought I'd do a bit of research on how the building heights / forms compare between the two cities, using this 'Top 10' diagram I managed to collage from

Hong Kong is famous world wide for it's tall buildings, and the opening of ICC in 2010 as the world's 4th tallest building was fairly global news. But Kinky Tower, sorry King Key tower, as the tallest building ever built by a British Architect (Terry Flannel) and in at number 9, didn't seem to garner so much attention. I must admit, that whilst I've seen it from a distance, I didn't visit yet either... What jumps, when you put these diagrams side by side, is how similar Kinky looks to the Hong Kong stalwart, IFC. I don't think that plays out in 3D so much, but it suggests a trend that Shenzhen picks up where Hong Kong left.

Picking this theme up, comparing Shenzhen's Excellence Century Plaza (the rhombus one with a snappy title) with HK's Bank of China, there are certainly similarities. Excellence Plaza also reminds me of New York's Hearst Tower, but without the integrity of structure and form (this is perhaps not so important for the Chinese...) In fact, when considering what is important to the Chinese, the fact triangles & rhombi features heavily across the top 10 for both cities is a little surprising given triangles are meant to give off bad feng shui. Certainly there are a lot of formal games that are shared between the towers of both these cities.

Another key similarity is how recent all these buildings are. A similar diagram of New York would give you 5 of it's top 10 tall buildings built in the thirties,  whilst Hong Kong will, at best, give you 4 from the nineties. I.M.P Pei's Bank of China is the elder statesman of this chart, following completion in 1990. Shenzhen tops that with just 2 from the 20th Century, the oldest being complete in '96. Shenzhen certainly 'wins' (if that is the game) when it comes to newness.

Where Hong Kong 'wins' is in it's height. Thanks to ICC, Kinky Tower does not take that crown, and going down the Top 10, HK tends to have an extra 10 stories or so on average. I'm sure if you'd done this comparison 10 years ago the difference would be much more pronounced. And I wouldn't be surprised if Shenzhen 'won' this rather pointless battle in another 10 years.

The efficiency gains of building tall tend to be overtaken by the technological challenges / costs of going big around a certain threshold, that I'll guess to be around 50 stories in the current dawn. After which it's all about prestige and image. My perception is that Shenzhen has struggled globally to lift it's image to anything approaching Hong Kong, and there are still a lot of people in the West who've never even heard of the city. However, global perceptions of China in general, as per Shenzhen's quota of tall buildings, are changing very fast. And I guess how this manifests itself in the scale elevations of mankind's tall stuff is the real point of any height 'battle'. Mies said "Architecture is the will of an epoch translated into space". No one said it had to be pretty.