Archive for December 4th, 2010

December 4, 2010

Can Super Tall be Super Green? Part 2

Q+A with Peter Weingarten, Part 2 of 2
The first post in this two-part series, outlining the reasons why it’s important to pursue sustainable design in super tall buildings, is available here.

In the previous post we established why creating sustainable super tall buildings is important. Let’s talk about what these buildings mean for cities.

Q: Why are super tall buildings an important building typology for tomorrow’s cities?

A: I’m from New York. I grew up in one of the world’s most densely urban environments and one of the most successful. I think people need to appreciate tall buildings from the perspective of their footprint. It’s an urban sprawl issue.

When people talk about urbanization they use very different benchmarks. My definition of urban life has a very high density. For me, urban isn’t 8-12 stories; its 30-50.

We need vertical buildings to activate the public realm with people, to create dynamic street life in cities, to populate transportation systems and to ensure the vitality of retail and other life style programs. How many people are realistically served around a transit station? Without the proper density these systems fail.

Cities need density to bring economic prosperity to their streets and dynamism to neighborhoods. Smaller businesses thrive in that environment. Density isn’t about driving to big-box stores; it’s about walking to the corner to grab groceries. What can you get within walking distance, without ever using a car? That’s the question that drives the economy of dense urban streets.

Q: Do you think the reasons we build tall buildings are changing?

A: I think there will always be people who want to build bigger and taller. The accomplishment is still a benchmark to acknowledge success, and to announce a city or company’s arrival on the global stage. That’s not going away.

In the early days of New York, height was an advertisement for a company’s financial success. Super tall buildings housed companies: MetLife, GE, AT&T, etc. Skyscrapers were symbols of security and economic prosperity. Think of the New York Life building. Their corporate advertisements still feature their building, and their slogan is “the company you keep” with the building a symbol of stability through time.

Following the age of corporate identity came the age of individual egos. Trump Towersaround the globe epitomize this, and more recently, the Mori Tower and the Burj Khalifahonor an individual.

Looking forward, it’s cities and countries that will make statements on a global stage. All the symbolism is still there, but there are changes in what is symbolized.

The power of cities more than that of individuals or corporations is coming into play. It’s like asking why people want to have the Olympics in their city. What happens to all the facilities after the games? How are all the buildings repurposed? The Bird’s Nest is sitting empty these days. The efficient thing would be to have the Olympics in the same location every year, but why don’t we do that? Because the Olympics aren’t about efficiency as much as they’re about aspirations of communities to achieve great things in sport and in the pride of there place

The way we advance as a civilization is through desire, and by aspiring to achieve greater things. Super tall buildings enable us to dream, to innovate, and to inspire. New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai—these cities have accelerated at the greatest pace and their hallmarks are their tall buildings of all scales.

In the future, building super tall will be tied success of a place more than they will be about the economic success of individuals or corporations.

By Leah Ray


December 4, 2010

Can Super Tall be Super Green?

Q+A with Peter Weingarten

At this week’s Greenbuild Expo in Chicago, Peter Weingarten will participate on a panel that will examine the role of tall buildings in tomorrow’s vertical cities. His session, “BL15 – Tomorrow’s Vertical Cities: Sustainable Design in Tall Buildings” will take place on Thursday, September 18th at 4:00 in room W196C. I spoke to him in advance, to get an idea of why he thinks tall buildings are important in the context of sustainable design.

Q: The concept of a ‘sustainable skyscraper’ seems like an oxymoron, because tall buildings require so much energy to operate, require elevators to move from floor to floor, sophisticated systems to operate, etc. Why is it important to talk about how to make super tall buildings more sustainable?

A: Super tall buildings often become symbols of the city in which they’re located. As highly visible beacons they present an incredible opportunity to promote more sustainable ways of living.

As hubs of economic development, super tall buildings serve an important purpose. Innovations that occur in their development can trickle down to sustainable models for the rest of the city; fireproofing and elevators are great historic examples of this.

The best thing we can do as architects is to make super tall buildings as sustainable as possible, and approach them as opportunities to test new ideas and technologies. We can also re-invent how they’re used.

Historically, tall buildings were office buildings that might have a public amenity at the top such as an observation deck or restaurant. At night, they were largely abandoned. Today, we design tall buildings as mixed-use communities, and we link them to transit and parks. The way that we conceive tall buildings is an important part of contributing to urban vitality and reducing sprawl.

And right now—facing an urgent need to reduce the way buildings impact the environment—we need them as catalysts for change.

We’re trying to get to a better place with regard to our impact on the environment as quickly as we can in the near term, to reduce the carbon footprint of our buildings and our cities. If through awareness or excitement we can get people focused on urbanization and sustainable technologies, then we’ve achieved something greater than the building itself.

Q: What’s been changing that’s enabling them to become more green?

A: In the pioneering days of super tall building design, it was about getting there. The big questions were: how do we drive elevators to new heights? Can we support building systems at 110 floors or even hold the building up? In many ways, the architecture was a result of innovations in engineering.

Now, we’re at a comfortable point about executing technically, and we’re turning to qualitative needs of building occupants.

For example, if you look at the super tall buildings that currently exist, while they’re usually covered in glass, they’re virtually opaque. You can’t see inside them from the street. Beyond mitigating solar heat gains, one of the primary reasons for this is that an opaque uniformity to the façade is very forgiving in terms of hiding large structural or mechanical dead zones just behind the glass wall that would be unappealing to see from the outside. New technologies and a increased understanding of building behavior through better tools and simulations is enabling us to be more elegant with these systems, while maintaining efficiency.  These more integrated elements are less problematic to deal with in the building facades

Another reason for the opacity had to do with maintaining comfortable interior temperatures without incurring exorbitant energy bills to heat and cool interior spaces. Significant advancements in curtain wall and glass technology now give us the shading coefficients that we want with greater visible light transmittance. In plain English, that means that we can get very transparent walls that are still quite energy efficient.

Shanghai Tower is benefitting from all these advancements, allowing it to have a degree of transparency that just wouldn’t have been achievable even five years ago. We’re using a double-wall system, with incredibly transparent glass, while meeting aggressive energy goals for project. Today, we have both the technological finesse and the attention to qualitative aspects of buildings. We’re designing incredible architecture from a sculptural perspective, and we’re making interior activity visible to the outside, rather than working around the structural and mechanical systems that are required to go super tall.

By Leah Ray