Nanjing Greenland Financial Center

By Bryan • china, photography, urban planning • 14 May 2008

Greenland Center from Zhujiang Road

I walk past the 375 million dollar Greenland Financial Center development about three or four times a week and have been around since ground was first broken on this behemouth back in 2004. Flash-forward to 2008 and construction is zooming along with the first outer glass plates being added. I have somewhat of an obsession with this particular building. Part of it originating from the fact that it is in Nanjing, it is in my neighborhood, and I have been following it for awhile. It is quite amazing to see this thing going up, and honestly, the design isn’t half bad – I mean, it’s no Jinling Tower (an incredible concept designed as a larger twin to the current Jinling Hotel in Nanjing…now cancelled) but I would say it could hold it’s own relative to the general monotony of China’s provincial cities. The other half stems from the thought that I find this block absolutely bizarre. It’s mere existence is at times boggling.

  • Location – seems counterintuitive to create another shopping-commecial district in between two existing centers (Hunan Road and Xinjiekou) and just above an emerging commercial district (Zhujiang Road). My guess is the long term thinking is the creation of a super-commercial district stretching from Xinjikou in the south, all they way up to Hunan Road, perhaps even including the large mall development on Zhongshan Bei Lu, near San Pai Lou.
  • It is huge – not just in absolute terms (topping off at 450m) but in relative terms – the surrounding construction doesn’t even approach 100m. This is something would be at home in Xinjiekou, but appears incredibly out of place in Gulou – not to mention the clash with the architectually pleasing drum tower. Think the First Canadian Place in downtown Prince George.
  • Demand – I don’t have the statistics and I don’t know the right people to discuss these things with…all I have is my eyes…and I see one completely empty high rise in Xinjiekou, with another half finished directly across from it. I see three brand new large department stores on Zhujiang Lu (the new Golden Eagle, Rock City and the New World Center) and some BIG foundations being dug between Zhujiang Lu and the Gulou hospital. I’m seeing lots of people, but I’m not seeing the demand that justifies this kind of construction.

So what do I think? I don’t know. I just can speculate and some of my speculation is based on the position of Nanjing as a provincial city. A provincial city living in the shadow of Shanghai which means it is often bypassed by major companies/corporations who favor the more accessible Shanghai as a base for regional/national operations. Prestige and power play significant roles. Construction of such a large entity will clearly provide Nanjing with a skyline and bragging rights. This is quite evident in the advertisments for the Greenland tower which often situate the tower within a fictitious western skyline or surrounded by well-known (and smaller) urban landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower and Empire State Building.

Nanjing Map

It could also be an attempt to solidify land rights. Land is a public item in China,controlled by the government. The ambiguity lies in which branch of the government controls it (municipal, provincial or central) and becomes even more convoluted with one consideres that state-owned-enterprises and Danwei, or Units (hospitals, universities, post-office etc.) also control large amounts of land. Better chuck the PLA and the People’s Armed Police in there for fun as well. The more the merrier! The land-use right has been commodified, which allows these bodies to sell the use, but not the ownership of the land, on the open market. Municipal governments often clash with various other government units in an effort to control land within their jurisdiction as more land equals more land-use sales which apparently are now the major source of revenue for local governments, more so that central government funding. Land control is important, possibly the most important aspect of urban politics in China and if you have something big and expensive sitting on your land, it is going to be harder for someone to take it from you.

Again though, I don’t know who ‘owns’ the land that the Greenland Plaza is being constructed on.

From Gulou Post Office

Some information regarding the Greenland Plaza:

The form of the Nanjing Greenland Financial Center was derived from three central elements of the rich history of Nanjing: the Yangtze River which flows through the city, the lush, green garden landscape and the dragon and column iconography prevalent in Chinese culture.
The central core of the tower is hugged by two interlocking forms that recall the image of China’s ‘dancing dragons.’ The tower’s exterior wall features angled panes of glass in staggered modules that suggest scales. Vertical and horizontal seams separate the textured glass surfaces, metaphorically relating to the clear water of the Yangtze River separating the great dragon forms.

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6 Responses

  1. Christina WH

    Shanghai Greenland Group Co. invested this tallest building in Nanjing Jiangsu. They have enough money to take this risk to build a super-commercial skyscraper at a not commercial location. Part of the reason is they are just trying to show their ambition. Lots of companies believe that doing “—-est” thing is a short cut to be successful instantaneously. But pathetically, there’re too many “—-est” which breaks the economic balance.
    Should we say this kind of tragedies only happen in Nanjing or the whole China? Or maybe the whole world?

  2. I would say such prestige projects are far more common within developing world (I will include China within that group for this argument). 1920’s USA saw a lot of these projects as well – a sign of great economic times…but many fell met disasterous endings come 1929.

    To get something this big going up in say, Canada or the US, the developer would have to provide rock-hard evidence to private investors that this building will turn a profit. I am assuming that Shanghai Greenland Group is a SOE development company? If so, that would easily explain their financial ability to fund this building with little concern for loss/profit.

    I am under the impression that real estate developers here can do essentially anything they please. With little red tape and effectively unlimited funding they can create a mini-Manhattan in less than a year. A lot of it motivated by glamor and a ‘build it and they will come’ mandate – although there doesn’t seem to be much thought into who is going to occupy.

    Take in point the new developments south of 1912 across from the foreign bookstore. There is a Watson’s there now, along with a new Starbucks (all on the first floor) – but go any higher and it is full of empty space and a number of super-struggling shops.

  3. Christina WH

    I agree the points you made. But I’m still a little confused, actually I’ve been curious about this for a long time…It’s said labor force creates value. Those real estate companies are producing more buildings, so they’re creating chances for the builders and the workers in their suppliers’ companies to produce labor force, which means those real estate companies are actually creating values. The fact also proved that people who work in this area got better life. Without those working opportunities, low educational builders won’t have money to buy food. How can we explain this?
    Sorry if I take too much of your time… ^_^

  4. Honestly, I have a poor economics background (nor am I privy to essential information) so I’m probably not the best person for this analysis.

    I agree that value is created by the development companies in terms of jobs. I view these jobs as an importance source of stability for a huge floating migrant population, however, given that wages are very low, I dont’ view this value as being very high. The Greenland Center is a 375 million dollar project (probably higher) and labor expenses probably represent a small fraction of the total cost.

    Basically though, I just see it as a supply and demand issue. Right now, I am seeing a MASSIVE supply of office/tower space – alot of it empty. Demand side…I don’t know…maybe the demand is high (I don’t have the numbers or know the right people), but the low occupancy that I tend to see doesn’t support this.

    Too much supply will generally cause decrease in rent prices as landlords struggle to attract occupants – this leads to less revenue for the landlords which impact their ability to repay the loan used to finance the building in the first place. As they struggle to repay, they might choose to sell – if many choose to sell, this will really mess with land values. The local governments here earn much of their operating budgets via sales of land use rights – not funding from Beijing…if land-use prices fall, so does government revenue and power.

    But I don’t know the statistics for commecial rent prices – it is probably really high – just like residential prices – but we also know that residential prices are somewhat manipulated because many apartments are bought and not used with one owner in control of dozens of empty flats – thus creating a high demand when there shouldn’t be. Could commercial space suffer from the same manipulation?

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