Saturday, October 1, 2011

Chinese Magic

chinese magic
No!  I have not rotated this photo in my computer. The building in the front is truly horizontal and was a part of ‘Lotus Riverside’, an unfinished residential complex in Shanghai, until 27th of June 2009.
(Photo Bloomberg)

In October 2008, Shanghai resident director of the American consulting firm Mckinsey, reported in his official report, that the quality of new construction in Beijing is so poor that a major office block in the central business district ‘Chaoyang’, is likely to collapse. His prediction came true, not in Beijing, but in one of the upmarket middle class residential district in Shanghai.

About a year ago, there was a major earthquake in Sichuan district of China, where many school buildings had collapsed, killing thousands of innocent schoolchildren. It was alleged that shoddy construction and use of iron bars instead of steel, were the main reasons. In a typical bureaucratic style, Sichuan Government had announced proudly that there were no sub-standard school buildings built in Sichuan, before the quake. This meant that the buildings collapsed because of quake only, and not because of any shoddy construction. In this incidence in Shanghai, there is nothing to put the blame on except for poor construction and is truly a wake up call.
There have been reports of major defects in some of the construction projects tom tommed by the Government. China sports museum built in 1990 has already developed cracks. A brand new highway bridge in Fenghuang, in western Hunan province, collapsed in 2007 even before its inauguration. A residential building had to be pulled down within six months because of shoddy construction.
Why these things are happening?  China is supposed to have toughest laws governing the construction industry. Yet these things happen almost regularly. According to Chinese civil engineering experts, the system is so corrupt that bye-passing the rules is the common practice. For example, Chinese laws stipulate use of 80 to 90 Kg of steel per square meter in high-rise buildings. In practice, 30 Kg is the norm. Another example is the number of foundation piles. Many a times, a building is made to stand on less number of piles.
Human greed makes developers and builders to cut cost. They can get away with it by forking money to buy an approval certificate. The strict rules remain in the books only.
I think, we have some important lessons to draw from this Chinese experience.  It is reported that Government of India plans to spend trillion Dollars on infrastructure in next few years. It would be of Paramount importance that effective controls on builders, architects and contractors are in place and are implemented fiercely before any work can be started.
5 July 2009

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