MARIA PAZ GUTIERREZ
University of California, Berkeley
United Technologies Research Center
In 2015 a record-breaking 106 skyscrapers above 200 meters high emerged across the globe; the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) reported that 62 skyscrapers were built in China alone. The growth is exponential in both number and height—CTBUH forecast an increase from 18 percent to 27 percent in supertall buildings from 2015 to 2016.
Of the 100 tallest buildings in the world, all are at least supertall, rising more than 300 meters. This decade launched a new breed of skyscraper, the megatall building, which rises 600 meters or more; in 2016, 6 megatall buildings were either fully completed or under way. This scale challenges conceptions and notions of livability at great heights. The new record for a megatall building will be set by the kilometer-high Jeddah Tower, by Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill Architecture, in Saudi Arabia; it is scheduled for completion in 2020.
Megatall buildings elicit mixed reactions. They are seen as towering masterpieces that serve as icons and symbols of power—or destroyers of urban quality of life. They are praised as efficient green construction models for vertical densification—and denounced as consumers of resources that cannot possibly be sustainable.
The mega-high structures are more than aesthetic and structural advances that establish urban and corporate statements. Their scale challenges fundamental inhabitation models and affects multiple spheres of urban life and society, from geography and zoning regulations to economics and cultural beliefs. It is therefore essential to understand the role of science, technology, and development in addressing the complex environmental and sociocultural challenges inherent to megatall constructions.
How does scientific research enable and influence the design of megatall buildings? What are the scientific and technological innovations that will best support environmental sensibility and quality of life? What key driving factors will shape how engineers, architects, and scientists pursue new models that can be truly sustainable?
Megatall constructions will influence potential paradigm shifts in intelligent buildings and transportation systems, materials, structures, and the very future of the workplace. This session aimed to prompt discussion of the critical role of advances in sustainability and energy, intelligent transportation, functional natural materials for structural innovation, and spatial quality of the future of work in megatall buildings.
The session began with a review of fundamental design transformations in the making of megatall buildings and the impact of their distinctive spatial characteristics on daily life. Stephen Nichols (Otis) surveyed the role of digital interaction, physical-human interface, and intuitive behavior, spanning the disciplines of computer science and electrical, mechanical, and systems engineering as vertical transportation continues to evolve in taller buildings. The next presenter, Michael Ramage (University of Cambridge), looked at functional natural materials for structural systems in high-rise buildings. He is a research leader in such materials, in particular engineered timber and bamboo for high-rise structures. The session concluded with a talk by Jenny Sabin (Cornell University) on the applications of insights from biology and mathematics to the design of environmentally adaptable material structures.
As population concentration in urban settings continues to grow, so will vertical densification at unforeseen scales. It is essential to prepare for this outcome through fundamental research and development in potentially transformative models, in order to design and construct megatall buildings that exist in synergy with nature while promoting health and overall urban quality of life.