The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) has dubbed 2014 “the tallest ever” for skyscraper construction.
A record 97 buildings of 200 metres high or greater were completed taking the record from 2011’s 81 building completions. This number included a total of 11 supertalls (buildings recognised at 300 metres or higher), the most for any year. Furthermore, the number of 200-metre-plus buildings in existence has hit 935, a 352 increase from 2000, when only 266 existed.
As predicted, Asia dominated, housing 74 of the 97 buildings, with 58 of them housed in China alone.
The tallest building completed in 2014 was One World Trade Centre in New York rising 541 metres – now the world’s third tallest building.
So how will 2015 trump the tallest year ever? According to Daniel Safarik, editor of the CTBUH, this year will be brimming with wooden skyscraper concepts, more vertical greenery and hack-proof strategies.
In terms of numbers, the CTBUH database notes there are currently 171 skyscrapers over 200 metres topped out or under construction that are scheduled for completion this year.
This includes the anticipated Shanghai Tower, which will become the world's second-tallest building at 632 metres, pushing Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel into third place at 601 metres.
Safarik believes 2014 was a groundbreaking year in vertical greenery and anticipates much more on the horizon.
“I think it would be the emergence of vertical greenery in a new and substantial way,” he said. “Both One Central Park, Sydney and Bosco Verticale, Milan opened this year. Both buildings use greenery as part of their envelopes”.
The two celebrated projects injected immense greenery with One Central Park Sydney featuring hydroponics and heliostats to grow plants around the periphery of the building at all levels. The project features 250 species of Australian flowers and plants across a 64,00o square metre park and houses one of the world’s largest vertical gardens, designed by French botanist Patrick Blanc and spanning 1,000 square metres.
Bosco Verticale is a project of two twin towers, measuring 117 metres and 85 metres. According to the project's architect, Stefano Boeri, the building has "900 trees (each measuring three, six or nine metres tall) and over 2000 plants from a wide range of shrubs and floral plants that are distributed in relation to the façade’s position to towards the sun. On flat land, each Vertical forest equals, in amount of trees, an area equal o 7000 m2 of forest."
Among buildings schedules for completion this year, Gensler’s Shanghai Tower has dedicated one-third of the site to green space with extensive landscaping that cools the site.
In contrast, net zero energy still needs developing.
“Net zero has proven extremely daunting in reality, but energy performance will continue to be of vital importance in design," Safarik said. "It turns out not to be so difficult to incorporate greenery at height, so hopefully we will see more of that."
In terms of the strongest directions for skyscrapers in 2015, Safarik offers a few predictions.
Wood will Rise
“We are tentatively calling 2015, “the Year of the Woodscraper," he said, adding that the United States Department of Architecture (USDA) Tall Wood Building Competition is helping this gain mainstream momentum.
The competition, which holds a project prize of US$2 million, follows a funding announcement last year by the White House Rural Council in collaboration with the USDA, committing to a climate-driven intimate that would see architects, builders and engineers trained in the benefits of wood as a structural material.
"Wood may be one of the oldest building materials, but is now also one of the most advanced," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said at the time.
While Melbourne hosts one of the world's most talked about wooden buildings, the 10 storey Forté building, Safarik noted to the anticipated 14-storey Treet building in Bergen, Norway, which is set to commence construction. This ground-breaking wooden project will rise 49 metres and span 14 storeys.
According to Norwegian paper The Local, Treet will combine prefabrication with utilising wood in a tall building.
The CTBUH has even made its own internal investment, forming a Tall Timber Working Group to get a handle on these trends.
Old Meets New
"I suspect we will hear more announcements about new projects, or refurbished existing projects that will have some superlative fact about elevators – whether’s its speed, distance, number of cars in a shaft, etc." Safarik said.
A recent article on ft.com by Tanya Powley notes that the the Toshiba lifts in the 508 metre Taipei 101 office tower in Taiwan have held the title of the world's fastest elevators for the last decade, with speeds of 16.8 metres per second.
This will be overtaken by none other than the 632-metre Shanghai Tower with Mitsubishi lifts that travel at 18 metres per second.
"A year later, Hitachi is aiming to set a record with lifts in the Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre that climb at a rate of 20 metres per second – or 4,000ft per minute – the equivalent of travelling from the first floor to the 95th in 43 seconds.]," Powley writes.
Cyber Resistant Buildings
The recent Target and Sony Pictures Entertainment hacks have prompted the built environment to consider their systems.
"The Building Management Systems industry will need to take a robust position about how to protect physical systems in tall building from the kind of hack attack that has struck retailers and entertainment companies’ electronic systems this year," Safarik said.
In November, the The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) launched a new guide, Code of Practice: Cyber Security in the Built Environment, to help inform design, construction and facilities management teams.
“It’s tempting to think that hackers attacking buildings and their operating systems are the reserve of science fiction movies, but these kinds of attacks are already starting to happen in real life," Hugh Boyes, IET cyber security lead and author of the Code of Practice warned in a statement.
"Hackers have attacked building management systems governing heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. There is also the example of a cyber-attack on the Target group of stores in the US, which was initiated using remote access credentials from one of the company’s contractors. In this example, the hacker was able to gain access to the corporate network, resulting in the theft of card details for over 140 million credit cards."
In other trends, with the one kilometre Kingdom Tower underway and host of other ambitious proposals, Safarik believes height won't be as much of a focus in 2015 as sustainability and materials.
He also sees prefabrication evolving as key projects "hit their make or break” points on proofs of concept/economically, viable approaches.
Aesthetically, Safarik believes uniqueness will carry the day.
“My hope is that skyscrapers continue to become more appropriate to/reflective of their distinct cities and suroundings… and if that means they need to be skinny and pyramidal, or any other shape, then that’s a good thing. The last thing the world needs is to become more generic,” he said.