The global population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, with an estimated 6.3 billion of those people living in cities. This has led many urban planners and developers to conclude that tall buildings will be the only way to meet the expected demand.
However, the impact of tall buildings on the public realm is a key issue due to the buildings' size and scale. Special attention must be paid to the way they alter the urban landscape and relate to their surroundings. Designers can become so concerned with the image of the building as an object that they forget about its relationship with the citizens and the street at the ground level.
Some of the most common problems concerning the impact of tall buildings on the public realm include shadowing, the wind tunnel effect, unpleasant micro-climate conditions, poor safety and a negative contextual response. Many of these problems, however, can be mitigated with appropriate landscape and urban design.
Strategic planning should consider the shape of the building, its orientation and its permeability. In addition, the public realm can be designed to reduce wind conditions at the ground level. Trees and shrubs can be used as wind screens to create protected areas. An active street life can be supported by building a continuous frontage and by surrounding tall buildings with mid-rise buildings. The location of shaded areas can be predicted using simple tools and models, and these areas can be turned into car parks and service areas.
Another obvious but critical issue when it comes to tall buildings is the safety of its occupants. In the event of a fire, evacuation procedures should take into account any physical limitations of its occupants.
Experts in the field recommend a “defend in place” strategy. These strategies, commonly used in healthcare facilities, are designed to keep people safe without having to evacuate the building.
A well-designed fire protection system is crucial, and buildings should adhere to proper maintenance and ensure its occupants have all necessary information.
In addition, sustainability in tall buildings is an important issue to be addressed. Though there are currently plenty of green building rating schemes, most of them promote buildings as self sufficient islands, neglecting the shared impact they have on the urban environment. Shared infrastructure should be promoted to achieve a sustainable high density model.
Of course, when designing skyscrapers, aesthetics also play a vital role, as all tall buildings are built to become icons not only due to their height but also due to their image. Skyscrapers are often used to create an identity for a brand or a city, like the Eureka Tower in Melbourne, the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur or the Ocean Heights in Dubai.