Sustainability & 21st Century Vertical City

Sustainability & 21st Century Vertical City
May 2021 , by , in Interviews

Kheir Al-Kodmany, Department of Urban Planning and Policy, College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, University of Illinois, Chicago

How sustainability has become an important approach towards designing tall building?

Sustainable, high-performance buildings and ‘green architecture’ have become important architectural criteria today as concerns about increased world population in conjunction with th depletion of natural resources, renewal and recycling of natural and synthetic materials, as well as construction of non-renewable energy resources, take on global proportions. Architects have been in a race to build the most sustainable buildings, and most recently, architects have an aggressive agenda to build the greenest skyscrapers. 

“The green meets the blue” expression refers to how architects are incorporating sustainable design principles augmented with new materials and technology into the design of tall buildings. Green building design principles also point to resource-efficient approaches to construct a tall building that will eventually be more economical to operate. Energy conservation in tall building design has become a determinant for the building’s form, expression, exterior cladding systems, nature and extent of exterior glazing, and the size and location of atrium.

What are some of the examples of Green Skyscrapers?

To be the greenest skyscraper in the city, designers are incorporating cutting-edge energy and water-saving technologies, like helical wind turbine technology, thousands of solar panels, sunlight-sensing LED lights, rainwater catchment systems, and even seawater-powered air-conditioning. Recent green design demonstrates that energy-conserving measures can produce efficient tall buildings. 

For example, New York City’s Hearst Tower is largely made from recycled steel and uses rainwater for 50% of its needs. The Pearl River Tower (also known as ‘Zero-Energy’ Skyscraper) in Guangzhou, China, by SOM (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill) has semi elliptical exterior and was designed to produce as much energy as it consumes. The 71-story tower uses wind, solar, and geothermal energy to power itself, and even the Empire State Building, one of the world’s oldest skyscrapers, recently underwent an energy retrofit facelift to stay in the race. The ‘bio climatically designed’ buildings—including T.R. Hamzah and Ken Yeang’s Menara Mesiniaga/IBM Building of 1992 in Selangor, Malaysia—employ passive ventilation and “gardens in the air”. Fox and Fowle’s Four Times Square Building (also known as Conde Nast Building) of 1999 in New York City incorporates an array of photovoltaic cells on its facades and roof to supply energy needs. Burjal-Taqa ‘Energy Tower’, a 68-story proposed skyscraper with a 197-foot roof turbine and 161,459 square feet of solar panels, will create all of its own power. This is a growing trend in skyscraper design during the present energy-conscious era. Notably, Commerzbank Tower is considered largely as the first ecological tower in Europe. Building upon the High-Tech and Green traditions of earlier decades, the tower creatively employs passive ecological strategies in conjunction with advanced technologies. The tower’s rigorous integration of environmentally responsible technologies was a product of theunique political and economic climate of the 1990s when Frankfurt was governed by a coalition of Social Democrats and Green Party, who imposed a range of requirements to make tall buildings sustainable.

Why does term “Iconic Building “often evokes controversy?

 In some design circles, iconic architecture has received harsh criticism for embracing inappropriate forms, including awkward, insensitive, inappropriate, cost intensive, and eccentric designs, for the mere purpose of competing for attention. According to Jeanne Gang, “The problem is that the highly visible position of the tall building in global culture has led to one-liners and symbolism in a superficial battle for identity”. They have often been associated with irrelevant, ostentatious design meant to gain popularity and attention.

Celebrated architects or “starchitects” have been criticized for producing edifices that do not fit the ecological and cultural contexts for which they were built and do not answer programmatic orfunctional needs. As Andree Iffrig has explained, the “iconic has become synonymous with wackycrowns on high-rise buildings that come down hard at grade, and are unusual architectural forms”. 

According to Iffrig, these buildings outrageously defy basic needs and functionalities. They have added more harm than good to the built environment, and are considered inimical. The term “iconic” was once used to identify outstanding architecture. Today, the term has fallen into disrepute. For some critics, “iconicity” has become a disparaging appellation. However, green design is transforming the architecture of skyscrapers and producing new aesthetics that is based on eco-friendly design features and principles. In other words, the green design revolution has produced new aesthetical qualities, in some cases, iconic and strikingly unconventional.

These iconic green skyscrapers enjoy local even global status and are considered to be among the most attractive. These tall buildings possess powerful imageability and embrace green design technologies simultaneously. These eco-iconic skyscrapers put their cities on the map by making their cities receive national and international recognition. 

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