China: 30-story prefab skyscraper built in two weeks. Of course it's safe!

In Changsha, China, a 30-story hotel project went from blueprint and prefab parts to finished building in fifteen days. Some are questioning how the construction project could possibly be safe, but the builder defends it. From reporter Jonathan Kaiman, the Los Angeles Times' man in Changsha:

In early December, Liu Zhangning was tending her cabbage patch when she saw a tall yellow construction crane in the distance. At night, the work lights made it seem like day. Fifteen days later, a 30-story hotel towered over her village on the outskirts of the city like a glass and steel obelisk.

"I couldn't really believe it," Liu said. "They built that thing in under a month."

Architects and engineers weigh in, too. Read the story here.

Video Link: Time-lapse of the project, showing the prefabricated building assembled on-site.

(via @RamCNN)



    1.  Exactly.  Key word here “prefab”, so it’s not really 15 days to build the build, just to finish it.

  1. I like to imagine that a next-door neighbor came home from a month long vacation and was like “WHAT THE F***?”

  2. Of course it’s safe!  It’s not like there’s any corruption and skimming off the top with Chinese contractors and industrialists.
    Now move along and never you mind those recent episodes of toxic gluten in pet food, poisonous cough medicine that killed a bunch of people in Panama, toothpaste with antifreeze, paint with lead in children’s toys…

    With China being a highly active seismic zone, I wouldn’t stand within a radius of a mile from that structure.

    1. as someone who travels to china frequently, its true that a few individual factories in China has tried to cut corners and have gotten a lot of press in the US, but i’ll just say that i’m pretty sure my standard of living would improve in one of these buildings (i don’t live in squalor either) just because they are so much better at adopting new technologies.  our new buildings typically have the technology of 10 years behind. 

  3. Two weeks? I hope that didn’t include the time it takes the foundation to settle.

    1.  That’s what I was thinking.  Unless there have been some steps forward in concrete/cement production, I was under the impression it didn’t reach close to full strength for almost a month.  I guess they just made it twice as thick….

    2. Raising a 30-story tower in two weeks is possible because most of the work is done in a factory and the foundation has been laid ahead of time.

      I guess there’s your answer. Foundation could have been formed several months earlier.

      1. My neighbor put up a one-story pref-fab house on a half acre. There was no way that it could fall on anyone. It still took longer than this.

  4. Why wouldn’t it be safe? Because China? That’s the only read I’m getting from this. “Those inscrutable Chinese, they don’t value human life like we do. If they build something quickly it must be because it’s unsafe, not because they are efficient.”

    1. Now I’m no civil engineer, but I’m get the impression that inspections alone account for more than 15 days in most developed nations.

      1. The thing about inspection as quality control is that it’s the least effective and costliest way to assure quality. We only adopt it for buildings because buildings aren’t typically produced on an assembly line; Every cut, nail, screw, bolt, and weld is applied in the field under essentially uncontrolled conditions. Any portion of the construction process that can be turned into a manufacturing process can be brought under statistical control, a la Deming et al. Even if the only reduction in QC costs came from each piece being presented to the inspector in the factory, instead of the inspector having to go to each piece in the field, the time savings would be enormous. But that’s far from the only benefit.

        The way that quality should be guaranteed is by reducing variability in the processes and components that go into the final product. This is done by eliminating special causes of variation first, and then going after common causes of variation. Once those processes are under control and the variation in them is reduced, quality control can be maintained through sampling and statistical methods, rather than through 100% inspection of every piece.

      1.  Ahh what?

        China is not building the Bay Bridge.  Bridge sections and the steel is coming from China but they sure as heck are not building it.

          1. I have no expertise in construction, but I’m guessing that assembling a bridge is a lot different than assembling an Ikea bookcase – which means the construction work is effectively US and will fall under US inspections and safety guidelines.

            Although now I have the terrifying mental image of Ikea-built bridges.

          2. I believe that on a project like that (where big sections of a US edifice are built overseas) the US inspectors will be going overseas to do the relevant parts of the inspection.

            And they want to do some of the work in china because the labor is cheaper, primarily.

  5. Most construction can be done fairly quickly, assuming all the various tradesmen are available and stick to their schedules.  What drives construction managers nuts is when one (or more) trades don’t show up on time (or at all) because they’re working on other projects.  There isn’t a shortage of labor in China. If the plumber or electrician or dry-waller doesn’t show, there are 100 more ready to take his place.

    Prefab construction improves this process — another company is simply producing 100s of made-to-order units.

    It also helps if you don’t have to worry about building inspectors, or obtaining permits. In China, once the Party has decided something will be built, then it gets built.  No special variances from city hall required. No public input or listening to special interest groups demanding affordable housing. 

    1.  The lack of permits in China is not strictly true: there’s a huge list of permits that must be obtained, and while it is technically possible to build without them the lack of a complete set at the end of the project means the builder won’t get the certificate for use (which means nobody can move in). Of course there’s always a few who hope to pay for the certificates after the fact, but since the gov’t inspectors can be held criminally liable and do jail-time if anything goes wrong, it’s next to impossible to achieve.

    1. Of course that’s where the emphasis on quick construction comes from. So the developer can get his money out (and wire transfer it off-shore) before the bubble pops.

  6. think about the  implications (good) this could have for the demand for low-income housing.  we need to leverage this approach.  factory assembled components for cookie cutter buildings ought to lower costs.  many inspections can be done in QA on the assembly line.  imagine the number of new homes or beds you could add in a short time span to a city in need.

  7. The obsession with air quality says a lot about the location.  It’s still a cool project from an engineering standpoint.

  8. Of course the builder says it’s safe. So did the guy who cooked up the milk with the melamine in it. He was executed.

  9. There’s no particular reason why a prefab building couldn’t be assembled in a couple of weeks and be perfectly safe, provided everybody did their jobs correctly, and you have enough people to handle all of the assembly in a well-organized manner. 
    The only reasons to be worried is that there’s a higher chance of shoddy construction (as though that doesn’t happen anywhere else)

  10. Wouldn’t slab & lifting screw be faster? I don’t know how high you can build with the screw & slab process. 

    Plus, isn’t there a cure time for concrete, at least for the foundation? I wonder how much time actually went into prepping the site. I call that “building” too. 

  11. At least it’s not make out of pipe cleaners, marshmallows and toothpicks this time.

    It’s not, right, guys?

    1. Especially the ones who make elaborate temples and cathedrals.  The saints are usually in the details too.

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