China is building a 1,000-foot-long 'sidescraper' in the sky — and it may reveal a troubling trend

Safdie ArchitectsA rendering of the megaproject Raffles City in Chongqing, China.

As urban populations grow, cities have experienced a boom in megadevelopments.

In Chongqing, China, one of the city’s latest and largest megaprojects is Raffles City, an under-construction development with eight skyscrapers, plus a horizontal ninth tower that Curbed has dubbed a “sidescraper.”

Resembling a tube, the roughly 1,000-foot-long building includes a swimming pool, an observatory deck, and retail space lying across four other skyscrapers. The complex is set to be complete by 2020.

The development is part of a larger trend. In the past several years, cities across the world have built fancy megaprojects, mainly aimed at the wealthy. But these types of luxury developments can take the place of affordable housing, especially in overcrowded cities. As the Urban Institute notes, developers see big returns from large, high-priced projects, giving them little incentive to build more equitable, lower-priced housing.

Take a look below.

Spanning 8.8 million square feet, Raffles City Chongqing will include a total of eight skyscrapers when complete.

CapitaLandA rendering of Raffles City in Chongqing, China.

Source: Safdie Architects

Developers proposed Raffles City Chongqing in 2011, and construction began in 2015. So far, six towers are complete.

Safdie ArchitectsAn aerial view of Raffles City.

Upscale apartments, hotel rooms, a greenhouse, swimming pools, and retail space will fill these towers.

Safdie Architects

The giant sky bridge — or “sidescraper” — is set to open next year.

Safdie Architects

With a length of 985 feet, the Conservatory will be longer than Singapore’s tallest building laid on its side.

Source: CapitaLand

Called the Conservatory, the cylindrical structure will house a giant swimming pool, an observatory deck, and retail spaces.


The $US3.6 billion megaproject features a sprawling space with shops as well.

Safdie Architects

The same design firm, Safdie Architects, is behind Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands hotel, completed in 2011.

Getty ImagesThe Marina Bay Sands hotel and SkyPark in Singapore.

The waterfront development serves as a luxury hotel and apartment complex.

Getty Images/AFP

On one end of Marina Bay Sands’ “sidescraper,” guests and residents can swim in an infinity pool overlooking the city.

Getty Images

The interior is just as glamorous.

Marina Bay Sands frequently hosts exclusive events, including fashion shows.

Getty Images

Luxury skyscrapers in cities are nothing new.

Getty ImagesMarina Bay Sands.

But in recent years, some of the world’s most populated metros — like New York City, Manila, Beijing, and London — have embarked on ritzy megaprojects full of high-rises.

Meanwhile, gaps between the rich and poor continue to grow in these cities.

Getty ImagesMarina Bay Sands.

In New York — one of the world’s most economically diverse cities — developers are building a $US20 billion neighbourhood across 28 acres of Manhattan’s west side. Called Hudson Yards, it includes towers with multimillion-dollar condos, upscale restaurants and shops, and event spaces.

Related/OxfordA view of Hudson Yards from across the Hudson River in New York.

By its completion in 2024, the ritzy megaproject will also feature about 14 acres of outdoor public space.

Across the pond, London is working on the $US16.5 billion Battersea Power Station development, featuring luxury apartments, hotels, roof gardens, parks, and offices.

Getty ImagesConstruction cranes over the Battersea Power Station development in November.

Source: Business Insider, The Guardian

It is one of the most expensive megaprojects in the city’s history.

The Battersea Power Station Development CompanyA show apartment designed by Frank Gehry at the Battersea Power Station development.

Manila is building a megaproject that’s almost as expensive, at $US15 billion: Entertainment City. Imagined as the Philippines’ Las Vegas, the development will have an array of casinos as well as luxury hotels and apartment units when complete.

Entertainment City ManilaA rendering of Entertainment City in Manila.

The project’s exact timeline is uncertain.

Source: Entertainment City Manila

Outside Beijing, the Chinese city Tianjin has struggled to fill its luxury residential towers with people who can afford the units.

Source: Bloomberg

At Marina Bay Sands, the sidescraper’s viewing deck is open to the public — but the rest of the complex is not.

Getty Images

“In these dense cities like Chongqing there’s no room for big public parks [on the ground], so we have to lift them into the sky,” Raffles City’s lead architect, Moshe Safdie, told The Guardian.

Safdie ArchitectsAn aerial view of Marina Bay Sands.

Source: The Guardian

While the suspended viewing deck could serve as a makeshift public park, it’s still unlikely that the complex and the larger project will address Chongqing’s affordable-housing pinch.

As Business Insider’s Linette Lopez has noted, Chongqing’s income limits on affordable housing could be too high, making it possible for wealthier residents to snap up low-priced units.

Chongqing expects to have 3 million more people by 2030.

Getty ImagesThe Jiefangbei district in Chongqing.

Source: World Population Review

However, because of their price and scale, luxury megaprojects usually do not serve most residents in overcrowded cities.

The projects often take the place of more affordable housing, because developers have trouble producing enough revenue from rent to pay returns to investors.

Getty ImagesMarina Bay Sands

Source: Urban Institute

Correction (July 19, 2018): A previous version of this story misstated that Chongqing is in Singapore. It is a city in China.

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