Speaking at the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) World Congress in Shanghai last week, structural engineer Thomas Tomasetti said money is the only factor limiting the height of skyscrapers.
“There is no problem going to a mile high,” he said. “Structural engineers are off the hook – we’re not limiting anything.”
In a discussion titled ‘How High Can We Go? (And Why Should We?)’, a panel that included Parson Brinckerhoff managing director Vincent Tse, architect Rafael Vinoly and CB Richard Ellis president Tony Long talked about a wide range of issues. Topics covered varied from technology to social and cultural issues – including the challenges of providing phone and data service at height – to the difficulties of creating air conditioning systems for homes and offices a mile above the ground.
While the panel agreed that sociological and evacuation and safety issues will play a big role in determing the height of buildings, the decision ultimately boils down to money.
“If you have enough money, I’m sure the human mind can create a lot higher,” said CTBUH chairman Timothy Johnson. ” Who are we to say it’s good or bad? People want to push higher and higher. That’s just human nature, isn’t it?”
The challenges, he said, lay in finding materials to replace steel and cement and in identifying methods beyond traditional elevators to move people.
Today’s tallest skyscraper, the 828-metre (2,717-foot) Burj Khalifa in Dubai, is set to be overtaken by the kilometre-high Kingdom Tower in Jeddah when the latter is completed in 2018.
Burj Khalifa architect Adrian Smith added that to go beyond a kilometre in height, skyscrapers would likely need to have two or three buildings interconnected, with horizontal elements bracing the ‘legs’. These horizontal areas could be used as sky-terraces, or sky-decks and as lobbies for people travelling within the building.
In terms of tall building construction, the council noted that China is leading the way with 23 buildings over 200 metres completed last year alone.
The 492-metre World Financial Centre in Shanghai is the tallest tower in China, but will be supplanted by the 632-metre Shanghai Tower, currently under construction in the city’s Pudong business hub. When completed in 2014, the Shanghai Tower will be the world’s second-tallest building.