Architecture

How Chongqing Built a City in the Sky

Raffles City Chongqing, the southwestern Chinese city's newest megaproject, may change how skyscrapers of the future are designed

Eight gently arcing high-rises stand at the confluence of Chongqing’s Jialing and Yangtze rivers: another routine entry in China’s construction boom. But it’s what’s placed atop four of them, like a space-age Stonehenge, that’s causing a stir. A 300-metre sky bridge, dubbed Crystal, connects the towers some 40 floors above ground. This complex is the Raffles City Chongqing, a megaproject worth the headlines.

Designed by architect Moshe Safdie and developed by Singapore real estate group CapitaLand, the complex is the Lion City’s largest-ever development in China, clocking in at RMB24 billion (HK$26.8 billion). Offices, apartments and hotels are already open for business, while Chongqing’s largest mega-mall pulled in almost a million visitors on its opening weekend last autumn. As the project’s final phase, Crystal is slated for completion this year and will house an all-glass viewing deck open to the public.

The building comes five years after President Xi Jinping called for an end to ‘weird-looking’ buildings. A case in point: Beijing’s CCTV Tower, dubbed ‘Big Pants’ for the fact that its design resembles a giant pair of trousers. But despite its own unusual look, Raffles City Chongqing has been commended for its environmentally conscious design and nods to the region’s waterborne transportation – it’s intended as a homage to the sails of a traditional trading junk. That said, it doesn’t exactly look original: Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands, another Safdie creation, performs much the same architectural balancing act.

What’s significant about the sky bridge is how it might herald a solution to urban congestion in megacities. When skyscrapers can’t get any higher, Safdie has suggested that they can grow by spreading above ground. At Raffles City Chongqing, you can move between the towers without having to descend to the earth. Depending on who you ask, that sounds very brilliant or very scary. Either way, China’s latest trophy project is looking a lot like the future of humanity.

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