Architects and developers have a heightening responsibility to deliver skyscrapers that are purposeful, sustainable and respond to their urban environment.
As the economy recovers, super tall buildings are being added to skylines across the globe.
Of the skyscrapers proposed, planned or under construction, however, impressive height or architecturally bold design is rarely recognised unless those elements are combined with building functions that deliver diversity and density to the buildings' inhabitants.
“One of the biggest challenges is overcoming the preconception that tall buildings are built purely for the sake of being tall,” explains Matthew Gaal, a senior associate at Woods Bagot in Melbourne and a member of the Council of Tall Building and Urban Habitat (CTBUH).
“A lot of people think of skyscrapers as being a bit egotistical, which can be true in some instances, but with the direction in the way the world is heading with regards to population growth and people wanting to be closer to their CBD centres, it's something we definitely need to consider more of and get past that preconception.”
Gaal says one of the biggest challenges for an architect is to create a building that provides value through its function and amenities.
“For a super tall building to work, there needs to be that right mix within the building and ample amenities provided,” he says.
According to the CTBUH, a mixed-use tall building must contain two or more functions where each of the functions occupy a significant proportion of the tower’s total space. A single-function tall building is defined as one where 85 per cent or more of its total floor area is dedicated to a single usage.
“When you have really tall buildings that combine a mix of hotel, office, commercial and residential in the same building, you are essentially creating a small town,” explains Gaal.
“When you’re creating a building where people can live, work, socialise, dine, all within the same structure, you really need to provide the (amenities to support) all of those functions – it’s about getting that mix right. You don’t just build a skyscraper and make it all residential; there needs to be that 24/7 function within the building to make it lively and make it work.”
Creating a sense of community is a growing urban necessity as cities become denser. Gaal encourages architects and developers to model skyscrapers on small towns and apply a community strategy vertically instead of horizontally.
Beyond community presence, there is also a commercial benefit to building mixed-use skyscrapers as each function creates a diverse flow of investment, increasing economic activity within the building for both its inhabitants and the public.
This makes it crucial to create skyscrapers that make cities more accessible, that offer housing that affordable and that cater to the growing urban population through denser structures.
So are skyscrapers an urban necessity and the answer to density?
"I don’t think skyscrapers are the only answer as there is a lot of benefits to going vertical with the reduction of urban sprawl and amount of services connections a real positive,” says Gaal.
Gaal also believes that building vertically allows architects to define a sustainable way of life through the design of the building.
While skyscrapers are already a productive use of land, smart design through systems including mechanical ventilation, vertical gardens, lighting, glazing and highly efficient heating and cooling enable the buildings’ inhabitants to live greener.
“You can touch a lot more lives in a single building than you could if it was rolled over say 600 houses,” explains Gaal. “So something that wouldn’t necessarily be cost effective in a single family home on a single block of land suddenly becomes viable purely because of the economy of scale."
As future skyscrapers try to remove their egotistical reputation, Gaal said it will all be how these buildings begin to the hit the ground.
“You can’t just build a whole bunch of towers and neglect the urban habitat, the public realm and where they sit,” he said. “If ground plan gets neglected, people don’t get amenity in the tower or at the base, and supporting the public realm at the base of the tower is extremely important.”