The future is a high-rise world

Philip Hopkins
December 22, 2010

AWARD-WINNING architect Thom Mayne is certain of one thing: city populations will continue to grow – and that will be good for architects.

Mayne, a winner of the Pritzker Prize – often referred to as the Nobel prize of architecture – says the tall apartment tower is about to come into its own. Big cities such as Tokyo, Paris, Los Angeles and London have reached their boundary limits. For all cities, at some point, ”there will be no choice”.

”They are no longer serviceable and sustainable in terms of services, whether moving goods, people, energy or transport. You can’t say ‘I don’t like high-rise as a building type’. High-rise is the solution for intensification,” he told BusinessDay.

Mayne was in Melbourne as a guest of the Australian Institute of Architects for its international speaker series.

”The enormous scale involved, when the problems are going to become more complicated, more intricate – this will be good news for architects. It’s no longer about style … it will be about dealing with complex issues and an integral strategy.”

This revolution has now come to Paris, whose city centre architecture Mayne describes as the biggest open-air museum in the world. He has won the right to build the tallest building in Paris – the Far Tower at La Defense, just outside the ring road that encircles Paris’s historic centre. ”It’s been controversial there, but we just got it passed by the mayor,” he said.

”The idea of a city within a city is nothing new. You zone the place with areas of intensity and people make their choices. We live in a free-market society, but you can’t build without plans. They [buildings] don’t happen outside some connectivity …

”Paris is building a new subway around the freeway. At the stops they will change zoning, intensification … transport is a walk within three blocks.”

Mayne is considered one of the most innovative and influential architects. Apart from the prestigious Pritzker Prize in 2005, he has won 25 Progressive Architecture awards and 75 American Institute of Architecture awards.

He sees demographic and lifestyle changes as big drivers of the move towards apartment living in cities. The new generation is getting married later, and living in the inner city. In his home town of Los Angeles, ”the suburbs are no use to them”. ”They don’t want the house, the backyard … they wanted activity, street life, cafes. It’s super good news for cities,” he said.

”Lots of these people will not take a ‘normal’ life. They will decide, ‘I’ll raise my kids in apartments, the cultural facilities are nearby’. You get a 21st century life. You get used to a certain amount of cacophony, and the multi-tasking, the energy that comes out of a city, the notion of being street-wise.

”As you get this first younger wave, x amount will stay in the city and they will choose to have their families and stay in the city. It’s in favour of urban development. It’s where you expect it to happen with the next generation.”

Mayne said he had noticed this difference in Sydney compared with when he first visited 15 to 20 years ago. ”Young people are down town, it’s full of life and good restaurants.”

His career reflects the dramatic changes in architecture as a profession. Aged 66, he represents the shift from working with a classic graphic board, pencil, the triangle and compass, to the age of the computer.

”With these simple tools, we made fairly complex things. We now operate on a computer and can make shapes and can distort them in a complex way, connect with another shape and interact with it, and do that three more times,” he said.

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