We’re in a period of radical change when it comes to how we define “excellence” in architecture. The measurement of success for a tall building has always been about more than just its height. Today we’re seeing the establishment of many new standards that attempt to delineate this more specifically. The AIA, LEED and WELL each have their own standards for excellence. The focus has begun to shift away from looking solely at the fulfillment of a client’s ambitions, to the building’s role in the life of its inhabitants and the community it anchors.
Our architecture and high-performance buildings center of excellence lead, Ross Wimer shares his thoughts and insights on three different ways to measure excellence in tall buildings.
Role and impact of public realm
Tall towers are often designed solely for the occupier and not for the surrounding community, restricting use to those that work or live in the building. Zoning and building code requirements generally attempt to restrict building bulk and height to limit their impact on their surroundings. But what if we measured excellence by a building’s ability to connect with and positively impact its neighboring community?
We’re all used to seeing, experiencing and interacting with the public realm at ground level, but as buildings continue to get taller, there is an opportunity for gardens, parks and public spaces to be repositioned too, many feet into the air. One George Street in Singapore does this well, and several recent designs we are working on such as Greenland Kunming Tower in Mainland China attempt to position large, landscaped terraces on elevated floors.
As cities become more dense, tall buildings will become more accessible to their surrounding communities, easily reached by public and sustainable modes of transport. A mix of programs within towers allows them to connect better with communities as they remain active throughout the day. We need to continue to merge tall buildings into the fabric of our cities for the benefit of our local communities if they’re truly to be considered a success in terms of the sustainable legacies they create.
The skin of a tall building has always been an important aspect of its character. Its construction technique, materiality and articulation can be manipulated for visual effect and for performance. The focus on improved environmental performance is now becoming embedded in more ambitious code requirements. The next step in the evolution of building skins is to combine the many redundant layers which normally comprise them into unified systems.
Our Staten Island Tower prototype has an exterior which includes the weather envelope, structure and mechanical systems. The efficient modular elements can be prefabricated off site and assembled quickly on site. The consolidation of systems saves floor area in the tower making the floor plates more efficient. The minimization of material in these assemblies helps to reduce the carbon footprint of the building.
At the Intuit Dome, now under construction in Los Angeles we have developed a skin that is both a weather enclosure, structure and occupied circulation space. The semi enclosed circulation spaces allow visitors attending an event to step out and enjoy the Southern California climate during breaks in the action and we’re working on developing similar types of systems for high-rise buildings.
These smart skins allow the buildings to be used in different, more flexible ways, allowing the benefits to extend beyond improved environmental performance.
Prepared for unintended futures
As our world continues to shift, not every building or tower will necessarily perform the role and function on completion that it was designed for. So, another measure of success that we must consider is ‘adaptability’ and the ability of a building designed one for one purpose to be able to pivot and perform another as the community’s needs around it change and evolve.
A good example of this is our tower at Yuenshen Road in Shanghai, Mainland China. Recently completed as a “class A” office building, this tower is now serving as a hospital, home to some 1300 beds to support the city’s response to the COVID 19 virus. Our design with relatively shallow lease spans that allow ready access to daylight allowed for the conversion of use in the tower. As working trends continue to migrate away from fixed places of work towards more flexible models, the decreased demand for office space will demand conversions of office space to other uses. If we plan properly those conversions can be more readily accommodated.
So, while we will still measure building height, and tall buildings will continue to be part of the definition of status and power in many parts of the world, there are other new criteria which will make towers even more effective as our cities expand.