By: Nick Carbone / TIME
If only constructing a skyscraper were as easy as stacking Legos. Then, we’d be throwing together 200-story towers in a matter of weeks, just clicking blocks together until we got bored. But the idea isn’t so far-fetched: if China’s Broad Sustainable Building Corp. is doing its math and crossing its ts properly, it could be topping out a 2,749-ft.-tall skyscraper — the world’s tallest — in just three months.
Starting in January, the race will be on against what seems to be an impossibly short deadline. Broad is allotting just 90 days to construct the 220-story tower, dubbed Sky City, in the city of Changsha, in China’s southeastern Hunan province — meaning the building will go up at a rate of about five stories a day, according to Construction Week Online.
It’s not only the speed, though; it’s the height. Upon completion, Sky City will be 32 ft. taller than the Burj Khalifa, the current tallest building in the world. It’ll also go up 24 times quicker. Upon completion, the tower will contain a school, hospital, 17 helipads and apartments for 30,000 people, according to online design magazine Dezeen. It’s unclear, though, if it will have a lobby — the regimented prefab construction has prohibited wide open spaces on the ground floor of previous Broad buildings, Wired explains.
Broad began as an air-conditioner manufacturer but diversified after developing a new method of constructing prefab skyscrapers, whose components slot together like Erector Set pieces. According to Wired, the company’s founder and chairman Zhang Yue was inspired by the immense devastation of the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, which killed more than 68,000 people, to develop quake-friendly building designs; the sturdy modular style Broad pioneered is 95% prefabricated in the company’s factories in Hunan province.
As of September, Broad had built 17 of the prefab structures, all but one in China, and fast: the company put up a 15-story hotel in just two days, and a 30-story tower in just 15. The structures are as bland as a Sears Catalog Home, and as pretty as a stack of plywood, but for Zhang, it’s not about style. Broad’s buildings use less concrete in the floors and less steel in the support beams, reducing the weight and increasing its earthquake resilience — Zhang says his buildings are meant to withstand a 9.0-magnitude temblor.
Indeed, the towers’ blandness and adaptability is part of the plan: Broad plans to monetize its housing concept by licensing the technology to countries across the globe. Franchisees can then build the pieces locally to prevent the exorbitant cost of shipping the prefabricated pieces.
As for Sky City, Broad plans to start laying the foundation at the end of November, with the three-month race against the clock starting at the end of the year and running through March. Ladies and gentlemen, get out your stopwatches — this one could be a nail-biter.