Not Built to Last: Is China Overusing the Wrecking Ball?
The ever-changing urban landscape has become a common scene in many Chinese cities. According to the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, China is constructing over 2 billion new square meters (21.5 billion square feet) every year, gobbling up some 40% of the world’s total cement and steel for buildings whose average lifespan is estimated at only 25 to 30 years, despite the fact that Chinese law requires them to last for 50 to 100. “These figures should definitely raise a red flag,” says Zheng Shiling, a professor of architecture at Tongji University in Shanghai. “Clearly, many of those buildings didn’t have to be replaced because of their bad quality, but rather owing to a prevalent mindset among decision makers that new things are always better than the old.” (See pictures of the making of modern China.)
Tearing down buildings before their time has a long history in China. During the mayhem of the Cultural Revolution, countless historic buildings, including the oldest temple of Confucius, were destroyed as Red Guards declared their relentless disdain for the past. “Whenever a new emperor was enthroned, he would try to wipe out all remnants of previous dynasties,” Zhuang Weimin, director of the Architectural Design and Research Institute at Tsinghua University, recently told the state-run People’s Daily. “This kind of belief still very much influences our government officials today.”
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