Decoding Design

The growing pains of China's building industry

The growing pains of China's building industry

Posting in Architecture

Is China's rapid economic and industrial growth pushing its building industry too fast?

The roof of the Beijing Airport's Terminal 3 blew off for the second time in less than a year.  Designed by Foster & Partners (the architects of the new Apple headquarters), the building is one of many in China that have recently suffered near-disasters. An article in Building Design points to China's restrictions on foreign architects for the building failures.

Instead of developing design and construction details and then administering the construction process, Western architects in China often play a small role not much beyond conceptual design.

Charlie Sutherland, an architect whose firm works extensively in China, comments on the limitations of foreign architectural practice in a country that is adopting western building techniques at rapid speed:

“The contractors have never dealt with techniques of this complexity before. They are being pushed to the limit. The site engineers we are dealing with are on a very rapid learning curve in terms of geometries, let alone the structural demands being put upon them.
I don’t know how western companies can ensure their structural designs can be fully delivered. It’s not to say Chinese engineers aren’t very good, but translating ideas is quite laborious and tricky."

Elsewhere in the country, Zaha Hadid’s Guangzhou opera house has seen shoddy exterior panels, huge plaster cracks, and envelop leaks. Falling and crashing glass in Shanghai's central business district has the city proposing a ban on glass curtainwalls in new schools, hospitals and residential buildings as part of the Shanghai Glass Curtain Wall Construction Management Regulation. Most experts and authorities agree that design is not to blame in any of these cases.

Instead of a total ban of a material, imposing requirements for testing, application, and maintenance (i.e. building codes) would go a longer way in insuring the safety of buildings and their occupants.

China rules blamed for building problems [BDOnline]

Image: speccycol flickr

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Sun Kim

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Sun Joo Kim is an architect and creative consultant based in Boston. Her projects include design and master planning of museums, public institutions, hospitals, and university buildings across the U.S. She holds a degree from Carnegie Mellon University and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure