Last week the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) hosted its annual conference under the shadow of The Shard with the theme Height and Heritage. Drawing on London’s offbeat blend of historical spires and glittering glass towers, the CTUBH invited a host of exceptional speakers to give presentations of their work and join panel debates to discuss the merits and pitfalls of building tall in London.
The three-day event was held in The Brewery, a former Whitbread Brewery turned entertainment venue in East London, and offered networking events at the Royal Courts of Justice, The Gherkin and Renzo Piano’s The Shard, alongside tours of some of London’s tallest towers including the 30 St Mary Axe (The Gherkin), 20 Fenchurch (The Walkie Talkie) and the Leadenhall Building (The Cheesegrater) which tops out today.
One of the main talking points of the conference came from a landmark announcement on Monday morning from elevator and escalator manufacturer KONE who revealed UltraRope™, a carbon fibre rope system which will enable elevators to travel to heights of 1km. The ramifications of this groundbreaking technology for the tall building industry were reinforced by KONE’s Head of Technology Johannes de Jong in the Emergent Tall Technologies session the following day.
Bold statements flew from room to room with the specialists opening frank debates about the future of the skyscraper. In the Tall Buildings as Heritage session, Structural Engineering Partner at SOM William Baker confessed that ‘there are a tremendous number of bad tall buildings’, while CEO and Managing Director of Kingdom Real Estate Talal Al Maiman revealed his ‘sympathy’ for architects, explaining: “They believe they are the owners of what they create but really the developers are the ones that own it. They pay for it.”
Al Maiman’s frank account of a developer’s hand in tall buildings made a lasting impression on the delegates, many of whom discussed his definition of an ‘iconic’ building during the following networking and breakout sessions. When queried on the difference between ‘iconic’ and ‘heritage’, Al Maiman determined: “Once you build heritage you can never replace it. The Eiffel Tower is Paris. You could build the tallest building in the world in the city but it would always be in Paris.”
When it comes to building tall, few are pushing the boundaries like Zhang Yue, Chairman of China Broad Group. Yue’s firm has been breaking records across China with exceptionally swift construction periods through the use of prefabricated modules, with success stories such as the T30 Hotel making both industry and mainstream news worldwide.
Yue joined the closing session, The Future of Tall? to give a thought-provoking speech translated into English by his son on what he considers to be the future of tall. Sky City is Yue’s next venture; an 838m-high vertical city in Changsha which he claims will be constructed within 7 months with work due to commence on site this September.
Despite a number of scoffs from the assembled experts, Yue gave a solid account of his Sky City scheme, enforcing the sustainability and space-saving aspects of the design and painting a picture of tower where people work, play and live in a truly vertical city.
He explained: “Land use is a top concern in China. Occupation of the land has caused a lot of social and environmental issues. It has created huge demand for transportation and energy consumption. In the end, energy conservation is the focus of everything.”
The importance of sky-high residences was also stressed by Christoph Ingenhoven in the Beyond London session, one of the highlights of the conference for WAN. Through examinations of London and Houston Ingenhoven examined the effects of urban sprawl on energy demand and drew back to the focus of the conference, tall buildings, and how this may be a viable alternative to our global population increase.
'I am in love with tall buildings because, quite simply, we need them', he explained. For Ingenhoven, the drastic increase in population over the past decades and projection for the global population to reach 9bn by 2050 has led to a crucial shift in the way we both perceive and design tall buildings.
WAN will be exploring the viability of the high rise residence as a solution to our burgeoning global population in a future editorial in preparation for the World Architecture Day celebrations in New York this October.