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China’s cracking down on super skyscrapers

Context:

Aiming to reduce China’s energy consumption, the country has passed guidelines limiting the height of super-high buildings as part of a larger crackdown on “vanity projects” in the country.

Relevance:

GS-III: Environment and Ecology (Conservation of Energy and Reduction of Carbon footprint)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About China’s crackdown on skyscrapers
  2. Towering glass structures are an environmental nightmare
  3. Tall buildings to save space aren’t so great

About China’s crackdown on skyscrapers

  • Home to some of the world’s tallest buildings, China is now cracking down on the construction of ‘super skyscrapers’ in smaller cities across the country.
  • The country’s strict new laws impose restrictions on the height of buildings based on the population density of different cities.
  • There is already an existing ban on buildings taller than 500 metres.
  • As per the country’s strict new rules, skyscrapers taller than 150 metres (490 ft) will be strictly limited, and those higher than 250 metres (820 ft) will be banned for cities with a population of fewer than 3 million.
  • The latest guidelines limiting the height of super-high buildings is part of a larger crackdown on “vanity projects” in the country. It also aims to reduce China’s energy consumption.

What can be considered as a trigger for the crackdown?

  • Authorities were focussed on ensuring the safety of these buildings. Tall buildings are required to have stringent anti-earthquake and firefighting capabilities. They also require adequate escape and rescue mechanisms. (This comes after several high-rise buildings reported accidents in recent years.)
  • Recently, a fire broke out in a particularly tall residential building in the northern Chinese city of Shijiazhuang and months later, a similar incident occurred in the city of Dalian.

Towering glass structures are an environmental nightmare

  • Any building playing host to hundreds of people is going to have a huge climate footprint, but the glass is particularly problematic.
  • With an all-glass building, the sunlight has unlimited access into the building, but no way to get out.
  • Conventional glass skyscrapers are just tall green houses. The heat inside can’t escape because the whole structure is wrapped in a glass skin. This just means more air conditioning.
  • The amount of energy used for cooling has more than doubled since 2000, and it will double again by 2040 if we don’t curb our reliance on air conditioning, according to the International Energy Agency.
  • It’s a vicious cycle: we build a glass skyscraper, then have to cool that glass skyscraper, which uses energy, which contributes to the climate crisis, which increases the temperature. The hotter weather makes the glass building even harder to cool, but we have to keep cooling it because sweaty co-workers are not happy co-workers, and so the cycle goes on.
  • Cutting down cooling isn’t enough to redeem these glass structures as these glass structures are very high in embodied energy. (Embodied energy is the energy it takes to make the material – Timber has a low embodied energy because it actually pulls carbon out of the air as it grows, whereas glass is very energy intensive.)

Tall buildings to save space aren’t so great

  • Mostly the argument is about density – if you pile a lot of homes or workplaces high on one spot, then you can use land and public transport more efficiently. There’s some truth in this, but you can also achieve high levels of density without going above 10 or 12 storeys.
  • The issue is – Embodied energy hasn’t until recently been paid as much attention as energy in use.
  • It has been deemed acceptable – to rip untold tonnes of matter from the earth and to pump similar tonnes of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, in order to produce magical architectural devices that might pay back some of their carbon debt some time in the next century.
  • There is a crucial need to bring attention to the high environmental cost of building tall skyscrapers in the first place and examining if they are truly necessary.

-Source: Indian Express

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September 2022
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