Future of tall buildings debated by Buro Happold

Doha skyline

The future of tall buildings was discussed at a seminar held at Buro Happold’s London office, with an audience of planners, architects, developers and policy makers.

The engineering firm’s seminar looked at the commercial viability of tall buildings and the role they play in creating the sustainable cities of the future globally.

A key theme was the transition from ‘townscape’ to ‘skyscape’. Group director Wolf Mangelsdorf started the morning’s debate by focusing on how vertical communities of the future will have to reproduce the urban public space of a city square.

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“We have to rethink the tall environment. Enabling usage mix, density and human interaction replicating civic life in less dense environments will be as important as the energy conscious modulation of the spaces they create,” he said.

Viewing the starting point of any tall building as being a 12-story high construction, Paul Finch, deputy chairman of the UK Design Council and chairman of Design Council Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), was concerned about the challenges to public space.

He asked: “If taller buildings are to become the rule rather than the exception, what are the implications for urbanism and public space?”

The importance of controlling the developments of future urban tall buildings that are adaptable to mixed use to maximise rents was the theme of speaker Richard Linnell, former head of investment management, London Portfolio at Land Securities Group plc.

‘‘Tall buildings will continue to play an important role in the functioning of major urban centres, providing that they can be specified and procured on an economic basis to ensure commercial viability.  Tall buildings should continue to command premium rents and will play an important role in providing variety and high quality accommodation.  The ability of tall buildings to provide residential and mixed use accommodation will improve their attractiveness to developers and investors in giving scope for risk management and diversification,” he said.

Linnell added that architects and engineers cannot afford to make the mistakes of the past covered by English philosopher Roger Scruton in his essay Why Beauty Matters’.  He continued: “When the public began to react against the brutal concrete style of the 1960s, architects simply replaced it with a new kind of junk: glass walls hung on steel frames with absurd details that don’t match.”

Guest speaker Lee Mallett, co-principal of Ideas for the Built Environment, chair and co-publisher/editor of Planning in London magazine, commented: “The future of tall buildings is mixed – not because there’s any doubt we need or desire them, but because they will have to combine several uses with public spaces if they are to improve our cities.”

The seminar referred to the ‘Tall Buildings Reference Book’ co-authored by Buro Happold’s Richard Marshall, specifically the chapter on New Technology and Materials. The chapter focuses on a fundamental shift in the way in which projects are designed and the use of more sophisticated analytical and drawing methods to facilitate inclined and twisting structures. This development mirrors the changes in construction technology, in particular more complex forms that can be fabricated through the extensive use of 3D modelling and detailing software, plus automated manufacturing methods.

Mangelsdorf’s presentation focused on growing green environments in the heart of vertical space to create living, breathing communities and reclaiming commercial city work towers for living space. “We need to re-think high rise residential living to bring back live to urban city centres that are empty after working hours. We can create living sanctuaries in the sky,” he asserted.

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