Postcard from... Beijing



China has another superlative to add to its growing collection – the world’s biggest building.

The New Century Global Centre has opened for business in the Sichuan provincial capital Chengdu. It’s not the tallest building, but the centre is absolutely massive, the  largest free-standing building in the world, capable of housing 20 Sydney Opera Houses, and almost three times the size of the Pentagon in Washington.

The monster structure is 500 metres long, 400 metres wide and 100 metres high, and sprawls over 1.7 million square metres in an area of Chengdu, the Tianfu New District, that is being constructed as part of the city’s plans to boost its international profile. Chicago architects Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill have been given the task of building the 1.3 square kilometre sustainable city that will host the new building, while British architect Zaha Hadid built the Chengdu Contemporary Arts Centre nearby.

It has offices, hotels, theatres, shopping malls, a Mediterranean village and a water park called Paradise Island. For a long time, Chengdu’s biggest selling point was the panda bear beloved as China’s national  symbol, which lives in the  countryside around the city.

But these days the city  authorities love to follow up the panda stories with tales of its stated ambition of becoming the Silicon Valley of China. Anything between half and two thirds of the iPads sold worldwide are  assembled in Chengdu, while the computer giant Intel makes up to half of its chips in the city.