Zhejiang Huamen Real Estate Group turns to London Eye-style design, after branding Kiss too expensive

Architect Will Alsop’s design for a £100m public project in Shanghai is facing the axe after the Chinese developer branded it too expensive.

Alsop’s Shanghai Kiss, billed as China’s answer to the London Eye, looks likely to be ignored by the Chinese developer Zhejiang Huamen Real Estate Group, in favour of a rival design, the Shanghai Star. The Star is understood to be cheaper and more like London’s Millennium Wheel.

The setback comes even though Alsop won a design competition held by the Shanghai authorities, which wanted an icon to put the city on the map in time for the 2010 World Expo. It also comes just months after Richard Rogers Partnership had its fingers burned when its 680 ha masterplan for the same event was taken over by the Chinese government’s design institutes.

Alsop’s team, which included engineer Arup, had been confident that the Kiss could be built because the Shanghai authorities liked the designs and were being persuaded it could stack up financially. But after it had won the design competition, its development partner lost out to Zhejiang Huamen in a separate developer competition.

The design has two towers, with moving viewing pods, that touch 250 m off the ground – higher than the Eiffel Tower. It also has a huge base that turns 360° every 12 hours.

Chris Carroll, Arup’s project director, said that the team had been confident its designs would be built.

He said: “The authorities liked our scheme – it was the only one that was significantly different. We presented two or three times to various technical panels and advisory boards and convinced them how all the rides would work. We were confident we could build it.

“We thought it was a formality but then we were told the developer would have to bid for the right to develop the site.”

Carroll added that the situation was all the more ironic because the mayor of Shanghai had started the design competition in the first place after he had regarded previous proposals for the site – all wheels – as too conservative.

The Kiss now has little chance of going ahead unless Zhejiang Huamen has a last-minute change of heart. Both Arup and Alsop have in the past month lobbied the developer.

Reg Marsh, Alsop & Partners’ managing partner, said that the team had the backing of the authorities because the Kiss would be a unique landmark for the city.

He added: “We’re negotiating with the developer but at the moment it looks likely they’ll go with the Shanghai Star.”

A source close to the project said the Kiss could be revived in another city if it was rejected in Shanghai.

But there has been some better news for Alsop in China: the firm seems to have won a major mixed-use scheme in Beijing, to be announced next month.