The second part of Sourceable's 2014 skyscraper trend forecast looks at functionality and sustainability.

No longer are skyscrapers purely being designed with height in mind, as today’s concerned consumer showing an increased interest in function over form.

While landmark status can never be taken away from skyscrapers like the Empire State Building or Malaysia’s Petrona’s Twin Towers, tall buildings are now noted for their purpose in their urban environment. These purpose-driven buildings are also noted for their green credentials, their community value and their ability to contribute to their cities’ growth and investment as urban areas get denser.

Mixed-use skyscrapers continue to dominate the market as building investors seek to maximise their investments. Many new buildings are even being described as “vertical communities” where people can live, work and play in the same space.

“Accommodation of humans is still the predominant driver of tall-building construction, in particular residential and mixed-use,” said Daniel Safarik, editor of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH).


Accommodation of humans is driving skyscraper construction

Architectural facades and the floors of skyscrapers are now host to urban farming, where food is cultivated in the city itself. With some 75 per cent of the world’s population predicted to reside in urban areas by 2050, local food sources are becoming more crucial.

According to, vertical farming offers “the promise of urban renewal, sustainable production of a safe and varied food supply (year-round crop production), and the eventual repair of ecosystems that have been sacrificed for horizontal farming.”


Urban farming a growing trend in skyscrapers

“Urban farming is a growing trend (pun intended) but the primary object is still housing people,” Safarik added.

Educational institutions such as universities are exploring the potential to house their students in vertical campuses, keeping them in the heart of urban areas while also offering inspiring window views.

“There are already built examples of vertical campuses and we have every reason to expect there will be more,” Safarik said of the growing trend. “…For the same reasons – land is so expensive and so is education (especially maintaining a sprawling campus with landscaping, building services, maintenance, energy) – so it makes sense to choose the most efficient envelope for driving down construction and tuition costs.”

One of the most recent examples is Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower, a 203-metre skyscraper in Japan which is home to three educational institutions. Built by Tange Associates, the aptly-named building is cocoon-shaped in reference to the “nurturing” of students.


Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower: the world’s second tallest vertical urban campus

While technology has made workspaces mobile and nine to five office hours, this could suggest that traditional commercial skyscrapers could become less common, though Safarik does not believe they will become completely obsolete.

“But what we do expect to happen is that skyscrapers – both individual buildings and clusters will become more like cities in and of themselves, with more and more aspects or urban life brought up to high floors and connected horizontally,” he said.

The industry is well aware of the benefits of vertical gardens, water and waste systems, and green building materials, but just like building purposefully, the pressure is on for the vertical built environment do more to combat climate change.

In response, architects are challenging skyscraper design to create self-sustaining buildings that operate “off the grid” by generating their own energy.

While there have been some positive developments in the area, there has yet to be a skyscraper that is fully off the grid, though a couple of projects have come close.

According to Safarik, SOM’s Pearl River Tower in Guangzhou, China was initially unveiled as a “net zero” a building, a claim that was retracted. The tower does operate in a very sustainable manner thanks to its integrated solar panels, double-skin curtain wall, a chilled ceiling system, underfloor ventilation and daylight harvesting, all of which contribute to the building’s energy efficiency.


SOM’s Pearl River Tower in Guangzhou retracted the claim that it was a net-zero energy building

“The soaring tower’s sculpted body directs wind to a pair of openings at its mechanical floors, where traveling winds push turbines that generate energy for the building,” SOM’s website reads.

The Raiffeisen-Holding Hochhaus office tower in Vienna, meanwhile, has been certified as the world’s first Passivhaus skyscraper – a standard that relates to heating and cooling energy efficiency. The building utilises a photovoltaic system to reduce energy consumption and has combined heating, cooling and power generation.

The Antwerp Skyscraper in Belgium is also attempting to reach Passivhaus standards to go along with being a “vertical, social community.”

“Great care is taken to mitigate the possible negative effects that tall buildings can have on the local microclimate, and to ensure a positive contribution at street level,” said firms C.F. Møller Architects and Brut Architecture in a press release announcing the project.


Syth[e]tech[e]cology – a concept to create pollution reducing skyscrapers

For a more radical idea, earlier this year Chang-Yeob Lee of the Royal College of Art in London used the city’s BT Tower to demonstrate how the exterior structure of an existing skyscraper could feature an eco-catalytic converter which captures pollution and converts it into natural gas using water and sunlight.

The technology, dubbed Syth[e]tech[e]cology, shows how a “new hybridised infrastructure can gather pollutants: feed, store it, digest and harvest to diluted minerals and biofuels,” Lee explained on a video.

While definite advances have been made in terms of sustainability, there is always room for improvement, and there are plenty of projects underway across the globe.

According to data from the CTBUH:

  • 1,511 tall buildings are currently under construction worldwide
  • 127 of these tall buildings are over 300 metres tall
  • seven out of 10 of the skyscrapers under construction are being built in China