I am writing this from the Grand Hyatt Hotel on the 87th Floor of the Jin Mao tower which offers panoramic views over the high rise Pudong district in Shanghai (which was agricultural land just 15-20 years ago) and over the river towards the art deco riverfront buildings of The Bund and central Shanghai.
I have been here to attend the CTBUH 2012 Shanghai 9th World Congress along with some of the world’s leading (tall building) architects, engineers, consultants, owners, developers and VIPs.
Many of the aforementioned have offices in Shanghai and/or other parts of China. The congress venue was in the beautiful Jin Mao tower (SOM) adjacent the Shanghai World Financial Tower (Kohn Pedersen Fox) and the Shanghai Tower (Gensler) which is currently under construction.
For three days and two evenings an array of expert speakers discussed the title of the congress, Age of the Sustainable Skyscraper City, across a wide range of topics ranging from fluid dynamics to marketing tall buildings, structural developments to vertical transportation, sustainable building systems to wind/seismic engineering and more! Question and answer sessions allowed the fellow delegates to interact with the speakers.
CTBUH classifies tall buildings in three categories, tall, super tall and mega tall (see definition).
The main themes that emerged were how a skyscraper can actually be sustainable (especially a super tall) and that how the skyscraper meets the ground is inherently important, which is emphasised by the latter two letters of the CTBUH: Urban Habitat.
Skyscrapers seem to do one of or all of three things: provide a landmark icon for a new district or city; create a new mini city around a tower; and utilise an existing brownfield site to provide an increased density of occupation. There is little point in creating a vertical community that cannot be integrated into the horizontal community - new or existing.
Antony Wood, CTBUH Chief Executive and Associate Professor at Ilinois Institute of Technology (IIT) suggested in his opening speech that tall buildings should be able to integrate ‘the horizontal into the vertical'. References to how we incorporate the ground plane into the tall building surfaced (excuse the pun!) throughout the congress as it is the core and place of human interaction, play, mobility, leisure and pleasure.
Questions were raised about how humanity can permanently reside at a height of over 300m with no openable windows and a constant 'artificial' environment. It seemed clear that living in a tall building was still a new phenomena and that we may not have fully reached the sustainable advances alongside the iconic and construction advances. Some argued that cities like Dubai could never be classed as sustainable due to its evolution and its day-to-day existence, reliant on desalinating water and heavily reliant on personal vehicular transport.
In his closing summary, Tim Johnson CTBUH Chair and Design Partner for NBBJ suggested that perhaps we were not quite at the age of the sustainable skyscraper but that we do need to start implementing the theories now.
This was first CTBUH congress that I have attended but it won't be my last! The energy and passion of the team at CTBUH is infectious and inspiring. I have been welcomed into this elite and highly skilled group and met some of my lifetime architectural heroes that have designed so many architectural icons. I raise my champagne flute goodbye to CTBUH 2012 Shanghai and hello to CTBUH 2013 London!
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