Modern cities are forcing skyscrapers to evolve

Chicago, home of the skyscraper. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Slick, glassy skyscrapers cast their shadows over the streets and spaces of cities all over the world. These behemoths are notoriously inefficient: glass exteriors trap the sun’s rays during summer and haemorrhage heat throughout the winter, requiring year-round air conditioning and climate control. Dark interiors necessitate vast arrays of bright lighting, while hundreds of computers whirr 24 hours, consuming even more electricity.

At a time when energy efficiency is a matter of global significance, it’s worth considering how these dark, glass giants came to dominate the urban landscape – and how we can build to fix these flaws in the future. In fact, the modern skyscraper emerged from an architectural evolution, which started with the construction of Chicago’s tall office buildings during the 1880s.

UN building in New York. Image: United Nations Photo/Flickr/creative commons.

The iconic “International Style” skyscraper – a prismatic glass surface wrapped around a central service core – was envisioned during the 1920s and 1930s, by German architects who fled to America from Germany – notably Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe. It was first built in America during the 1950s – the UN Building (1952), Lever House (1954) and the Seagram Tower (1958) of New York are seminal dark glass-walled office buildings, which spawned countless imitators worldwide, until the 1980s.

21st-century style icon

Although the limitations of the International Style became obvious in the late 20th century, when governments implemented stricter energy standards, glass still predominates as we approach 2020. Today’s office skyscrapers, particularly those seen in business districts in the Middle and Far East, use double skin facades – an outer skin of glass wrapping around the real building within – to maintain glassiness and permit daylight, while improving insulation and resistance to solar gain.

Energy-saving features, such as efficient lighting and energy-regenerating elevators are now normal. Trigeneration (heating-cooling-power plants) hum efficiently in the basements, while solar shading and openable windows are sometimes used to reduce air conditioning loads. Green planting is appearing in lobbies and sky gardens, fed by captured rainwater.

The way that cities and workplaces are developing demands even greater change. In an age of rising urbanisation, the American idyll of a compact high-rise business district, surrounded by a vast residential suburban sprawl served by freeways and shopping malls is simply not compatible with the land resources, population, energy and transport requirements of 21st-century cities.

To cope with the pressures of dynamic mass-transit systems and rising land values, urban citizens must grow accustomed to living – as well as working – in high-rise developments, clustered around key transport nodes.

La Defénse, Paris’ high-rise quarter. Image: IceNineJon/Flickr/creative commons.

Different cities are responding to these challenges in different ways. London has a policy of clustering tall buildings in groups around key rail stations, maintaining clear view lines in between. These clusters become magnets for additional office and residential towers.

Paris excludes skyscrapers from its centre altogether, limiting them to districts such as La Defense, at the outskirts of the city. Meanwhile, China has built eerie “ghost cities”: entire districts of high-rise buildings, constructed prior to the population moving in.


Mixed-use futures

The way that people use skyscrapers is also changing. For one thing, the internet has reduced the demand for conventional offices. The current trend is for large trading floors, or landscaped office interiors with multi-screen workstations, hot-desking – and meetings held in daylit break-out spaces. There is less need for huge walls of glass. For daylight, there is a return to large glazed windows set in an insulating wall.

Among small businesses, there’s a demand for “incubator” offices, often in converted warehouses. Employees can work from home using video conferencing and virtual networks. Indeed, many redundant office buildings of the 20th century are already converted to residential uses, such as Metro Central and the Southbank Tower in London.

Another major trend is the mixed-use skyscraper, where parking, dining, transport, hotel, offices, social sky-parks, residences, colleges, health and leisure centres are stacked vertically into one single footprint, with food, beverage and retail outlets at ground level. This is becoming the norm in the newest tall buildings, especially in Japan and China.

Mixed-use towers make the best use of land and are more resilient to economic shocks because the rental income comes from lots of different sources – and the flows of people are balanced, instead of peaking twice daily. The idea started in Chicago in 1969, developed in China, and now appears in most global mega-cities. Examples include the London Shard, the Shanghai tower, PS100 (Singapore), Hysan Place (Hong Kong) and the proposed development at 470 11th Ave (New York).

Shanghai Tower. Image: andymiccone/Flickr/creative commons.

New techniques of construction such as ultra-stiff service cores, continuous concrete casting, outriggers, lattice frames and seismic damping systems have made it possible to build very tall. Dubai’s Burj Khalifa exceeds 800 metres, and Jeddah’s Kingdom Tower will reach to 1,000 metres when it’s finished.

The fifth generation emerges

Yet as we look forwards, the most significant trend will not be extravagant height – but energy efficiency. The skyscrapers of the future are those that architects call “fifth generation”, which aim for a carbon-neutral footprint, such as Melbourne’s Ch3, One Bligh Street, Sydney and One Angel Square, Manchester.

These exceptional new towers include a variety of eco-friendly innovations, such as renewable energy generation, solar shading and double-skin facades with natural ventilation. They will also feature greater thermal mass, landscaped atriums, underground heat storage, water catchment, recycling, linear induction elevators, as well as vertical urban farms, green planting, and facades and roofs that generate electricity.

The future cannot be found in a small number of freakishly tall designs. Rather, it is in the vast number of efficient, versatile skyscrapers, which will be essential to cope with growing urban populations and keep cities running.The Conversation

David Nicholson-Cole is assistant professor in architecture at the University of Nottingham.

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

 
 
 
 

CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at citymonitor.ai.

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit citymonitor.ai going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.


As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.