Does Trump Tower represent the future of urban development?

No honestly, hear us out. Image: Getty.

George Washington had Mount Vernon. Thomas Jefferson had Monticello. Now President-elect Donald Trump has his eponymous Manhattan skyscraper, Trump Tower. Our first and third presidents saw their plantations as both productive and symbolic of American identity that was rooted in the land itself. President-elect Trump looks out from his tower onto a dense, dynamic cityscape that represents American capitalism.

Washington lavished huge amounts of attention and money on building and furnishing Mount Vernon. Jefferson spent practically his entire adult life constructing, expanding and renovating Monticello. Trump Tower is loaded with polished metal and stone and clad in reflective glass. Will it stand just for the questionable taste of the one percent, or could it stimulate more creative, sustainable approaches to urban development?

Initially, this might sound far-fetched. After all, Donald Trump, during the recent presidential campaign, refuted many of the environmental movement’s tenets, most notably climate change. Commentators have worried that he will, at best, fail to provide leadership on environmental issues and, at worst, embolden polluters and climate change deniers.

But especially now that we know that Trump’s wife and son, Barron, will continue to reside in Manhattan, the president-elect is at least bringing attention to the urban tower as a residential building type. And some architects and urbanists believe that the skyscraper offers one important solution to climate issues.

Yes, building and operating tall buildings require massive amounts of energy. But skyscrapers can also provide adequate housing in high-demand areas, reduce energy use and pollution when built over transportation hubs and preserve green space and agricultural land through their relatively small footprints.

Challenges in skyscraper design

Early skyscrapers – tall office buildings erected before World War I – were less harmful to the environment than their successors.

Capitalising on a number of late 19th-century technological advances, they used iron and steel structural frames and, eventually, electric lighting and elevators. Early skyscrapers also employed “passive” (nonmechanical) methods for cooling and illumination, such as functioning windows that were deeply set into the walls so that they were shaded from the summer sun. Because they sometimes had usable roof gardens and most desks were close to windows, the first skyscrapers offered comfortable work environments while inspiring the public.

Yet skyscrapers terrified others. Many worried they would collapse. They soared over passersby, and their sheer size could be oppressive.

For designers, this created challenges. As the famed Chicago architect Louis Sullivan put it in 1896:

“How shall we impart to this sterile pile, this crude, harsh, brutal agglomeration, this stark, staring exclamation of eternal strife, the graciousness of those higher forms of sensibility and culture that rest on the lower and fiercer passions?”

Sullivan called for nothing less than imparting values to the skyscraper that were more typically attached to the home, such as beauty and tranquility. To tackle the challenge of skyscraper design, architects borrowed forms from medieval cathedrals, churches and mercantile buildings to express the dynamism of the soaring building and the metropolis surrounding it.


Besides design challenges, there have been other issues skyscrapers have had to contend with. There’s the fire danger they pose, since their height far exceeds that of the tallest firetruck ladder. As it became common in the post-war period to clad skyscrapers completely in glass, they required huge amounts of energy to heat and cool. And on 9/11, terrorism became a new, hitherto unimaginable consequence of skyscraper building.

Despite their drawbacks, skyscrapers embody the excitement of urban life, a quality that artist John Marin captured in his prints and watercolors of the Woolworth Building in 1913. Tall office buildings also encourage efficiency and productivity by putting workers in proximity to one another. Residential skyscrapers cut down on commute times and urban sprawl. And as designers are now demonstrating, skyscrapers have the potential not only to generate their own power but to contribute to the power supply of cities.

For these reasons, the skyscraper is here to stay. Of the 78 1,000-foot-plus skyscrapers in the world, 58 were built since 2000.

Of these, only four are in the U.S., where the Great Recession and the collapse of the real estate market slowed their construction. Nonetheless, one of the four – One World Trade Center – was named one of the world’s “Best Tall Buildings” by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in 2015. Also topping the list are Milan’s Bosco Verticale and the Burj Mohammed Bin Rashid Tower in Abu Dhabi.

The Skyscraper Museum in New York City has even charted the recent spread of the Super-Slenders: tall and slim apartment buildings that fit onto tight urban plots to offer fabulous views.

New directions

Some of the most unique advances in skyscraper construction come from the use of a “new” material: wood.

Wood may offer several advantages over metal construction. Most notably, it’s a renewable material. And new ways of engineering wood, like laminating it, also promise to make it as durable and strong as steel and lighter than concrete, which makes it less expensive to transport to building sites. Proponents of wood argue that substantial timber construction is actually more fire resistant than steel.

Today fantastic wood skyscraper projects abound, including a 100-story tower for London nicknamed “The Splinter.” The tallest wood building in the world, the Brock Commons at the University of British Columbia rises 18 stories and is set for completion in May 2017.

While wood-based skyscraper projects attempt to reduce the energy used for skyscraper construction, other projects seek to reduce the energy used to heat and cool tall buildings.

The Pearl River Tower (left): surprising environmentally friendly. Image: Getty.

For example, the Pearl River Tower in Guangzhou, China, is shaped so that the winds swirling around it churn two turbines that produce energy for the building.

Making a tower an energy producer is one way of dealing with the excessive energy consumption – always a concern with skyscrapers. The Gensler architecture firm’s Tower at PNC Plaza in Pittsburgh, completed last year, confronted this challenge. Among its green innovations is the tower’s “breathing” façade, a system that uses outside air to heat and cool the building – unlike the sealed skyscrapers of the mid-20th century that shut out the natural environment.

Trump Tower, with its gaudy use of expensive materials, represents the skyscraper’s dilemma. If it can be made energy efficient, then it may provide sustainable living and working space for urbanites who will be able to avoid lengthy, polluting car commutes, as well as urban sprawl. But it can be more than a lofty perch for the rich to conduct business or live glamorously only once its manifest environmental drawbacks are addressed. The Conversation

Kevin D. Murphy is Andrew W Mellon Chair in the Humanities and professor and chair of history of art at Vanderbilt University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.


So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?


And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.