New heights

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As you may expect from someone working for an organisation focused on tall buildings, the view from my apartment is one of the best in the world.

Looking south from the balcony of my 42nd floor apartment in Bertrand Goldberg’s famous Marina City towers in Chicago, I see an unmatched 100 years of tall building architecture. Pretty much every decade, architectural style and theory and world renowned architect is represented in this permanent exhibition of skyscrapers; scale 1:1.

But one thing that is missing in this view are cranes. Most likely the timeline of tall buildings in Chicago will show a gap for the early 2010s, just like it has one between 1935 and 1960, and one during the better half on the 1990s. Indeed, we predict that out of the 100 tallest buildings to be completed in 2011, 34 will be standing in the Middle East and 27 in China. The United States will be listed only twice.


These numbers tell you a couple of things. First of all, there still is a lot of activity going on in the Middle East, and second, tall building architecture is developing in countries with no tall building history, suggesting that my view will eventually transform from an exposition into a museum.

A recent theme in the world of tall buildings is how strategies can help to create an awareness of some of the negative impacts which our lifestyles and consumption patterns have on the environment.

Some buildings make a big, visible statement, such as incorporating wind turbines in the design and putting trees on roof tops. As the monetary gains of these features appear to be hard to translate into actual numbers, the danger is that future generations might judge this as simply a fashion statement. But there are also a number of less sexy strategies out there which are holistic, smart and sensible.

The Illinois Institute of Technology, where the office of the CTBUH is based, is well known for its architectural programs and welcomes a great number of Asian students.

Looking at the output of these students and various other academic tall building studios around the world, we see another emerging trend towards remarkably ‘open’ skins – as if these buildings are trying to open up to the city that surrounds them.

Looking at these developments, I think we are witnessing the birth of a tall building type which doesn’t just scrape the sky. Perhaps more in common with the already-familiar term groundscraper (as a building or podium that extends its horizontal connection with the ground), I see buildings that try to open up to the city on all levels.

Maybe in the future we will call these buildings cityscrapers or urbanscrapers.

I think this is a very positive development and I really hope that the students of today will be able to work within a culture of creativity in which they can realise their ideas as the architects of tomorrow.

About Jan Klerks Jan Klerks is communications manager at the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) and editor of the organization’s journal.

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