While its gargantuan size sets it apart, the most interesting fact about the New Century Global Centre in Chengdu, China, the world’s biggest freestanding structure, may be the fact that it took less than 18 months from construction start to building opening.

The giant 18-storey glass and steel frame structure has 1.76 million square metres of floor space and is half a kilometre long, 400 metres wide and more than 100 metres tall. To give some sense of the scale of the building, its developer proudly boasts that you could fit more than 20 Sydney Opera Houses inside. The New Century Global Centre, of course, doesn’t have quite the same class.

The facilities themselves include a 14-screen IMAX theatre, two five-star hotels, a shopping village, an Olympic-sized ice rink and a long stretch of offices.

Wandering past a vast aquarium wall, visitors eventually arrive at a 400-metre long manufactured coastline, where the largest artificial waves in the world break in front of the longest LED screen in the world. China’s fourth-largest city may have problems with smog and be 620 miles from the coast, but the appeal of such faux opulence could still be questionable.

Such measures may be impressive on the surface, but they are not unique.

“We have borrowed a Japanese technique,” guide Liu Xun told the Sydney Morning Herald. “There is an artificial sun that shines 24 hours a day and allows for a comfortable temperature.”

The structure, which is nearly 500,000 square feet larger than the building it beat out to take the crown as the world’s largest – Dubai’s International Airport Terminal 3 – puts the neighbouring arts centre by acclaimed architect Zaha Hadid literally in the shade.

New Century City Art Centre

New Century City Art Centre by Zaha Hadid

Hadid’s building, no small potatoes itself at 140,000 square metres, will house three auditoria, an art museum, an exhibition centre, a conference centre, a learning centre, bars, restaurants and shops. The new building is distinguished by its aerodynamic geometry and flexible spaces.

The concept, Hadid says, “is to use the most advanced architectural and engineering technologies to create a visually striking new landmark.”

Hadid understands how to make mega-buildings subtle, creating a form that undulates in consonance with the surrounding landscape. Big can be beautiful, but as the New Century Global Centre shows, it doesn’t necessarily mean better.

The Global Centre is hardly the only mega-building project in China. A few hundred kilometres away in Changsha, the Sky City project will feature the world’s tallest skyscraper, surpassing the Burj Khalifa in Dubai by 30 feet, and it seems that the structural battle of the ‘superbuildings’ will continue between these two nations.

Just this year, Dubai has inaugurated the world’s biggest natural flower garden, the world’s tallest hotel and the world’s tallest twisted tower. On top of – or below – these accomplishments, China is preparing to open a ‘groundscraper’ cave hotel that will extend 19 storeys beneath the earth.