Tall Buildings: What Research Gaps Need Plugging? 1

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Tuesday, February 4th, 2014
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Safety performance, lifecycle sustainability and the disassembly or deconstruction of tall buildings are just three of the priority areas identified in a Research Roadmap initiated as a joint venture between the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), the International Council for Research and Innovation in Building and Construction (CIB) and UNESCO.

The main objective of the Roadmap is to create a guide for the CTBUH, CIB, UNESCO and all those involved in the construction and engineering of tall buildings. The guide will assist in the planning of future research and the pursuit of funding and enable the typology to reach its optimum level.

Work began back in 2010 when more than 80 researchers from all over the world gathered at the Iuav University of Venice for the inaugural meeting of the CTBUH Academic Research and Postgraduate Working Group. Since then, more than 20,000 individuals involved in tall buildings have been invited to take part in two questionnaires which identified more than 1,200 research topics divided into 11 broad field covering all aspects of tall building planning, design, construction and management. Work has since revolved around ranking and prioritising these topics.

Four out of the five topics that scored highest research priority across the entire Roadmap deal with safety and security in tall buildings. This shows that tall buildings are still seen as a vulnerable typology, especially in fire scenarios.

The Roadmap results also affirms the need for research to establish appropriate levels of safety performance in tall buildings. This is particularly evident from scores in two fields: Structural Performance, Multi-Hazard Design and Geotechnics and Fire and Life Safety.

The energy performance of tall buildings was inevitably highlighted as an important area, but there have also been calls for more research on life-cycle sustainability issues beyond day-to-day operations. Highly prioritized topics include material and component durability, the design for easy repair and replacement of materials, disassembly and deconstruction of tall buildings, strategies to extend tall buildings’ lifecycles, adaptive reuse and retrofitting, research to determine whole-life-cycle impacts of tall buildings, and the holistic and integrated sustainable performance of tall buildings.

Within this broader area of lifecycle sustainability, the disassembly/deconstruction/demolition of tall buildings received the third-highest immaturity score of all Roadmap research topics and reinforces a perceived lack of knowledge regarding the end of the life-cycle of tall buildings. This is likely to become a dominant research field for the future of urban re-development, as many tall buildings are now approaching the end of their service lives.

Other key areas include the social sustainability of tall buildings on both an urban and a building scale, the economic impact of tall buildings, the use and performance of new and innovative materials, and the embodied energy of tall buildings and their components.

The Roadmap suggests that when talking about environmental sustainability, current emphasis has shifted to also include the environmental impact of building materials and components. Due to their greater structural requirements, tall buildings use more embodied energy than low-rise buildings and the Roadmap highlights that both establishing and reducing embodied energy in tall buildings is considered a priority topic across multiple fields.

The Roadmap also highlights research areas of “immaturity,” which implies that an initial pre-stage is still required to discover new potentialities.

These include research on alternative evacuation systems that allow for evacuation through the façade in emergency scenarios; research on strategies and technologies for energy sharing between tall buildings such that excess energy generated in one may coincide with a peak demand in another; and research to determine and calculate the maximum sustainable height of tall buildings.

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  1. Gary

    This is going to be an area of increasing importance given ongoing global population growth, and rising population density in the developed world.