Guangzhou's New CBD, A Sneak Preview...

Guangzhou, the capital of China's southern Guangdong Province is undergoing an unprecedented construction boom.

And during these difficult economic times I had no idea that our neighbours to the north have been quietly and busily rebuilding their Guangzhou city centre. Except it's not really in Guangzhou any more. It's somewhere else. Actually, its closer the manufacturing hub of Panyu than it is to Guangzhou. The exact location of the city's new CBD is in Zhujiang New City, to be precise. But none of that matters at all. What matters is that land is plentiful and abundant at the new site. The open spaces earmarked for development are green and wide. Perfect, in fact, for pouring fresh concrete all over.

China is reinventing itself at break-neck speed, so it needs shiny towers of glass and steel to accommodate it's new corporate elite. It's a cliche to say it, but a mega-city is in the making. And in the wake of China's accession to the WTO in 2005, Guangzhou aspires to making sure it's door is open to every major global corporation who wants to set up shop in the Pearl River Delta. It wants to be up there as a commercial hub with Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. It has designs on the world stage too, hoping one day to be in the same league as, even surpass, New York, Frankfurt, London or Tokyo.

But Guangzhou's new CBD needs good transport links too. And the high speed rail link that will join the city to Hong Kong is scheduled to be completed in 2014. The spangly new rail link is controversial because of it's exorbitantly huge projected costs, (HK$1.50 per micron of railway track according to Hemlock). And its also a political hot potato because the future terminus of the High Speed Rail Link lies in Shibi, (near Zhujiang), a full forty-five minute taxi-ride away from Guangzhou's current CBD in Tianhe. The current commercial heart of Guangzhou in Tianhe is to known to most travelers in Southern China for it's 'Guangzhou East' railway station. Trains from here can take you to Hong Kong in under two hours. And so the argument goes something like, "What's the point of building a multi-billion dollar High Speed Rail Link if once you arrive at you arrive at your destination you still have to catch a forty-five minute cab ride to the city centre? It makes no sense at all, as it the future journey time will match the current journey time, so what's the point of building it?"

But the fact is that most people don't realize the centre of Guangzhou really is shifting to the south. And its getting closer Hong Kong. Maybe this is what 'Pearl River Delta integration' is all about? In reality, when the new CBD at Zhujiang City is fully up and running, business types will no longer need to catch that forty-five minute cab ride up to Tianhe. All the action will be at the new CBD at Zhujiang. The tatty buildings of Tianhe that were built in the 80s and 90s and the businesses located there will be marginalized. London tried to do it with the 'Docklands' and Paris succeeded with 'La Defense'. And I'm sure there are plenty more other examples of cities around the world who have tried relocating their CBD, successfully or not.

But this post was never supposed to be a lesson in urban geography. It was supposed to be about an office building which is still under construction in the new CBD. This building's walls curve gracefully inward, and it's architects make of it the grand claim that when it is fully built it will be "the most energy efficient supertall tower ever built".

The Pearl River Tower is designed by an American archtect firm, Skidmore, Owings & Merril (SOM.com). The curved outer walls will cleverly funnel the prevailing wind inwards. Not only is this for natural air conditioning, but also for power generation, as wind turbines will be incorporated into the tower's structure. The building will also integrate solar panels onto it's exterior. And there's more, but I'm not going to go into it here.

For those who are really nterested in 'green buildings', here's a link to the BBC's Roger Harrabin's blog post about the Pearl River Tower which goes into all the miniutae of the cutting-edge environmental architecture used in the tower's design. SOM.com's own website call it 'Net Zero Energy Design'.

For the record, these photos were taken on Tuesday, 3rd November 2009.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

All images and text © Alex Hofford / Image Solutions Ltd. 2011 | Web design in Hong Kong by Ugli © 2011