The rise of vertical living continues to generate global debate, with skyscrapers being criticised for overshadowing cities, vastly altering skylines, spoiling cultural heritage and igniting a depressive feeling of living in a concrete jungle.
But there is a visually beautiful side to developing skyscrapers and their surrounds – one that stands to be one of the most sustainable solutions to a rapidly growing population.
More than half of the world’s population lives in cities, a number that is predicted to increase to more than 75 per cent by 2050, leaving urban cities with an expectation to accommodate, while being resilient and adaptable.
“Quite frankly, the most sustainable thing you can do is build tall and dense and leave the rest to nature,” Gregg Pasquarelli, director of SHoP Architects/SHoP Construction in New York said.
“I know people love to think about solar panels, photovoltaics and other types of technology to be green but no… building a tall building is a thousand times more important than hanging solar panels all over your building.”
Buxton believes sky-high buildings will make the city “unliveable” due to the wind, shade and traffic caused by an abundance of towers.
Guy approved the 388-metre Australia 108 skyscraper by firm Fender Katsalidis Architects, which will be 91 metres taller than the Eureka Tower (also by Katsalidis) and is set to become the world’s 19th tallest building.
Founder of the firm and renowned architect Nonda Katsalidis says it is “buildings like this that define a city.”
Katsalidis is supportive of skyscrapers, but only if they are built correctly.
“I don’t mind tall buildings,” he said. “Not how high they are but how they hit the ground.”
He added that tall buildings must suit the needs of the residents of the cities in which they are found.
“Skylines are seen only from a distance but the ground is something we use everyday, we have to be careful to design places for people,” he said.
“Internationally, people are flocking to cities…they generate jobs, cultures and urbanism creating the great cities of the world.”
Pasquarelli, who lives in New York, reiterated the focus on the ground through the development of public space.
“There is something nice about having your own backyard or garden which is why public space is so important,” he said.
“So what it means is that the designs of public space and the design of how these super tall, super dense buildings come together has to be really thought about. It needs to be planned really well because it would be an unbearable world if we all just lived in packed skyscrapers next to each other without an incredible investment in that public space.”
At a recent Architecture Building and Planning (ABP) round table discussion in Melbourne, Pasquarelli joined experts from firms and educational institutions across Australia with building cost and modular technology driving the discussion.
“For architectural, I think the toughest thing is just the cost, “ Pasquarelli said. “Between the labour cost, material cost and being efficient. Smart and strategic – that is the biggest challenge.”
He said conditions are ripe for architects as people are willing to try new ideas and experiment with design.
“We’re no longer stuck in a kind of stylistic period, like a post-modern era where everything was neo historic, or even just a glass box…there is a vibrancy that’s going on in the design world right now,” he said.
While cost is important, Katsalidis also referred to the logistical challenges when building at tall heights.
“Tall buildings are dangerous to build,” he said.
“The higher we go the more difficult it is to get men and materials at those heights while respecting the ground. That is why prefabrication is so attractive.”
Katsalidis’ firm created a structural building technology – known as the UB® System – being used by Unitized Building, a modular construction company where buildings can be built in half the time of traditional construction.
While construction will change, the materials will remain the same.
“We will continue to use concrete,” he said.
“We will be using the same kind of building materials but will be assembling them differently and making much of it on the ground.”
When it comes to sustainability and density, both Katsalidis and Pasquarelli’s home towns are performing well, with New York a well-known success story and Melbourne routinely being named the world’s most liveable city.
While both Melbourne and Sydney are gaining density, Katsalidis cites Singapore as the best international example.
“Its traffic is under control… they charge more for people who want to buy a car,” he explained.
“The city has a policy of putting more green back than they take away. Due to their tropical climate, they can do vertical gardens and do them well with a very high standard of architecture.”
Katsalidis said New York is “a 19th century city” that looks at history more than modernism, but strikes a good balance with density.
New Yorker Pasquerelli agreed.
“ We’re doing a pretty good job…we all live on this little island, in this little city, and everyone fights for their piece of land,” he says.
“So I think that any place that is building density, and building it to support public transportation, education and public space are doing the right thing.”
He added that building dense, tall skyscrapers is actually ethical in dense areas but added that designers “can’t forget about designing and planning for incredible public space and amenities for all the people that are going to live in it.”