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Supertall buildings: a new dawn? Part four

Martin Pease | 06 Feb 2015 | Comments

A new build is always a positive sign, especially as many of the world’s economies make the slow but steady climb back into growth. But does the return of “supertall” buildings signal the start of something new? Experts from Atkins around the world share their insights.

By Martin Pease, vice president and senior practice director, architecture, North America

The number of people living in urban areas is increasing at an unprecedented pace. The world’s population is predicted to reach nine billion within the next 40 years and three-quarters of those people are expected to live in a city. This inevitably raises questions about how we meet the challenges that rapid urbanisation will bring and what this will do to the shape of our cities.

Looking at the skyline may be one way of answering this question. As optimism returns following the downturn in the economy, cranes are once again beginning to tower over many of the USA’s major urban areas. In New York, One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the country and indeed, in the Western Hemisphere, officially opened its doors in November 2014 after eight years of construction. The 541-metre tall structure stands on the site of the former twin towers, which were destroyed in the September 11 terrorist attacks. Another skyscraper of the same height promises to make its mark on this world renowned skyline in just a few years time.

The cost of land and limited space in cities like New York and Chicago have been driving construction upwards for a long time. But elsewhere in the country, there hasn’t been the same push. There is more land available, so the benefits of constructing a supertall structure don’t necessarily outweigh the costs. Buildings of this height are expensive to build and the floor space is reduced by the high servicing requirements. They’re also technically very difficult to get right.

And yet as the pressure on the infrastructure and the services that support a city increase over time there is value in exploring the ways in which supertall buildings can condense activity. Mixed-use developments bring a lot of people and functions together without necessarily expanding the size of an urban area. They are an efficient use of land as they increase the density of an area, and sustainability goals can be met if they’re supported by transport infrastructure.

There are undoubtedly economic benefits as well. Skyscrapers act as a focal point and an attraction, and have the potential to re-energise a city and encourage development in the surroundings areas.

Authorities right across the United States are already under pressure to invest in the infrastructure that will help create sustainable cities of the future. As more and more people move to urban areas tall buildings will certainly be part of their solution. But the desire and economic case for building above 300m on a widespread scale seem to be much further in the distance. We can make just as much of a statement by connecting communities through well designed structures and spaces that add to the appeal of a city and make it a great place to live, work and play.

See: Supertall buildings: a new dawn? Part three

See: Supertall buildings: a new dawn? Part two

See: Supertall buildings: a new dawn? Part one

See: The return of the supertall