Cities and Tall Buildings: 5 Views Rethinking the Challenges and Opportunities
Tall Buildings Week consists a series of articles, and media, focused on the draft Tall Buildings Policy put forward by the City of Cape Town, which will "provide guidance during the early phases of the design and planning process for tall buildings in Cape Town". The draft policy is available for perusal from 1 March 2012 at the City's 24 Sub-Council offices, municipal libraries and Planning District Offices; as well as here.
Even as a fierce proponent, of the need for Tall and Taller buildings in Cape Town, one should not be blind to the challenges and failures that other cities have experienced with Tall Buildings. These issues are not limited the skyline, but have a tangible and visible impact on the ground level for citizens. Do we have the resources, transport, bulk infrastructure, energy and overall capacity to support tall buildings? Our selection of ideas and views below give some fresh perspective on the way cities should approach tall buildings, and whether they should be encouraged or approved at all.
At a certain point – whether it's in downtown Austin or near a suburban Boston transit station – communities will exhaust the real estate that exists below building height limits imposed years ago for safety, continuity or aesthetics. And then what? Will people let go of these rules?
This sounds counter-intuitive, but taller buildings that are part of a walkable, transit-oriented community can actually help ease congestion. And there's no reason for these places to be ugly. Tall buildings that make the best neighbors don't feel like tall buildings at street level. They're wrapped there in lively retail, townhouse fronts or inviting public space.
This month New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff posed a startling question: "Does Manhattan have a future as a great metropolis?" City planners had just slapped a height restriction on a proposed tower whose peak would have hovered too close to the Chrysler and Empire State buildings' famous mid-town spires. The building's upper levels, they said, lacked the aesthetics to be viewed alongside those icons of the city's upper canopy. "The greater sadness here," said Ouroussoff, "has to do with New York and how the city sees itself." In his view the commission's stubborn willingness to dispense with the new in favor of the old threatens to turn America's most dynamic global city into "a museum piece" and "an urban mausoleum."
Architecture critic Inga Saffron challenges cities to shift focus and look beyond skyscraper fantasies and dreams of increased tourism in her TEDxPhilly talk — "Moving from The Grand Vision to The Grand Adjustment." Cities should instead work to improve and build amenities that make urban areas better places to live for existing dwellers. Public spaces should be a priority: upgrade transit systems, add bike lanes to all major roadways, increase walkability, create and maintain great parks and public plazas. Saffron believes that skyscrapers are not the only way to achieve the worthy goal of density and sustainability. To explain, she points to the success of mid-rise buildings in Philadelphia and posits that different cities need a range of densities. American cities must be flexible and make adjustments — an idea jokingly demonstrated in Saffron's opening skyscraper yoga poses.
At 72 floors high, London's newest skyscraper – The Shard – will tower above anything in south London. In fact, it will be the tallest building in Europe. Set for completion in late 2011, the glass sides are steadily creeping upwards, forever changing London's built environment in the process. This selection of photographs illustrate the building's current development stage.
And London isn't alone. According to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, there were 602 buildings higher than 200 metres around the world in Spring 2011, compared with 258 in 2000 and just 146 a decade before.
Very tall buildings thrust themselves into the public eye. Not surprisingly, therefore, skyscraper debates tend to be about the aesthetics or the psychology.