Dale McFeatters - China plans world's tallest and fastest building

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Seemingly not a day goes by when there aren't recalls, warnings and outright bans on Chinese exports. China, it seems, became the world's largest exporter by its willingness to export anything.

Even when tests on Chinese consumers proved that the products were hazardous, if not downright lethal, Chinese exporters continued to ship their products to unsuspecting countries.

An Internet search turns up dozens of products found to be tainted, poisonous or fake -- toothpaste, pet food, fish, cough syrup, powder for baby milk, counterfeit drugs, honey, dog treats, drywall, school supplies and unacceptable levels of lead in children's toys and apparel.

It's all because, according to a business website that monitors Chinese products, quality control and food-safety regulations tend to be "lax or nonexistent."

That's why the news that China plans to build the tallest skyscraper in the world, to be named "Sky City," and, moreover, complete it in 90 days, has drawn a lot of skepticism.

Generally, the public gets excited about the planned construction of some huge, new technical marvel, say the Hindenburg or the Titanic, but news of Sky City was greeted with restraint.

The company building Sky City has employed many of the engineers and architects who worked on the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, at 2,717 feet the world's tallest.

The Burj Khalifa's 160 floors offer a stunning panorama over some of the world's least interesting landscapes. The 220 floors of the 2,749-foot Sky City offer equally panoramic views of Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province, which never exactly struck us as a tourist mecca.

The Broad Sustainable Building Co. plans a work schedule of five floors a day, a timetable to be achieved by building much of the skyscraper offsite in modular form.

And the company does have a track record of sorts. Using the modular technology, it completed a 30-story hotel in 15 days in China in December 2011, which 11 months later "is still standing ..." Words perhaps not quite as reassuring as they were meant to sound.

The Burj Khalifa cost $1.5 billion, about $450 per square foot; Sky City, the company claims, will cost $628 million or $63 a square foot.

Those figures have aroused suspicions, among them those of an associate director of a Mideast engineering firm who told an Arabian business website, "If you are doing it for half of the cost it suggests you are only putting half of the materials in there, which means you will only have half the stiffness and half the strength. I think this is not going to fly."

Worse yet, the building might actually fly -- literally. At over a half-mile long, it could take out a lot of neighborhoods before it finally landed. The company says it can withstand 9.0 earthquakes and resist fire for up to three hours.

Sky City is designed to house 31,400 people, along with offices, shops, hospitals and restaurants all serviced by 104 high-speed elevators, which of course won't work in an emergency.

"The Towering Inferno" and the various accounts of the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers (106 stories) will probably be missing from the Big Sky library. The building may take only 90 days to build, but it could also take almost as long to evacuate.

(Dale McFeatters is a columnist of Scripps Howard News Service.)

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