China's New Century Global Center
Perhaps the most striking sign of China's construction boom is the recent opening of the New Century Global Center in Chengdu. Most of the space inside of this building will be devoted to retail shopping, but the Center will also feature a university, offices, an IMAX Theatre, a luxury hotel, a mediterranean village, an artificial beach, a giant pirate ship, a skating rink and an amusement park. At 18,000,000 square feet, the building is about three timex the size of the Pentagon and could reportedly house 20 of Sydney's Opera House.
It is truly challenging to capture in photos just how massive this new mall is, but what is far more interesting is what this behemoth signifies for China and for the world as a whole.
Peak Suburban Appeal
Over the last few years the United States has begun to move away from the suburban ideal and interest in urban revival has started to pick up momentum. In many ways, China is lagging a bit behind in this trend and is currently experiencing a construction boom of unprecedented proportions. The suburban malls of the 1990's and 2000's are slowly losing their grasp on American society, but it seems that China is on a different page.
At a time when Chinese cities are languishing in off-the-charts pollution, many urban Chinese have no desire to be outside and experience the true essence of their cities. It is simply too hazardous to do so. So naturally, creating a city sized space indoors is one way to solve this problem. Rather than experiencing the urban grid, residents of Chengdu can literally hide from it. In fact, the building is so massive that while you are swimming in the 54,000 square foot self-contained ocean, you may even forget that you are inside.
Love it or Hate It?
Whatever this massive building is, it certainly has become a polarizing topic among the Chinese. No one can argue that the design and construction of this massive mall are not beautiful. One could live an entire life inside this structure and have nearly all of their needs met; one of the only things that the mall does not contain is a hospital, at least not yet! This new mall is the prime example of a one stop shop for everything.
But is this really a good thing?
I certainly don't think so. While it is true that even I enjoy a trip to the mall to escape the harsh New England winters, I think that as a society we can do a better job at creating authentic points of interests. Giant malls cannot continue to be the epicenter of leisure time because there are so many other things to do. I think that a truly beautiful thing would be for China's cities to clean up the air and create friendly, walkable and living cities that draw residents organically, not just with sales promotions. It seems to me that this mall is a giant step in the wrong direction.