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Chapter 3 Unsustainable tall building developments

Photograph by author
Unsustainable tall building developments
Once we identify the “unsustainable” features
of tall buildings, we set the path to nd
solutions that mitigate their negative effects in
existing and future developments. As such, this
chapter examines the unsustainable features of
tall buildings. It organizes discussions around
the three pillars of sustainability: the social,
economic, and en vironmental. Because of
their vertical arrangement, high-rise buildings
may promote social isolation and are often not
suitable for family living and raising children.
Economically, skyscrapers are costly because
they require advanced systems, including
structural, mechanical, and electrical. From
a real estate point of view, they may suffer
from depreciation and high vacancies.
Environmentally, skyscrapers’ construction
and maintenance generate large amounts of
carbon dioxide. Given their greater heights
and larger masses, tall buildings affect natural
wind directions and patterns, hindering
natural ventilation, and they alter cityscape,
dwarf other buildings, and damage the
historic urban fabric.
Indeed, numerous scholars have pointed out
serious concerns about tall buildings. For
example, Ken Yeang explains:
At the outset, we should be clear that the
skyscraper is not an ecological building type.
In fact, it is one of the most un-ecological of
all building types … Its “unecologicalness” is
largely due to its tallness, which requires greater
material content in its structural system to
withstand the higher bending moments caused
by the forces of the high wind speeds at the
upper reaches of its built form, greater energy
demands to transport and pump materials
and services up the building’s oors working
against gravity, additional energy consumption
for the mechanized movement of people up and
down its elevators, and other aspects arising
from its excessive verticality [1, p. 84].
Earlier, Christopher Alexander and collea-
gues in their seminal book A Pattern Language
rejected the high-rise city altogether as a
viable human habitat. They passionately
Pattern 21: FOUR-STORY LIMIT. There
is abundant evidence to show that high
buildings make people crazy. Therefore, in
any urban area, no matter how dense, keep
the majority of buildings four stories high or
less. It is possible that certain buildings should
exceed this limit, but they should never be
buildings for human habitation [2, p. 114].
Similarly, Léon Krier, a prominent proponent
of the New Urbanism movement, explains in
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his book The Architecture of Community that
buildings should have no more than ve
oors [3]. James Howard Kunstler, a widely
respected gure in urban geography, argues
that skyscrapers generate urban pathologies.
They also demand lots of energy and are
expensive to retrot. Ergo, when oil peak
and climate change prevail, skyscrapers will
become irreparable relics [4].
Likewise, the Danish architect and urban
designer Jan Gehl in his books Life Between
Buildings [5] and Cities for People [6] critiqued
high-rise cities and praised low-rise ones in
various parts of the world for they emphasize
the value of human scale and provide
abundant opportunities for healthy social
interaction. The well-known Jane Jacobs in
his book The Death and Life of Great American
Cities praised human-scale environments
that foster an active pedestrian life [7]. Also,
Hans Blumenfeld in his inuential work The
Modern Metropolis denounced tall buildings
because they damage the historic fabric of
cities [8].
1 Social Dimension
The social science literature reveals that people
are more satised with low-rise environments
than high-rise ones on myriad issues, namely
suitability for family living and raising child-
ren, neighborly relationships and helpfulness,
personal behavior and comfort, crime and
perception of safety, tenants’ relation to out-
door spaces, and connection to street life.
High-rises’ tenants feel that they are cooped up
in nite spaces of an encapsulated world that
fosters loneliness. These environments make
inhabitants also feel claustrophobic, creating
a rat-cage mentality. Further, high-rise living
promotes poor interpersonal relationships
and weak neighborly relationships that may
result in a psychological depression. In some
cases, the “isolated” nature of high-rise
buildings promotes crimes. Further, scholars
argue that low-rise living is closer to nature
and facilitates a stronger community-oriented
social life [9]. As structures grow taller and
taller, tenants become increasingly out of
touch with the city life.
1.1 Family living
For children, tall buildings are “vertical prisons”
[10]. Children often feel in these buildings that
they are conned and treated like “a pet on a
short leash.” These buildings may offer day care
centers and playgrounds “in the sky”; however,
children lack spontaneous play and exploration
that help them to thrive. Urban psychologists
explain that high-rise living can hinder a
toddler’s psychological growth. They suggest
that one of the best ways for children (aging
between 2 and 7) to become independent is by
allowing them to gradually go out on their own
to experience the real world (e.g., neighborhood,
corner store, streetscape, playgrounds, friends,
and neighbors) and then return home, their
haven. Such approach, however, is only
attainable in a low-rise environment, where
parents can see (and may hear) their children
from their homes’ windows. This interplay
between dependence and autonomy that earns
a child a sense of competence is missing in high-
rise environments [10].
1.2 Community living
High-rises create disjointed neighborhoods
[10]. They are individualistic, introverted
structures that make people feel they are
living in “vertical silos,” physically, socially,
and psychologically. These buildings appear
to be monolithic structures mushrooming
in cities without respecting the socio-spatial
order of their neighborhoods. When tall
buildings are juxtapositioned next to low-
rise buildings, residents worry about the
loss of privacy since windows and balconies
loom over their backyards and shadow their
gardens. In his article “The consequences of
living in high-rise buildings,” Robert Gifford
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details six types of fears found in high-rise
living as follows [10]:
1. Residents fear that a family member or a
loved child jumps from a window.
2. Residents may fear masses of “strangers”
that share the same building or oor.
3. Residents fear a re that may trap them
in the building.
4. Residents fear a devastating earthquake
that will topple the building over them.
5. Residents may fear becoming ill from
communicable diseases generated by the
masses who live there.
6. Post 9/11, high-rise residents fear that
their buildings become terrorist targets.
Constantinos Apostolou Doxiadis, a reputable
planner and architect, summed up these
observations in his writing:
High-rise buildings work against man himself
because they isolate him from others, and
this isolation is an important factor in the
rising crime rate. Children suffer even more
because they lose their direct contact with
nature and other children. High-rise buildings
work against society because they prevent
the units of social importance—the family,
the neighborhood, etc., from functioning
as naturally and as normally as in low-rise
environments [9, p. 82].
Skyscrapers substantiate income and racial
segregations by creating “vertical gated
communities” (VGCs), which limit social
interaction and promotion of social capital
across socioeconomic groups. As is the case
with “horizontal” gated communities, VGCs
internalize residents’ social activities that
might otherwise invigorate the public realm
and enliven street life. VGCs could reinforce
and deepen social and racial segregation by
creating two opposing kinds: “vertical slums”
versus “vertical mansions,” as follows.
1.3 Vertical slums
Vertical slums have prevailed in public
housing projects in the United States, which
intended to provide affordable habitats to
the lower-income population. Unfortunately,
due to mismanagement, poor maintenance,
and mediocre architectural design, these
buildings suffered from difcult living
conditions. They fell into disuse, and
eventually, authorities demolished these
housing projects. Archetypal projects include
the Pruitt–Igoe in Saint Louis, MO, and
Cabrini Green in Chicago, IL. Built between
1952 and 1956 and consisted of 33 buildings
of 11 story each (totaling about 3,000
residential units), the Pruitt–Igoe project
suffered immensely from social problems;
and consequently, authorities demolished it
between 1972 and 1976. Interestingly, Minoru
Yamasaki, the architect who designed the
Pruitt–Igoe project also designed the World
Trade Center towers, completed in 1973 and
demolished in 2001 by terrorist attacks [9].
1.4 Vertical mansions
On the other end of the spectrum, tall buildings
have created private, luxury enclaves, or
“vertical mansions” for the super-wealthy
people. These developments offer privacy,
top security, restricted access, 24-hour CCTV
(closed-circuit camera system) as well as a
wide range of services—analogous to those
provided by luxury hotels. These towers often
enjoy the closeness to urban amenities and
services such as cinemas, theaters, markets,
shopping malls, cafeterias, restaurants,
pharmacies, public parks, and mass transit.
In short, developers promote luxury high-rise
living to enjoy the best of both worlds (urban
and suburban) in one place. Nevertheless,
these buildings often exclude lower-income
communities (Figure3.1).
The “vertical mansion” phenomenon mani-
fests differently in suburbia, where tall
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Figure3.1: Eight Spruce Street in New York City, NY. Upon completion in 2011, the
272-m (891-ft) iconic building became the tallest residential tower in the State
of New York. Its prominent feature is a rippling undulating stainless steel
facade. This massive tower, nevertheless, did not offer affordable housing
units. (Photograph by author)
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buildings are located on spacious land and
function as autonomous neighborhoods with
their guarded gates, exclusive services, and
outdoor amenities, such as golf courses, parks,
swimming pools, tennis courts, and marina.
For example, Aventura, Florida, contains
scattered clusters of “vertical mansions,”
where amenities, services, and facilities
are exclusive to tenants and their guests
(Figure 3.2). Unfortunately, in both urban
and suburban settings, these communities
contribute to social and spatial fragmentations,
thereby weakening the bonds of a civic society
and promoting fear and tension among
socioeconomic classes [9, 10].
Recent developments of ultra-luxury residen-
tial supertalls in New York City have rein-
forced the “vertical mansion” phenomenon.
New supertalls (e.g., One57 tower and
432 Park Avenue) are vividly exposing the
new “social ladder” of the city by placing the
richest people “physically” on the highest
altitudes (Figure3.3). This new socio-spatial
polarization (vertical slums versus vertical
mansions) reinforces social and racial
segregations, echoing Pierre Bourdieu’s
concept of “symbolic capital” [10, 11].
Indeed, vertical mansions symbolize prestige,
recognition, wealth, competition, and social
class. Steven Holl, a leading US architect [12],
has denounced “vertical mansions” because
they create physical silos and isolate afuent
residents from the rest of the city. In this
regard, Jenna McKnight cites Aaron Betsky
explaining: “Manhattan is being transformed
into a Capitalist holy land with no space for
the poor” [13]. He indicates that these tallest
luxury residential towers epitomize the
Figure3.2: Aventura, FL. Since the 1970s, this suburban community has been engaged
in building isolated, vertical neighborhoods with exclusive amenities, services,
and outdoor spaces, such as golf courses, parks, swimming pools, tennis
courts, and marina. (Photograph by author)
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skyline’s transformation from a symbol of
collective economic prosperity to a symbol
of greed, income inequality, and growth of
individual wealth.
Indeed, NYC’s ultra-luxury towers have
drawn extensive criticism from the experts
and the public alike. In her article “The logic
of luxury: New York’s new super-slender
towers,” Carol Willis [14] explains that these
towers create the following problems:
skew the housing market by raising
price and decreasing affordability to the
average residents;
• strain the existing infrastructure;
cast undesirable shadows on street and
public spaces;
Figure3.3: New ultra-luxury supertalls physically express the new “social ladder” of NYC;
One57 (left) and 432Park Avenue (right). (Photograph by author)
absentee tenants of these buildings fail to
support the local economy of businesses
and social life of the neighborhood; and
tax avoidance by non-resident foreigners
raises issues of fairness.
Opponents also voiced concerns that
numerous purchasers of these residential
units have paid from shadowy sources and
have taken steps to hide their identities. In
particular, overseas investors have been using
illicit wealth to purchase properties secretly
in luxury residential tall buildings located in
“global” cities such as New York, London,
and Hong Kong. In their article “Stream of
foreign wealth ows to elite New York real
estate”, Louis Story and Stephanie Saulfeb
[15] elucidated that hidden ownership of
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Stirk Harbour + Partners) (see Chapter 18).
More vividly, towers in the 57th Street and its
vicinity will likely gain a global status that
rivals towers in other cities regarding height
and price. For the sake of comparison, the
heights of these towers are as follows [15, 16]:
Cullinan I & II,
Hong Kong: 68 stories, 270 m/ 886 ft
Opus, Hong Kong: 13 stories, 60 m / 197 ft
One Hyde Park,
London: 14 stories, 50 m/ 162 ft
432 Park Avenue, NYC: 85 stories, 426 m/ 1,396 ft
111 West 57th, NYC: 82 stories, 435 m/1,428 ft
Central Park Tower,
NYC: 95 stories, 472 m/ 1,550 ft
Towers in the “Billionaires’ Row” (referring to
an area along the 57th Street and its vicinity)
will certainly reinforce the view that New
York is a global, cosmopolitan city, where its
residents come from all over the world, and its
“global” purchasers are not necessarily full-
time residents.
1.5 Human scale, placelessness, and
the public realm
Humankind is the measure of all things,
as Protagoras, the pre-Socratic Greek
philosopher, suggested [17]. Observing human
scale in the design of the built environment
is essential for providing comfort to users.
Because of their great heights, tall buildings,
by default, violate human scale. Large cities
with a conglomeration of soaring buildings
face the challenge of providing a comfortable
environment for pedestrians. They are likely
to exhibit what Jacobs and Appleyard call
“giantism” [17]. Developments of massive
tall buildings cause passersby to feel small,
dwarfed, and irrelevant.
Jan Gehl has written extensively arguing
that wonderful places feature three—to six-
story buildings. He advocated low—to mid-
rise environments as ideal places that can
promote walkable and less car-dependent
expensive, luxury residences in Manhattan
has become a commonplace. In 2008, building
owners sold these units for $5million or more
and shell companies that hid the buyers’
identities bought 39% of those residences. By
2014, the share of hidden buyers for luxury
properties rose to 54%. On the Upper East
Side, sales to shell companies have reached
42%. In 2014, 54% of sales over $5million in
Manhattan were to shell companies. In uptown
neighborhoods that have new construction,
the share exceeds 60%, and in downtown
Manhattan, building owners sold 63% of
luxury residences to hidden buyers. Story and
Saulfeb also bring several alarming stories
highlighting these problems by explaining:
On the 74th oor of the Time Warner Center,
Condominium 74B was purchased in 2010
for $15.65 million by a secretive entity
called 25CC ST74B L.L.C. It traces to the
family of Vitaly Malkin, a former Russian
senator, and banker who was barred from
entering Canada because of suspected
connections to organized crime … Last fall,
another shell company bought a condo
down the hall for $21.4million from a Greek
businessman named Dimitrios Contominas,
who was arrested a year ago as part of a
corruption sweep in Greece … A few oors
down are three condos owned by another
shell company, Columbus Skyline L.L.C.,
which belongs to the family of a Chinese
businessman and contractor named Wang
Wenliang. His construction company was
found housing workers in New Jersey in
hazardous, unsanitary conditions [15].
Completed in 2004, the Time Warner Center
was New York’s trial run of the super-luxury,
super-expensive condominiums (Figure 3.4).
Located in a prestige spot, right at Columbus
Circle and privileged with splendid views
of the Central Park, it is well suited to spark
a global phenomenon that spilled over to
Hong Kong (e.g., the Cullinan I & II (2008)
and the Opus (2012) by Gehry Partners) and
London (One Hyde Park (2009) by Rogers
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Figure3.4: Completed in 2004, the Time Warner Center was New York’s trial
run of the super-luxury, super-expensive condominiums. Numerous
residents of this building have paid from shadowy sources and have
taken steps to hide their identities. (Photograph by author)
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neighborhoods and asserted that neighborhoods
with shorter buildings are more successful
urban places than those with taller buildings.
He lamented that new skyscrapers, reaching
unprecedented heights, are “eyesores” or at
least less appealing than the low-slung Parisian
urban design model. Overall, Gehl criticized
steel-and-glass vertical urbanism for creating
unpleasant, soulless, crowded, and inhumanly
scaled environments [5].
Indeed, skyscrapers often shatter the
urban scale by dwarng nearby buildings,
people, and public spaces (Figure3.5). Pede-
strians at the street level are often unable
to connect visually with high-rise tenants,
architecture, ornamentation, decorative art, and
personalized details. For example, pedestrians
cannot see the owerpots in the upper-story
windows, which bring a touch of humanity.
Pedestrians also cannot completely see the
high-rise building; instead, they see “urban
canyons” that make them feel visually
disoriented. Jane Jacobs argued in her seminal
book The Death and Life of Great American Cities
[7] that traditional low-rise neighborhoods
with front porches and stoops facilitate the
“eyes on the street” natural surveillance
and hence promote security and community
spirit [18].
Figure3.5: Tall buildings defy human scale and dwarf nearby buildings;
Aon Center in Chicago, IL (left) and Salesforce Tower in Indianapolis,
IN (right). (Photograph by author)
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Similarly, Land H. Kendig and Bret C. Keast
write in their book Community Character:
Principles for Design and Planning:
At sixty feet (four to ve stories), a
building is ten times the height of
a human; when a building reaches
twenty stories, it is more than forty-
four times human height. At this level,
it is necessary to tilt one’s head back to
see the skyline across the street [19, pp.
Likewise, Jan Gehl elucidates that our
“vertical” eld of vision does not allow seeing
upward unless we raise our heads. We also
tend to bow our heads about 10 degrees
when we walk, which makes it more difcult
to perceive the high-rise environment.
Horizontally, our cone of vision widens as we
move away from tall buildings, allowing us to
see more of the skyline.
Figure 3.6 illustrates a shadowy urban
canyon in Lower Manhattan, NYC, where tall
buildings not only dwarf human scale but
also deprive streets of natural light, making
them unattractive. Overall, a 1:1 ratio of street
width to building height is desirable, and
once we introduce tall buildings, they often
alter this ratio drastically, creating urban
canyon [17].
Speaking about Manhattan, Robert Freedman
[20] contrasts high-rise with low-rise
neighborhoods in the same island. He explains
that in walk-up apartment neighborhoods in
Manhattan, a resident or a passerby would
Figure3.6: A street in Manhattan, NYC. This urban canyon created by tall buildings
and a narrow street evokes an eerie feeling. (Photograph by author)
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Figure3.7: A low-rise neighborhood in Manhattan, NYC. In walk-up apartment
neighborhoods, a resident or a passerby would immediately feel a warm
welcome not found in the towering, elevator-skyscrapers neighborhoods
that proliferate through most of Manhattan. (Photograph by author)
immediately feel a warm welcome not
found in the towering, elevator-skyscrapers
neighborhoods that proliferate through most of
Manhattan. Freedman argues that vernacular
brick, wood, and stone low-rise neighborhoods
are more humane than glittering, steel-and-
glass high-rise neighborhoods (Figure3.7). He
prolically explains: “While walking, you have
the sense that you ‘t.’ It’s not unlike retrieving
your jacket after having mistakenly slipped into
someone else’s that was several sizes too large.
It just feels right” [20].
Moshe Safdie has also commented that tall
building developments often hurt the public
realm. He explained that at the street level,
tall buildings have replaced small mom-and-
pop shops, commonly found in traditional
neighborhoods, with large, blank-walled
facades [21]. There are numerous tall building
examples that support this view, including
Westin Bonaventure Hotel, Los Angeles,
CA; Hyatt Regency Hotel, Indianapolis, IN;
and the General Motors Renaissance Center,
Detroit, MI, among others (Figure3.8).
According to Safdie, avant-garde architects
strive to give new architectural forms or
“object” buildings that pay little attention to
human and social dimensions. These buildings
disturb the urban social life. Towers function
as singular, autonomous structures—some are
experienced as lonely sculptural objects in the
cityscape. They often do not contribute to the
public realm because they are self-contained,
introverted, and privatized. Planning, zoning,
and urban design guidelines have neither
observed nor regulated the great socio-
economic interdependence of towers and the
city. Overall, architects and planners have failed
to deploy a tall building as an effective building
block of cities. “Only powerful concepts for
how earth meets tower can begin to bring
about an urbanism in which the public realm
is continuous, truly public, and possesses the
appropriate environmental conditions” [21].
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Figure3.8: It is common that tall buildings have a poor socio-spatial relationship
with the pedestrian realm; Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles,
CA (top) and Hyatt Regency Hotel in Indianapolis, IN (bottom).
(Photograph by author)
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Often, tall buildings require signicant parking
structures. Since it is costly to accommodate
them underground, architects place them
above ground, thereby taking away from the
street social life and unstimulating the public
realm. Their design is often insensible and
damages the urban character. Parking garages
above ground are a “street kill” because they
disconnect social life of urban space, engender
spatial disorders, and create “eyesores” in the
city (Figure3.9).
Figure3.9: In addition to being eyesores, parking garages hamper pedestrians’ activities
and social life; Detroit, MI (top) and Chicago, IL (bottom). (Photograph by author)
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Aesthetically, tall buildings often create
contextual problems when placed near
historic structures (Figure 3.10). As cities
become denser and land values skyrocket,
older historic structures are pressured to
be demolished to make room for new taller
buildings [22]. In their paper “Tall Versus
Old? The Role of Historic Preservation in the
Context of Rapid Urban Growth,” Kate Ascher
and Sabina Uffer illustrate this problem in
three cities: New York City, Berlin, and Beijing.
These cities face a challenge of accommodating
new demand on space while preserving
precious built heritage simultaneously. While
Beijing has been engaged in razing large areas
of its built heritage, New York City faces real
estate pressure to make room for supertalls
and Berlin continues to debate which history
is worth preserving [22].
In particular, New York City has been
witnessing an increasing pace in building
tall and supertalls. Most of these buildings
have been replacing low-rise 19th-century
structures, despite preservationists’ objections,
arguing that Midtown will soon reach “a tipping
point in which the architectural mix of old and
new is lost to a wash of sparkly glassy” [22,
p. 108]. This problem accelerates as demand
on space increases and developable lots are
progressively scarce in Manhattan Island
(Figure 3.11). Overall, historic preservation
issues are often contentious and require
an interdisciplinary team to make sound
At the larger scale, tall buildings have
contributed to the problem of placelessness
by creating spatial chaos. Their massive size
and great height make it difcult to blend into
neighborhoods (Figure3.12). In CBDs (Central
Business Districts), tall buildings evoke the
image of a nerve-racking, workaholic business
environment. Also, in residential areas, they
Figure3.10: Thomas F. Eagleton United States Court House in Saint Louis, MO.
Tall buildings often introduce "large scale" design conict with historic
buildings. (Photograph by author)
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Figure3.11: Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, IL. By towering over, tall buildings often
disrespect precious built heritage. (Photograph by author)
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convey the perception of living in crowded
apartments that are more akin to cages than
living spaces [23]. The absence of an urban
design vision that guides neighborhood and
city developments have led to haphazard
mushrooming of high-rises, evoking visual
Figure3.12: Improper integration of tall buildings creates spatial chaos; Dubai,
UAE (top) and Chicago, IL (bottom). (Photograph by author)
disorder. What makes the problem worse is
that individual architects have been using
high-rises as an opportunity to display their
artistic talents at a mega scale, contributing
to conicting architectural styles in the same
neighborhood (Figure3.13).
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Figure3.13: Downtown Dubai, UAE. In competing for attention, tall buildings have
created "visual mess" in this neighborhood. (Photograph by author)
Importantly, current practices of tall buildings
are making cities around the world look
alike. For example, downtown Melbourne
looks similar to that of Pudong, Shanghai,
Miami, or Dubai. The common shortfall of
these skyscrapers is that design has not paid
attention to local tradition, geography, and
climate. In particular, the steel-and-glass
tower, which invaded cities, has made them
look homogeneous and similar, ignoring local
identity and culture.
High-rise buildings and modern archi-
tecture generally are homogenizing our cities in
the same way that Starbucks and McDonald’s
are homogenizing the dining culture … I think
this is something we need to ght against …
so many of the buildings are about a sculpted
form. They could almost be a perfume bottle or
a vase. That has become an international style,
according to Antony Wood [24].
Recently, Richard Meier, one of America’s
most respected architects, commented that
New York is losing its character due to new
disrespectful skyscrapers. He explained:
“There’s a scale to New York as there is a scale
to London, and that’s what makes the city
great … New York has a quality to it and you
have to respect the context” [25] (Figure3.14).
Particularly, when planners plant a tall building
in an isolated manner, it has the potential to
exert a negative omnipresent visual impact
citywide. For example, the 209-m (686-ft) tall,
58-story Tour de Montparnasse in Paris has
negatively affected the urban character of
the city to the extent that the city banned tall
buildings for years.
Adam Caruso echoes a similar concern by
explaining that cities suffer from haphazard
developments of tall buildings. The lack
of effective urban design regulations and
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architectural guidelines has turned cities into
a “free for all,” according to Caruso [26]. The
key problem stems from the fact that the nal
say is for the one who pays for the project, the
developer. Few countries, nevertheless, offer
planners greater authorities and control over
urban developments. For example, Germany
gives the appointed city planners greater power
to accept or reject a proposed building based on
contextual t, thereby preventing the emergence
of chaotic urban design in the city [12].
1.6 Fire, terrorist attacks, and natural
Tall buildings are prone to massive losses of
lives and valuable properties caused by re,
terrorist attacks, and natural hazards. In the
Figure3.14: “Towering over the park” is a new phenomenon in NYC that contributes
to urban design chaos. One57 (left) and 220 South Central Park (right)
added to their height allotment by buying air rights from their neighboring
buildings. While these towers offer spectacular views of the nearby Central
Park, they disrespect the historic fabric of the neighborhood and ruin its
skyline. (Photograph by author)
case of re, high-rise buildings present several
unique challenges not found in traditional low-
rise buildings, including greater difculties for
a reghter to access a smoldering high-rise
building, longer egress times and distances,
complex evacuation strategies, and smoke
movement and re control. Typical dangers
at a re incidence involve ame, smoke,
heat, toxic gases, ashover, and backdraft
explosions. However, the multiple oors of a
high-rise building create the cumulative effect
of needing greater numbers of reghters
to travel great vertical distances on stairs to
evacuate the building.
Therefore, it takes much longer time for
ghters to rescue tenants of high-rises than
that of low-rises. An extended time of burning
re increases chances that ame and smoke
572212.indd 112 28/05/18 6:36 PM
Page 113
reach tenants, thereby causing greater death
to people and damage to the building. A
prolonged rescue time also makes reghters
exhausted, whom bodies get exceedingly hot
due to closeness to re and heavy protective
gears and masks they wear. Further, in
disastrous res, sprinkler systems and re
elevators can malfunction. A recent report
by Marty Ahrens of NFPA (National Fire
Protection Association) explains:
In 2009–2013, US re departments responded
to an estimated average of 14,500 reported
structure res in high-rise buildings per year.
These res caused an average of 40 civilian
deaths, 520 civilian injuries, and $154million
in direct property damage per year [27, p. 1].
Despite advances in re codes, numerous
high-rise buildings continue to be ill
equipped. High-rises, particularly in the
developing world, lack effective re safety
standards, re prevention, and emergency
action plans. In 2009, a erce blaze engulfed
a 31-story hotel and cultural center, which is
part of the CCTV (China Central Television)
Headquarters in Beijing [28]. Designed by the
renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, the
re happened few months before completion.
It was difcult for reghters to control re
because their equipment was incapable of
ghting re above the 20th oor. Luckily,
the building was unoccupied; therefore,
there were no casualties. However, a re that
burned an apartment building in Shanghai
resulted in killing 48 and injuring 90 residents
in 2010 [29]. In the same year, a re hit Carlton
Towers in Bangalore, a neighborhood in Delhi,
India, which led to the death of nine and the
injury of 70 residents [30]. After the incidence,
authorities investigated re safety in the city
and found that most high-rise buildings did
not meet re safety standards.
On the New Year’s Eve of 2016, an intense re
engulfed the 63-story Address Hotel in Dubai,
UAE [31]. An electrical short circuit caused
a spark that triggered the blaze. Likewise,
in 2015, the 86-story Torch building also in
Dubai experienced a re in its upper oors
[32] (Figure 3.15). It took considerable time
to evacuate this residential tower due to its
exceptional height. In response to these re
incidences, Dubai has enacted new buildings’
regulations requiring less ammable exterior
cladding, as well as specic procedures for
installation and maintenance. It also debuted
jetpack-equipped reghters in a bid to tackle
skyscraper res swiftly by avoiding trafc
jams on the ground.
When construction completed, The Torch was
the world’s tallest residential tower. However,
other residential supertalls completed recently
have snatched that title. For example, global
developers have built several new taller
residential towers in Dubai, including the:
• 413-m (1,356-ft) 101-story Princess Tower
• 392-m (1,287-ft) 88-story 23 Marina
• 380-m (1248-ft) 87-story Elite Residence
In 2015, the New York City, however, snatched
the world’s tallest residential tower title from
Dubai by building the 426m (1,396ft), 85-story
432Park Avenue, designed by Rafael Viñoly.
Most recently, in June 2017, a devastating re
hit the 24-story Grenfell Tower, causing the
death of nearly 80 and the injury of additional
dozens of its 600 residents as well as the
destruction of the entire building, despite
the deployment of 40 re engines and 200
reghters—re-ghting equipment did
not reach beyond the 11th oor. Importantly,
the building’s owner has tted combustible
insulation boards (Celotex RS500 PIR
(polyisocyanurate) foam core) behind the
cladding during a recent refurbishment,
which accelerated re spread.
Moreover, these boards have released cyanide
gas that contributed to the deaths of some of
the victims. Richard Hull, a leading professor
of chemistry and re science, commented:
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114 Page
Figure3.15: Despite equipping towers with state-of-the-art re protection systems,
some of them experience re accidents. On the New Year’s Eve of 2016,
an intense re engulfed the 63-story Address Hotel (left), and in 2015, the
86-story Torch building experienced a re in its upper oors (right) in
Dubai, UAE. (Photograph by author)
"Unlike ships, trains, or aircraft, where
re toxicity is regulated because it
is accepted that escape may not be
possible, the UK and most of Europe
have no regulations on the toxicity of re
smoke from construction products, even
though escape from a high-rise building
may be equally impossible" [33].
Furthermore, building regulations when the
tower was built in the 1970s did not require
the installation of sprinkler systems (internal
and external), which could have minimized
re damage. Until today, most cities do not
require buildings with combustible cladding
to integrate external sprinklers. Additionally,
London’s re regulations require tower blocks
to have merely one staircase. Certainly, a
second staircase could have eased tenants’
escape from the building.
Fires in high-rises threaten the lives of
residents and reghters alike. For example,
high-rises incorporate tall shafts such as
elevator shafts, smoke shafts, utility wire, and
plumbing shafts as well as package and mail
and garbage chutes. Usually, safeguards such
as railings, gypsum block walls, self-closing
doors, and trap doors prevent occupants from
falling into these vertical elements.
Nevertheless, a re can destroy these safeguards,
and in a dark or smoke-lled environment,
reghters can fall to their deaths in these
572212.indd 114 28/05/18 6:36 PM
Page 115
shafts. Research has documented cases where
re has killed and injured reghters in high-
rise buildings such as the Empire State Building
and 1New York Plaza in New York City and
One Meridian Plaza in Philadelphia. Further,
during the re, chunks of glass and metal of tall
buildings may rain down on pedestrians on the
ground [27].
Overall, security and safety systems are costly,
and some are less effective. For example,
helipads are costly and often helpless because
helicopters take a considerable time to land,
load people, and take off. They take a small
number of a skyscraper’s occupants at a time.
Further, helicopter pilots are often extremely
hesitant to land on a burning building, fearing
that the helicopter may catch re as blazes and
smoke swiftly ascend.
Even if a pilot decides to take a risk and land
on the rooftop, the rising heat and smoke
from the re may jostle and destabilize
the helicopter, thereby complicating the
landing process and preventing people from
boarding the helicopter. Research revealed
that if the World Trade Center rooftops had
been accessible (the helipad fell into disuse),
helicopters could not have landed because
of the heat and smoke. Consequently, rarely
used helipads may enhance the perception of
safety; however, they have a limited role to
play [34].
The helipad’s integration in tall buildings
limits skyline design. For example, the skyline
of the City of Los Angeles, CA, has suffered
from “atness” dictated by local zoning codes
that required that all buildings 75 ft (22 m)
and taller integrate helipads in their roofs.
The city enacted the law in 1974 after two
deadly skyscraper res in Brazil. However,
authorities have canceled this law recently
after discerning that helipads had been of
little use.
Also, the helipad’s problem in limiting
design for rooftops was apparent in the
one-kilometer-tall (3,280-ft-tall) Jeddah Tower,
currently under construction in Jeddah, Saudi
Arabia. The architects proposed a protruding
helipad near the top of the pointy tower.
Nonetheless, helicopter pilots pointed out that
they would not feel comfortable landing there
because they feared tight space and potentially
high winds could cause them to hit the tower.
Consequently, the architects converted the
proposed 7,500-square-foot (697-square-meter)
helipad to an outdoor terrace instead, known
as the “sky terrace” that will overlook the Red
Sea [34].
Finally, tall buildings are vulnerable to
unanticipated tragic events. For example, no
one predicted that Boeing 767 aircraft would
smash the WTC towers in New York City in
2001. In 1970, structural engineers designed
the WTC towers to withstand the impact of
a Boeing 707 plane—the largest commercial
plane at that time. However, the Boeing 767
planes used in the September 11 attack were
larger and carried 20,000gallons of jet fuel.
Another example that illustrates how tall
buildings could be a target for a criminal act
is the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in
Oklahoma City, OK, where a bomb in a rented
truck exploded outside the building, causing
considerable damage in 1995. Earlier, in 1945,
B-25 two-engine bomber crashed into the
Empire State Building as the pilot lost track
during a heavy fog. Flaming gasoline from
the 1,400-gallon tanks burned to death 14 and
injured 26 tenants [35].
1.7 Window cleaning, repair, and
Daily activities of tall buildings’ repair
and window cleaning threaten the lives
of workers. People often take the issue of
window cleaning of skyscrapers lightly;
however, it continues to be a frequent cause of
the death of workers. Cleaning crew perform
tasks manually by descending the height of
572212.indd 115 28/05/18 6:36 PM
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the building from the roof to the ground oor
while hanging on ropes and carrying water
buckets and cleaning tools. Workers go down
oor-by-oor, but some get dizzy and fall off
while others bounce into walls and windows
because of forceful wind (Figure3.16).
Cleaning mechanical system may fail. For
example, two cleaning workers were stranded
in their scaffold as one of its two ropes slacked
while cleaning the exterior windows of the
recently completed One World Trade Center.
The scaffold ipped over almost vertically,
and workers waited in place for nearly two
hours for rescue [36]. By using a diamond
saw, the Fire Department of the City of New
York (FDNY) cut through the glass panel from
inside the building and rescued them. Though
successful, the process was risky since cutting
a hole in the window at a higher altitude
could have created a powerful wind tunnel
Nevertheless, cleaning skyscrapers’ windows
is a daunting task, particularly for larger
buildings. For example, it takes 36 window
cleaners for four months to clean the 26,000
windows of Burj Khalifa [37]. Importantly,
there are issues of labor abuse since most of
these workers are immigrants and employers
deprive them of their social rights, safety,
security, and health benets. For example,
most of the window cleaners in Hong Kong
are immigrants from the Philippines and
Indonesia. In New York City, the majority of
window cleaners are immigrants from South
America [37].
Unfortunately, we are technologically far
from having robots replacing cleaning
workers. Machines cannot clean windows
as good as cleaning workers do. Unmanned
cleaning machines tend to leave dirt, stances,
spots, and gray areas around the rim of the
window, for example. These machines also
Figure3.16: Many high-rises lack automatic window-cleaning systems and rely on
workers who risk their lives on the job. (Photograph by author)
572212.indd 116 28/05/18 6:36 PM
Page 117
Figure3.17: One World Trade Center in NYC. Two cleaning workers were stranded
in their scaffold as one of its two ropes slacked while cleaning the exterior
windows of the recently completed building. The scaffold ipped over
almost vertically, and workers waited in place for nearly two hours for
rescue. By using a diamond saw, the FDNY cut through the glass panel from
inside the building and rescued them. (Photograph by author)
572212.indd 117 28/05/18 6:36 PM
118 Page
cannot reach building corners well, and
they have difculties to work with facades
that feature treatments and articulations,
recessed windows, metallic decorations,
and cantilevered elements. We tend to
underestimate the importance of having a
clean and clear glass. Nevertheless, buildings’
tenants who pay a high price for views do
value clean windows.
What makes the problem worse is that architects
increasingly design complex shapes for
skyscrapers, making it harder for a machine to
do the job. A robot will not be able to maneuver
complex shapes to reach each facet of the
building. Also, buildings’ owners are clinging on
traditional rope-and-scaffold systems because
they need them for purposes other than cleaning
windows, including maintenance and repair,
for example, for repairing facades, balconies,
and broken windows (Figure3.18). Regardless,
it is pathetic that we can develop technology to
put a man or woman on the moon, but we are
incapable or unwilling to develop technology
that saves workers’ lives, window cleaners,
and construction crew. It is sad that skyscraper
design does not pay adequate attention to
these problems. Architects continue to focus on
inventing new forms and shapes, not on saving
lives. The window-washing problem should be
the rst not the last to address.
Further, window cracking and breaking are
common problems in supertall buildings.
Indeed, glass ages and weakens over time,
and any deciencies in manufacturing or
installation could lead to cracks or breakups
under wind pressure. For example, Willis
Tower (formerly Sears Tower) in Chicago
has experienced several incidences where
under forceful wind some windows in the
upper oors were shattered. On February
22, 1998, winds gusting to 56 miles an hour
broke and cracked 90 panes of the Willis
Tower [38] (Figure 3.19), and debris fell on
sidewalks, damaged properties, and hurt
pedestrians. For safety considerations, police
blocked streets and rerouted trafc, causing
inconveniences and trafc congestion in
adjacent neighborhoods.
1.8 Construction workers
Constructing tall buildings, particularly
supertall, may entail the death and injury
of construction workers. Unfortunately,
construction activities continue to rely on labors
who perform tasks manually. For example,
facade assembly and exterior cladding rely
on labors so that they manually grab panels
from cranes and xate them in assigned places.
Construction workers repeat this process for
each panel individually until the facade is
complete. The process is tedious as panels are in
thousands; for example, as mentioned earlier,
Burj Khalifa contains 26,000glass panels [37].
The assemblage task is most challenging in
upper oors where the wind becomes more
powerful, and in the process, some workers
fall and die. Tragic cases also happen during
similar tasks, for example, assembling
structural systems. Overall, specialized
labors and high-precision work are essential
in all construction activities of skyscrapers.
As architects design more complex forms
and shapes of tall buildings, construction
workers face greater risks. In 2002, during the
construction of Taipei 101, a 6.8-magnitude
earthquake rocked the city causing two cranes
to fall from the 56th oor, tragically killing ve
people [39]. Regrettably, automating the entire
construction process of skyscrapers is still far
from reality [37, 40].
1.9 People’s choice
Recent massive high-rise developments in
China teach us new sustainability lessons.
The Chinese government has enormously
promoted constructing high-rise cities to
house new massive urban population ocking
from rural areas. However, Chinese people
have shunned these developments because
572212.indd 118 28/05/18 6:36 PM
Page 119
Figure3.18: Construction workers use dangling scaffolds to repair cracking balconies
of the Marina City (top) and deteriorating facades of the University Hall,
University of Illinois at Chicago (bottom), Chicago, IL. (Photograph by author)
572212.indd 119 28/05/18 6:37 PM
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Figure3.19: Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) has experienced several incidences where
under powerful wind some windows in the upper oors were shattered. For
example, on February 22, 1998, winds gusting more than 56 miles an hour
resulted in breaking or cracking 90 panes. (Photograph by author)
572212.indd 120 28/05/18 6:37 PM
Page 121
they disliked the design, layout, architectural
styles, schools, and amenities. Kangbashi in
China is one of several new high-rise cities
sitting almost vacant because of these reasons.
Chinese people have nicknamed these cities
“ghost cities” because they evoke an eerie
sensation promoted by silent streets, vacant
high-rises, empty parks, and dead public
spaces. In turn, this prevailing negative
image has further discouraged people from
considering moving into these new high-rise
cities [41].
2 Economic Dimension
Skyscrapers are costly buildings (Table 3.1).
Their costs are greater than those of low-rise
buildings holding the same square footage
because they need stronger foundation and
structural systems to withstand natural forces
of wind, gravity, and earthquakes and to resist
severe weather conditions such as hurricanes,
tornados, and typhoons [37] (Table 3.2).
As such, tall buildings demand enormous
amounts of steel and concrete—for example,
the construction of One World Trade Center
required 50,000tons of steel and 182,000 cubic
yards of concrete [42].
Skyscrapers also require expensive vertical
transportation such as elevators and escalators,
as well as enormous energy to pump water to
upper oors. They suffer from diseconomies
of vertical construction systems (e.g., taller
cranes, jumping cranes, “kangaroo cranes,”
jumping boards, and hydraulic pistols).
Pumping concrete to higher oors demands
powerful pumps and special concrete that can
travel long distances without stiffening too
soon, resulting otherwise in clogging hoses.
Skyscrapers also feature a lower “net-to-gross”
ratio, referring to the net usable space in the
building—about 70% for high-rise buildings
comparing to more than 80% for low-rise
buildings [17]. Furthermore, they consume
substantial energy, often generated from
fossil fuel sources. Alternatively, renewable
energy means, such as photovoltaic (PV) cells,
continue to be largely inefcient (Figure3.20).
2.1 Premium for height
When a building becomes taller, the
“premium for height” principle applies due
to increased lateral wind and gravity forces.
Consequently, demands on the structural
system dramatically rise, increasing total
material consumption. To ensure structural
stability, tall buildings use dampers (i.e.,
sophisticated, gigantic pendulum-like coun-
terweights—weighing anywhere from 300
to 800tons) and other movement-tempering
Table3.1: Skyscrapers are costly buildings [37]
No. Skyscraper Billions
1 Abraj Al Bait $15.49
2 Marina Bay Sands $5.98
3 One World Trade Center $3.92
4 Princess Tower $2.24
5 Antilia $2.17
6 Taipei 101 $2.26
7 Burj Khalifa $1.63
8 Petronas Twin Towers $1.65
9 Trump Taj Mahal $2.00
10 Bank of China Tower $1.81
Table3.2: Supertall buildings’ embedded
foundation depth [42]
Project H (m) D (m) H/D
Shanghai WFC 492 21.35 23.0
Tianjin Goldin
Finance 117 587 25.85 22.7
West Tower 432 20 21.6
Taipei 101 448 22.3 20.1
Hong Kong IFC 484 25.5 19.0
Shanghai Tower 580 31.4 18.4
Burj Khalifa Tower 828 15 55.2
572212.indd 121 28/05/18 6:37 PM
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devices. Structural engineers employ dam-
pers to mitigate vibration impacts, caused by
wind, storms, and earthquakes, by pulling
a building’s mass in the opposite direction
of the prevailing forces (Figure 3.21). Tall
buildings face greater structural-stability
risks than low-rise buildings caused by
“relatively long fundamental vibration per-
iod, signicant mass participation, and
lateral response in higher modes of vibration,
and a relatively slender prole” [43, p. v].
Simply, the sway problem becomes greater
Figure3.20: Heron Tower in London, UK. Although the tower features a facade-mounted
solar PV array, it generates merely 2.5% of the building electricity demand.
This is because tall buildings are energy hogs and PV technology continues to
be inefcient. Also, the city’s predominantly cloudy weather makes PV least
productive. (Photograph by author)
572212.indd 122 28/05/18 6:37 PM
Page 123
as we build taller. For example, for a 300-m
(984-ft) tall tower:
1. A 10-mile-per-hour wind may move the
tower two inches.
2. A 50-mile-per-hour wind (which occurs
about once a year) could move the tower
about half a foot.
3. A 100-mile-per-hour wind (which happens
about once every 50 years) could move
the tower as much as two feet [37].
Overcoming sway problem in slender towers
is acute, and therefore, an engineering solution
is exceedingly costly. For example, the 426-m
(1,396-ft), 85-story 432 Park Avenue in New
York City integrates two tuned mass dampers.
A typical system can take up thousands of
square feet of space and use a double-height
Further, skyscrapers require costly mechanical,
electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems to cool
and heat interior spaces and to supply water.
Skyscrapers feature glass envelopes to allow
in greatest natural light. However, heating and
cooling interior spaces of these buildings are
costly, particularly in places that experience
extreme weather conditions, for example, hot
summer in Dubai and cold winter in Moscow.
MEP systems also occupy considerable
valuable space. Typically, a dedicated MEP
oor is required for every 20–30 oors [37].
Figure3.21: Supertalls require advanced damping systems, the case of Taiwan’s Taipei 101
skyscraper—the world’s tallest building from 2004 to 2010. (Sketch by author)
572212.indd 123 28/05/18 6:37 PM
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2.2 Vertical transportation
Skyscrapers need a great number of elevators
simply because they are the prime mode of
transportation—people usually are unwilling
to walk up more than a few oors (Table3.3).
Second, people do not tolerate long waits.
Therefore, engineers compute the needed
number of elevators so that tenants do not
wait for elevators more than a certain number
of seconds—about 30seconds for commercial
ofce buildings and 45seconds for residential
ones [37].
However, if one of the elevators malfunctions,
overcrowding develops quickly at the lobby.
As such, it is important to consider this issue
early on in the design process. Further,
"With the introduction of cloud techno-
logy and external data storage, some
ofce occupiers no longer require exten-
sive cabinet storage space or even bulky
server rooms, creating ever more space
for occupiers themselves. This puts
pressure on an elevator system that may
have been designed for lower capacities"
[44, p. 30].
Skyscrapers also need multiple types of
elevators (e.g., local, express, service, freight,
reghters). As skyscrapers increasingly host
multiple functions (e.g., residential, ofce,
hotel), architects need to incorporate more
elevators. Therefore, elevators not only add
signicant costs to the building, but also
consume signicant useable space. Further,
elevators’ shafts need special construction
techniques to ensure their perfect vertical
alignment. Also, vertical circulation systems
such as stairways and escalators take up
additional usable spaces.
Post construction, elevators require close
monitoring and maintenance. As such,
building managers need to hire resident
engineers who should be experienced
in mechanical and electrical systems,
IT networks, software, and programing
languages [44, p. 30]. Furthermore, elevators
may cause ear trauma (called “barotrauma”
or “perilymph stula”) due to the pressure
difference arising from the change in altitude
as passengers ascend and descend a great
number of oors with high speed.
Post 9/11, authorities have placed more
stringent requirements on all vertical
transportations. For example, new codes
require stairways to be wider so that they can
accommodate two ows of people—a ow
Table3.3: Number of elevators in major tall buildings [37]
No. Building name No. of elevators
1 Shanghai Tower 106
2 Willis Tower 104
3 Makkah Clock Royal Tower 94
4 Shanghai World Financial Center 91
5 Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre 86
6 Wuhan Greenland Center 84
7 International Commerce Centre 83
8 Ping An Finance Center 80
9 Petronas Towers 78
10 Taipei 101 61
572212.indd 124 28/05/18 6:37 PM
Page 125
Figure 3.22: Burj Al Arab in Dubai, UAE. It has the greatest “vanity ratio”
among all completed supertalls. (Photograph by author)
572212.indd 125 28/05/18 6:37 PM
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of tenants going down escaping the building
and a ow of reghters going up to rescue
tenants. Overall, as we are building higher,
architects need to incorporate advanced
elevator systems to allow tenants reach their
destinations swiftly while ensuring their
comfort and safety [37].
2.3 Vanity height
In addition to “wasting” spaces to house
elevators, mechanical, structural, and
damping systems, skyscrapers may “waste”
additional spaces for merely boosting height.
The CTBUH has coined the term “vanity
height” to refer to the wasted space between
a skyscraper’s highest occupiable oor and its
architectural top [45]. As such, “vanity ratio”
equals to “vanity height” divided by the
architectural height of the building.
A CTBUH’s study reveals that skyscrapers
increasingly feature a greater vanity ratio. The
average vanity ratio in the UAE is 19%, making
it the nation with “vainest” tall buildings. The
Burj Khalifa’s vanity height is 244m (800ft),
which qualies to be a skyscraper on its own.
Burj Al Arab in Dubai, UAE, has a 39% ratio
(124m: 321m), (407ft: 1,053ft) – the greatest
“vanity ratio” among completed supertalls
(Figure3.22) (Table3.4).
2.4 Speculative investment
Financially, tall building developments could
be a risky investment where developers bet
on economic growth and overlook economic
recession that results in massive vacancies in
these buildings. Often, the market experiences
a housing bubble when extortionate prot
potential triggers a construction boom that
exceeds demand and affordability; and when
the economy slows down, the housing bubble
A similar situation happens in the ofce space
sector. Ofce buildings suffer from vacancies
simply because of the cost of running the
building or because of an outdated look and
functionality. Further, the uctuating nature
of nancial and lending systems may result
in delaying, discontinuing, or canceling the
construction of tall buildings. For example,
because of nancial difculties, the developer
of the Chicago Spire in Chicago canceled
the project after working on the foundation.
Consequently, the site remains disserted,
Table3.4: World’s tallest vanity height as of July 2013 [45]
No. Building name Architectural top Vanity height Vanity ratio
m ft m ft
1 Burj Khalifa 828 2,717 244 801 29%
2 Zifeng Tower 450 1,476 133 436 30%
3 Bank of America Tower 366 1,201 131 430 36%
4 Burj Al Arab 321 1,053 124 407 39%
5 Emirates Tower One 355 1,165 113 371 32%
6 New York Times Tower 319 1,047 99 325 31%
7 Emirates Tower Two 309 1,014 97 318 31%
8 Rose Rayhaan by Rotana 333 1,093 96 315 29%
9 The Pinnacle 360 1,181 95 312 27%
10 Minsheng 331 1,086 94 308 28%
572212.indd 126 28/05/18 6:37 PM
Page 127
creating an eyesore in the community
(Figures3.23 and 3.24).
Further, demographic changes and shifts in
lifestyles could challenge the sustainability
promise of tall buildings. For example, recent
ultra-luxury tall building developments in
the United States have been betting on the
exceedingly wealthy people who form a small
proportion of the world population. Owners
of these buildings sell housing units for tens
of millions of dollars. However, developers
are bearing the risk of overshooting the mark.
Other residential tall building developments
have been betting on the millennials and
downsizing retirees. Nevertheless, these
developments may face high vacancies
when the millennials ock to suburbs to start
families and retirees’ population declines [37].
2.5 Building construction
Further, design and construction mistakes
could have a rippling effect that would result in
prolonging the period of construction, thereby
incurring additional costs. For example, the John
Hancock Center in Chicago faced construction
problems. After building the foundation, which
consisted of 57 caissons (8-ft-thick (2.4-m-thick)
concrete columns), workers discovered that one
of the caissons had shifted 0.9inches (2.3cm).
Specialized workers had to perform sonic
tests to detect weak spots. They found that the
contractors, to save time and money, removed
machinery while the concrete was still settling.
Chicago’s fragile soil had seeped into concrete,
causing the shift. Correcting this problem set
the project back several months and increased
construction costs [37].
Figure3.23: Chicago Spire, Chicago, IL. Due to the 2008–2009 nancial crisis, the developer
canceled the project after working on the foundation. The lot is now an eyesore
in the residential community. (Photograph by author)
572212.indd 127 28/05/18 6:37 PM
128 Page
While under construction, the 10,344
windows of the 60-story 200 Clarendon
(alternative names include John Hancock
Tower and Hancock Place) in Boston, MA,
cracked and were replaced with temporary
sheets of plywood and later with permanent
thick glass—a process that delayed opening
the building for four to ve years [37]. The
original facade consisted of double-layered
reective glass with a thin strip of lead
sandwiched between the two layers. The lead
layer had begun to develop fatigue and to
crack. Further, because the lead layer glues so
tightly to the glass, it transferred cracks into
the reective chrome coating on the glass,
eventually causing the glass to crack.
Further, this slab tower had a wind-sway
problem resulting from its exceedingly narrow
prole. Structural engineers failed to see
this problem during the design process and
had to retrot the tower post construction by
adding 1,650tons of steel beams to stiffen the
vulnerable narrow side at the cost of $5million
[37]. To provide greater stability to the
building, structural engineers also integrated
two 300-ton tuned mass dampers onto the 58th
oor. Moreover, the excavation for the tower’s
foundation caused stability problems for the
nearby buildings including the Trinity Church
and the Copley Plaza Hotel [37].
Severe weather conditions and natural hazard
events also impact and delay construction
process of tall buildings, adding substantial
costs. For example, on October 29, 2012,
when One World Trade Center was under
construction, Hurricane Sandy made a landfall
on the East Coast and hit the New York City
including the Ground Zero Site (the site of
the One World Trade Center). Rainwater has
soaked the unnished structure and lled the
Figure3.24: Dubai, UAE. Dubbed “the world’s tallest block,” it contains among the
world’s tallest residential towers, including the Princess Tower
(413m/1,356ft), the 23 Marina (393m/1,289ft), and the Elite Residence
(381m/1,250ft). Nonetheless, the sustainability of these supertalls is
debatable since they experience high vacancy. (Photograph by author)
572212.indd 128 28/05/18 6:37 PM
Page 129
16-acre site with water with varying depth of
10–140 ft, totaling about 125 million gallons
of water. Construction workers had to drain
water from the entire building as well as the
site [40]. Similarly, when Shanghai Tower was
under construction, a typhoon hit the tower,
causing damage and delay [37].
3 Environmental Dimension
Skyscrapers suffer from a large carbon
footprint observed in their construction,
operation, maintenance, and demolition at the
end of their life cycles. They exert signicant
demand on infrastructure and transportation
systems, creating overcrowding and trafc
congestions. In some projects, for example,
Brickell City Center in Miami, FL, the developer
had to relocate existing infrastructure (e.g.,
water, sewer, and drainage utilities) to
accommodate buildings’ footprints, deep
foundations, basements, and parking garages.
Tall buildings also could negatively affect the
neighborhood character and the city skyline.
Further, tall buildings exert an adverse effect
on the microclimate due to wind funneling
and turbulence around their bases, causing
discomfort to pedestrians. They cast shadow
on nearby buildings, streets, parks, and open
spaces, and they may obstruct views, reduce
access to natural light, and prevent natural
ventilation. Further, we have little experience
in demolishing skyscrapers. “It is an interesting
fact that, apart from World Trade Center in
2001, no building over 200 meters has ever
been demolished” [44, p. 28]. We will need
to develop the technical expertise to enable
deconstructing skyscrapers at the end of their
life cycles with minimal environmental impact.
3.1 Carbon emission
Skyscrapers’ construction and operation
generate signicant amounts of carbon
emission and air pollution that contribute
to global warming. High-rises consume lots
of steel and cement—manufacturing these
materials produces large amounts of carbon
dioxide. Also, tall buildings’ construction
generates considerable carbon dioxide because
of operating heavy machinery and equipment
such as powerful cranes and pumps (e.g.,
pumping water and concrete to upper oors)
and dump trucks. Transporting building
materials from far distances (sometimes from
overseas) also produces immense carbon
dioxide [46].
Alternative eco-friendly materials (e.g., local
wood, earth, clay, or gravel that have smaller
ecological footprint than steel and concrete)
are not suitable for constructing skyscrapers.
However, recently, architects and structural
engineers have been experimenting with using
compressed wood for constructing tall buildings
(see Chapter12). Further, skyscrapers generate
signicant greenhouse emission resulting from
running mega electrical, mechanical, lighting,
and security systems. Architects have built
skyscrapers with poor thermal performance
and without natural ventilation, meaning that
buildings’ owners need to continuously heat
and cool indoor spaces (in the winter and
summer, respectively) to make sure that tenants
have comfortable indoor environments. As
such, the energy needed to heat and cool these
skyscrapers is not only costly but also hurts the
environment by generating massive carbon
dioxide [47].
3.2 Urban heat island effect
Urban heat island (UHI) effect refers to an
increase in temperature in dense inner city
locations over the fringe of the same city. The
concentration of heat in urban areas or UHI
could increase temperature by 10–12 Fahrenheit
degrees, according to Rudi Scheuermann [48, p.
106]. The temperature increase is a result of the
massive concentration of urban areas—made
up of heat-retaining materials, such as asphalt,
concrete, steel, bricks, and impervious ground
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130 Page
and roof surfaces, which collectively act as a
huge thermal mass that absorbs solar radiation
during the day and discharges it in the form of
long-wave heat radiation during the night.
Therefore, dark surfaces that absorb heat from
the sun, a lack of greenery, and waste heat
from industry and vehicles lead to higher
temperatures in cities than that in the rural areas
around them. Motorized trafc in particular
“contributes up to a third of the anthropogenic
heat produced in urban areas” [49, p. 530]. In
the context of high-rise buildings, “The height
of the heat island is three to ve times of the
average building height” [50, p. 305]. As such,
a concentration of tall buildings increases
the city’s thermal mass, and consequently it
increases the UHI effect. In a nutshell, as cities
grow denser and accommodate taller buildings
and greater auto trafc, UHI intensity will
increase signicantly.
Overall, when extreme heat occurs, high-rise
cities have more trouble cooling off than other
places do, creating a greater demand for energy
to cool spaces. Also, heat waves aggravate
both indoor and outdoor thermal discomfort
and negatively affect people’s health when the
human body cannot cool off at night. UHI also
decreases air and water quality by increasing
the production of pollutants. Recent research
indicates, “… both nocturnal and diurnal
urban effects have an important impact on the
primary and secondary regional pollutants,
more specically the ozone and the nitrogen
oxide (NOx)” [51, p. 1743]. Warmer polluted
air can increase people’s risk to vector-borne
and infectious diseases such as West Nile
virus and Lyme disease. Collectively, scholars
have indicated that UHI contributes to climate
change and global warming [51].
3.3 Wind
Urbanization weakens natural ventilation
because buildings block breezes coming from
nearby natural elds such as oceans, seas,
lakes, forests, farms, and mountains [52].
Given their greater heights and larger masses,
tall buildings impact natural wind directions
and patterns by increasing the distance of
wind shadow and minimizing the air ow in
the leeward direction, i.e., behind buildings.
Therefore, in polluted urban environments,
decreased airow augments stagnation and
accumulation of air pollution.
At the street level, tall buildings create a wind
tunnel effect that increases wind speed and
turbulence, which discomforts pedestrians.
Strong airow that occurs around tall buildings
creates eddies, loops of dust, and air pollution,
thereby disturbing and discomforting street
activities. Wind acceleration manifests in open
areas, including plazas, passages, entrances,
corners, and spaces between buildings [52].
3.4 Sea-level rise
Geographically, numerous high-rise cities stand
along shorelines (e.g., Hong Kong, Guangzhou,
Shanghai, Tokyo, New York City, Miami, San
Francisco, Sydney, Melbourne, etc.) and are—
to a greater or lesser degree—threatened by
rising seas. Sea levels could rise three, ve, or
even six feet by the end of the 21st century,
according to the Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change, the United States Army
Corps of Engineers, and the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration, respectively.
Some geologists consider these estimates to be
lower than what will happen, contemplating
the possibility of a 10- to 20-ft rise [47].
High-rise cities concentrate a larger number
of people, asset, and infrastructure that
make ooding more destructive and costly.
Implementing physical measures to mitigate
ood in dense cities—such as building walls—
is challenging and could interfere with existing
infrastructure and weaken the connectivity
between sidewalks and buildings’ ground
oors, thereby creating pedestrian-unfriendly
environments [53].
572212.indd 130 28/05/18 6:37 PM
Page 131
3.5 Geological considerations
The geological structure of a place poses
several implications for constructing tall. For
example, when tall buildings stand on a imsy
soil, their collective weight may result in a
gradual sinking of the place. Shanghai offers
an illustrative example. The city has inherently
soft soil because of its geographical position
at the mouth of the Yangtze River basin, and
groundwater accounts for nearly 70% of land
subsidence. Unfortunately, the heavy weight
of new colossal skyscrapers coupled with
massive depletion of groundwater has caused
large areas to sink. The sinking problem will be
worse when the sea-level rise occurs—the sea
level close to Shanghai is expected to increase
by ve centimeters (two inches) by 2050 [47].
While it is safest to anchor a skyscraper’s
foundation over a bedrock (a geological
layer of solid rock), it is not always easily
accessible. In some cities, the bedrock is so
deep that it would be too expensive to reach it.
Other cities have a combination of swampy
soil and deep bedrock. Steadying skyscrapers
in these places is costly because they require
a staggering feat of structural engineering.
Otherwise, skyscrapers could collapse.
Chicago, the birthplace of skyscrapers, offers
a prime example of a swampy place with a
bedrock (called dolomite) as deep as 85ft. The
1889 Auditorium Building (now Roosevelt
University) provides an early example, where
Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan invented a
foundation system that consisted of isolated,
giant pyramidal piers—measuring more than
12-ft tall and comprising layers of wood,
steel, concrete, and stone—to distribute the
structural load at several points across the
Auditorium Building’s base. Unfortunately,
the building faced a “differential settlement”
problem, where heavier parts of the building
settled deeper than the lighter parts.
Later, Burnham and Root’s 1891 Monadnock
Building used a “grillage” foundation, a raft
system with pyramid-shaped feet that make
the building oat on the clay. A few years
later, engineering used the caisson system
that consists of steel pipes lled with concrete
that reach the bedrock. Structural engineers
applied this system for Adler and Sullivan’s
Stock Exchange Building. Since then, engineers
have rened the caisson system, and they use
it today for skyscrapers in swampy places [37].
As mentioned earlier, Shanghai has challenging
soil and seismic conditions dened in the China
Building Code as type IV, which approaches
the Class F in the IBC code [54]. As such,
engineers have to devise special design for
towers’ foundations. For example, for Shanghai
World Financial Center, engineers employed a
foundation made of more than 200 concrete-lled
steel pipe friction piles and a thick reinforced
concrete mat that transfers loads of building’s
column to the piles (Figure3.25). Construction
workers had to drive friction piles to a depth of
78m (256ft) from the ground surface. Similarly,
engineers designed a special foundation system
for Shanghai Tower. Its foundation consists of
947 bore piles (52–56 m long (171–184 ft)) of
one-meter diameter and a six-meter-deep mat.
Undoubtedly, transporting long pipe piles and
bore piles to construction sites is a daunting task.
Another remarkable example is the original
World Trade Center complex in New York
City, which needed constructing a sizable
underground slurry wall (known as the
“bathtub”) that surrounded the entire 16-
acre site to protect it from oods caused by
the adjacent Hudson River. Built in the 1960s,
the nearly one-meter-thick wall was made
of reinforced concrete. Although survived
post the collapse of the towers because of
9/11 terrorist attacks, the slurry wall became
weak. In the process of redeveloping the site,
engineers reinforced the existing 20-m-deep
(57-ft) slurry wall by adding a linear wall that
ties with the new buildings’ foundations [55].
Similarly, given Miami’s high water table,
building basements has been structurally
572212.indd 131 28/05/18 6:37 PM
132 Page
Figure3.25: Shanghai World Financial Center in Shanghai, China. Rising to
492m (1,614ft), it was designed by KPF and completed in 2010.
The 101-story tower employs an expensive foundation made of more
than 200 concrete-lled steel pipe friction piles and a thick reinforced
concrete mat. Further, the client’s desire to increase the building size
after constructing the foundation caused increasing construction costs
about $200million. (Photograph by author)
572212.indd 132 28/05/18 6:37 PM
Page 133
difcult, even prohibited in the city. Recently,
the recent Brickell City Center development
had to use innovative engineering solutions
to accommodate a 1,600-space underground
parking garage.
To build the garage, teams used a newly
developed deep-soil mixing technique to
place a temporary cement soil mix plug
and perimeter permanent sheet piling,
creating a dry hole for construction.
Deep Soil Mixing technology consists
of an in-ground blending of native soils
with an injected cement grout mixture,
which serves to stabilize the soil to
facilitate excavation during construction
activities [56, p. 95].
Other skyscrapers stand on sandy soil. For
example, the 1,000-m Jeddah Tower in Jeddah,
Saudi Arabia (under construction), faced
challenging sandy soil conditions that required
innovative solutions, full-scale foundation
testing, and sophisticated computer modeling.
The tower’s foundation consists of 226
1.5-m-diameter and 44 1.8-m-diameter cast-
in-place piles (with a spacing 2.5 times pile
diameter) connected to a reinforced concrete
raft. Corresponding to transferred loads, the
raft’s thickness varies: thickness at the wings
is 4.5m, which increases to 5m at the center.
Similarly, the pile’s depth varies: it is 45m deep
at the wings, 105m at the center of the tower,
and 65m and 85m in between [57].
Certainly, fragile soil worsens the issue of
buildings’ settlement. The 197-m (645-ft)-tall
58-story Millennium Tower in San Francisco,
CA, has recently faced this problem
(Figure 3.26). This residential tower has
sunk 16 inches (40 cm) since its completion
in 2009. Also, the tower had already sunk
more than eight inches (20cm) by the time
its construction was completed, totaling
24inches (60cm).
Upon examining the problem, the building’s
owner blamed structural engineers for a
decient foundation. However, engineers
argued that the sinking problem was caused
by the construction activities of a new
massive transport hub taking place next door.
Dangerously, the tower is leaning six inches
toward a neighboring skyscraper. Overall,
buildings’ foundations in the Bay Area do not
reach the bedrock [58]. What makes the problem
worse is that the city lies within an earthquake-
prone zone and faces landslides issue.
3.6 Bird collision
Bird–glass collisions are an unfortunate
side effect of tall building developments
throughout the world. Billions of birds perish
from collisions with glass yearly, making it
the second largest man-made hazard to birds
after habitat loss. The United States alone is
responsible for up to a billion birds yearly
[59]. To make matters worse, countless victim
birds belong to already declining population
species, including Canada warbler (Cardellina
canadensis), golden-winged warbler (Vermivora
chrysoptera), Kentucky warbler (Geothlypis
formosa), painted bunting (Passerina ciris),
wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina), and
worm-eating warbler (Helmitheros vermivorus)
[59, 60].
Clear and reective glass result in killing
birds because birds perceive clear glass as an
unobstructed passageway; and consequently,
they attempt to y through. On the other hand,
reective glass reects the sky, clouds, and
nearby vegetation, reproducing a perceived
habitat familiar and attractive to birds. Since
the majority of modern tall buildings are clad
in glass, tall buildings become a prime killer.
Approximately 98% of ying vertebrates
(birds and bats) migrate at heights below
500 m (1,640 ft), and today, tallest buildings
in the world reach or come close to the upper
limits of bird migration paths. Although bird
migration happens in fall and spring seasons,
their collision into tall buildings occurs
year-round [59].
572212.indd 133 28/05/18 6:37 PM
134 Page
Figure3.26: The 58-story Millennium Tower in San Francisco, CA. It has sunk 16inches
since its completion in 2009. Previously, the tower had sunk eight inches
by the time the tower’s construction was completed, totaling 24inches.
Dangerously, the tower leans six inches toward a neighboring skyscraper.
The tilting problem is also signicant regarding elevators, which require
vertical alignment to operate. Sadly, this accident has triggered skepticism
about constructing more skyscrapers in the city. (Photograph by author)
572212.indd 134 28/05/18 6:38 PM
Page 135
At night, skyscrapers’ lights lure birds in search
of navigational cues. Birds usually use stars
and the moon, and illuminated windows often
divert them from their original ight paths. As
such, birds can be attracted to articially lit tall
buildings, resulting in collisions. This problem
manifests on evenings of inclement weather,
when the cloud’s altitude is low, which forces
birds to y at lower heights. Attracted by the
articial light rays, some birds collide into the
buildings’ facades. Ironically, “building green”
promotes incorporating bird habitats in cities
(e.g., parks, gardens, roofs, and water surfaces)
and demands incorporating plenty of glass to
ensure the provision of daylight in buildings—a
deadly combination for birds [60].
3.7 Waste management
Tall buildings generate large volumes of waste
because they house large population. On
average, the disposal rate of an apartment unit
is about one ton per year. While this amount
of waste is not different from a low-rise
residential unit, the method of waste collection
in high-rises is more complicated than that in
low-rises (Figure3.27). One popular disposal
method for tall buildings is the chute system,
which consists of vertical shafts that transfer
waste to a central location bin in a lower level
of the building via gravity. Nevertheless, the
large amount of waste accumulated on the
ground oor poses a challenge to management
systems. That is, massive waste can pile up
quickly, and if the building management does
not take care of the disposal rooms, then a
large amount of daily disposed waste can lead
to overowing collection bins that can cause
odor and rodent problems. As such, collecting
waste by haulers must occur more than once
a week, which is the norm with single-family
residential trash pick-ups [37].
Figure3.27: Midtown Manhattan, NYC. Dense cities generate an excessive amount
of trash that makes it difcult for waste management to provide an effective
service. (Photograph by author)
572212.indd 135 28/05/18 6:38 PM
In other cases, residents of tall buildings haul
their household trash by themselves to a
central location usually in the basement of the
building, where waste management collects in
roll-off or standard refuse containers. Overall,
this method is the most labor intensive for
residents, and most high-rise cities continue
to apply this method. Further, because tall
buildings have different layouts, forms, and
shapes, disposal and collection systems vary
from one building to another [37].
While increasingly cities enact recycling goals,
high-rise apartments have remained largely
immune to recycling. The complex methods of
collecting waste coupled with conned spaces
in high-rises make it harder to implement
recycling systems. Also, loading docks have
limited space for containers, and service-
parking areas are small, thereby making it
harder for trucks to maneuver, load waste,
and leave the site. Further, research illustrates
that apartment residents are less committed to
recycling than other types of housings because
they lack a sense of ownership. Additionally,
buildings’ owners do not hire companies to
conduct recycling to avoid raising rent [37].
Overall, because of rapid urbanization, the
issue of waste management is increasingly
signicant. Cities often lack waste-recycling
facilities, regulations on the disposal of construc-
tion waste, and management of dumping
sites. Furthermore, numerous cities face
problems of illegal dumping and are short of
landll sites.
This chapter identied the salient
“unsustainable” aspects of tall buildings. The
next chapter explains the larger mission of
this research. It gives an overview of how new
design and technologies attempt to address
these “unsustainable” aspects.
136 Page
572212.indd 136 28/05/18 6:38 PM
... It is also worth noting that, in the literature, concerns about the sustainability, ecologicality, or circular economy of supertall buildings have been raised in many studies (e.g., [19][20][21][22]). For example, according to Al-Kodmany [20], these buildings have features that hinder their social, economic, and environmental sustainability. ...
... It is also worth noting that, in the literature, concerns about the sustainability, ecologicality, or circular economy of supertall buildings have been raised in many studies (e.g., [19][20][21][22]). For example, according to Al-Kodmany [20], these buildings have features that hinder their social, economic, and environmental sustainability. From a social perspective, because of their vertical arrangement, supertall buildings can encourage social isolation and are, therefore, often considered unsuitable for family life and child rearing in general. ...
Full-text available
Space efficiency is one of the most important design considerations in any tall building, in terms of making the project viable. This parameter becomes more critical in supertall (300 m+) residential towers, to make the project attractive by offering the maximum usage area for dwellers. This study analyzed the space efficiency in contemporary supertall residential buildings. Data was collected from 27 buildings, using a literature survey and a case study method, to examine space efficiency and the main architectural and structural design considerations affecting it. The results of this research highlighted that: (1) central core was the most common type of design parameter; (2) prismatic forms were the most preferred building forms; (3) the frequent use of reinforced concrete was identified, compared to steel and composite; (4) the most common structural system was an outriggered frame system; (5) the space efficiency decreased as the building height increased, in which core planning played a critical role; (6) when building form groups were compared among themselves, no significant difference was found between their effects on space efficiency, and similar results were valid for structural systems. It is believed that this study will help and direct architects in the design and implementation of supertall residential projects.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.