Building an Office Tower in 19 Days: The Future of Work?

Broad Group - Mini Sky City construction

It seems everyone has their own idea of the office of the future. Some hope it will be Google-esque in culture and layout, with colourful furniture and separate themed zones scattered throughout a vast campus.

Others plan a more hybrid approach, with agile spaces and adjustable furniture allowing workers to sit (or stand) where they please. Perhaps we really will commute less, swiping in and out of coworking spaces or logging-in from home. Or perhaps the office will finally cater to all personalities, introverts and extroverts, once and for all, with quiet zones and bubbly open-plan spaces to suit every mood.

All of these scenarios are already happening in one way or another, which makes any one of them just as likely as the next to become the dominant workplace model in one or more decades’ time.

Yet perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of the ‘future workplace’ is how it will be physically constructed, brick by brick.

Or, based on revolutionary Chinese “flatpack” construction methods, it will be storey by storey… in days rather than months or years.

In this fascinating report into Chinese entrepreneur and construction magnate Zhang Yue, it took just 19 days and 1,200 workers to build a 57-storey multi-use tower in Changsha, southern China. The 204-metre building shot up at a rate of three storeys per day.

Watch a timelapse video here:

19 atriums, office space for 4,000 people and 800 apartments: Can something so tall, built in less than 3 weeks, really be safe?

It can, according to Mr Zhang.

Using prefabricated (‘prefab’) building methods, the tower was built from thousands of modules built remotely in factories, which were then shipped and assembled on the construction site like Meccano, piece by piece.

The model has been rigorously tested and is designed to withstand earthquakes in particular. A video by the group shows a scaled model skyscraper surviving the equivalent of a magnitude nine earthquake.

Sustainable future

Of course prefab construction is nothing new. It’s been around for decades, and is often favoured for its speed, cost-efficiency and sustainability. In the case of Mini Sky City, the Broad Group claims:

  • The construction method avoided 15,000 separate truck deliveries, which reduced pollution and dust;
  • The tower is 80% more energy efficient than conventional buildings, saving 12,000 tons of carbon annually;
  • A combination of factors including quadruple-thick glass, 20cm-thick wall insulation and exterior window shading reduce carbon emissions and create a cleaner environment for residents.

The company says 90% of their buildings’ components are prefabricated, with only interior finishing required on site.

Mr Zhang, a highly driven individual with a dream of a cleaner, greener future, describes his company’s construction techniques as revolutionary. Indeed, building a skyscraper at that speed, it’s hard to disagree.

“From cradle to grave”

And it’s not just the speed that’s revolutionary – it’s also the way in which these skyscrapers are designed to be used.

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It’s not just an office tower. Mini Sky City is exactly that – a vertical city in the sky that’s made to provide everything a person, or a family, could need. A home, a workspace, a place to eat, to exercise, to relax, to grow vegetables… it’s all there.

In Mr Zhang’s next (and currently halted) project, a much larger Sky City tower, he says: “In Sky City, you can find anything you need from cradle to grave except a crematorium.”

In a country plagued by pollution, much of Mr Zhang’s work is influenced by a desire for residents to breathe clean air while they live and work. People would live and work in the same building, living vertically in a sealed air-conditioned tower, so more land can be left in its natural state and residents would not need cars.

In this utopian vision, all living and working essentials are within walking distance, or a few flights of stairs.

Is THIS the future of work?

It seems far-fetched, and like every project, it has its critics. But it’s already happening. It’s worth reading more about the Sky City masterplan and Mr Zhang’s vision in the full report, here. It might just dent your idea of a Google-esque beanbag future.

What do you think?

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