With the world’s urban population growing at an unprecedented rate, high-rise buildings will feature prominently in future cities. The concept of the vertical city could be a solution to the challenge of high-density urbanisation.

More than 75 per cent of the world’s population is expected live in urban areas by 2050. New residential, commercial and office spaces within major cities will be needed to accommodate millions of people, leading cities to invest in innovative, integrated and sustainable solutions to cope with the rapid growth of urbanisation.

In recent years, urban planners and architects around the world have been developing ideas and creating different solutions to approach the challenge of high-density urbanisation, and the concept of the vertical city has become a very popular one.

The Mirador building concept, by MVRDV.

The Mirador building concept, by MVRDV.

The Mirador building in Madrid, Spain, designed by MVRDV and completed in 2005, is but one example of the many projects based on a vertical city concept. The building is a collection of mini neighbourhoods stacked vertically around a semi-public sky-plaza that acts as a counterpoint against the massive uniformity of the surrounding housing blocks.

Now, the concept has been taken a step further. Studying a city like Shanghai, where the land area is limited, PinkCloud – an architecture collective founded in Copenhagen by four international designers using architecture as a catalyst for social development – has embarked on the research of a new urban identity as a model for the development of future cities.

Aerial view of different FLIP/CITY clusters inserted in Shanghai’s cityscape.

Aerial view of different FLIP/CITY clusters inserted in Shanghai’s cityscape.

The innovative proposal FLIP/CITY SHANGHAI literally flips the horizontal cityscape onto its side by taking footprints of the city’s existing building types and adopting them as the new facades of the vertical city. The designers’ aim was to combine different functions in city-clusters, preserving the human scale while simultaneously increasing density and green space at the urban scale.

Using the same concept idea as in the Mirador, by expanding Shanghai up along the vertical plane empty urban spaces can be generated, creating possibilities for new neighbourhoods and green open areas for the community, meeting the needs of a modern city, its economy, social structures and sustainable plans for the future.

FLIP/CITY concept.

FLIP/CITY concept.

“As a reactive healing force, this city could renew weak urban zones in decline by filling voids and dead space with functioning, thriving neighbourhoods. Most importantly, this new typology would have the capacity to maximize green space and solve infrastructural issues while creating an efficient, accessible circulation system for public transit,” the designers explained.

While in modern cities skyscrapers and high-rise buildings effectively respond to density issues with a small footprint, most of them feature a homogeneous function, contributing to the problem of city centres becoming strictly commercial zones.

FLIP/CITY - Cross sections of one possible city-cluster.

FLIP/CITY – Cross sections of one possible city-cluster.

As occurs in Australian cities, most of the world’s urban centres feature financial hubs, gradually extending into residential suburban sprawl and creating the need for large transport infrastructure to connect long distances between office and residential areas. In addition, high-rise buildings tend to lose the awareness of the human scale, forcing citizens to live and work in increasingly alienating, polluted and disconnected environments.

The key finding during the study and development of FLIP/CITY model was that by expanding the city vertically, Shanghai’s characteristic urban pattern of patchwork typologies can accommodate a wider range of functions.

FLIP/CITY - Detail of long section.

FLIP/CITY – Detail of long section.

As a result, the proposal combines residential, commercial, educational and cultural functions, arranged at a human scale that keeps the buildings within walking distance of one another. Empty sites are occupied with infrastructural installations and urban equipment, creating many public meeting places and green areas.

This project aims not only to create a new urban identity for Shanghai but also a model for the world’s future urban developments. Although architects and urban planners argue that vertical living is more cost efficient and sustainable, it does involve greater energy and material costs.

FLIP/CITY - View from inside a city-cluster.

FLIP/CITY – View from inside a city cluster.

It is important to look at how high-density cities are created in the future and the impact they will have on the natural environment. Three-dimensional, vertical urbanism has not yet become de rigeur, but as planners seek solutions to density issues, it provides a strong option going forward.