Life in the sky

Making urban areas more livable

Nick Lerner
30 July 2018

4 min read

Increasingly, as city populations continue to swell, urban developers have only one option to accommodate them: build vertically. Compass spoke with Antony Wood, executive director, Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, about skyscrapers, sustainability and livability.

COMPASS: Please tell us about your role with the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

ANTONY WOOD: I’ve been the Executive Director of the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat since 2006, where I’m responsible for the day-to-day operations of the council. Prior to that, I was a practicing architect in Hong Kong, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, and the UK from 1991 to 2001, and then an associate professor and lecturer in Architecture at the University of Nottingham in the UK until 2006.

COMPASS: Could you please explain the CTBUH’s mission?

AW: CTBUH was founded in 1969 to share information and best practices on tall buildings. We are the world’s foremost authority on tall buildings and sustainable cities and the leading resource for professionals focused on the inception, design, construction and operation of tall buildings and future cities. Besides offices in the US, Italy and China, we have local chapters across the globe. Our primary mission is to facilitate the exchange of the latest knowledge available on tall buildings around the world through publications, research, and our annual international conferences

COMPASS: What attracted you to the organization?

AW: It really was an excellent opportunity to take this internationally respected organization and bring its influence and reach to a new level, at a time when skyscraper construction was beginning to take off globally and proliferate outside of North America.

Antony Wood, Executive Director, Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (Image © CTBUH)

COMPASS: Could you tell us a little about how the employees at CTBUH contribute to the organization’s mission?

AW: We have a fantastic group of hard-working staff members at CTBUH across three offices in three countries: our Global Headquarters and Academic office in Chicago; our Asia headquarters in Shanghai; and our Research office in Venice, Italy. Every one of them contributes to the CTBUH mission in its own way, whether it’s through dissemination of knowledge, planning our worldwide events or producing research outputs – among many other areas.

COMPASS: What sustainable innovations must urban habitats capture to prosper for future generations? And what roles could skyscrapers play in this context?

AW: Truly sustainable urban habitats must be designed to maximize the human experience of modern cities. This means not only respecting the local cultural identity of a given place through design, but also incorporating features that improve the social and physical aspects of a space to make cities more livable. Innovations that promote green spaces while reducing energy consumption and physical waste are critically important.

As extensions of the city, skyscrapers must exhibit these qualities in the vertical realm. The very best prioritize to habitability over commercial interests. Those that provide greenery, communal spaces for socializing, and family-friendly features embody the future of sustainable cities. Plus, with cities needing to accommodate an additional 2.5 billion people by 2050, tall buildings reduce the urban encroachment on open land by allowing more people to fit into compact environments.

COMPASS: How would this affect urban connectivity?

 AW: Connecting tall buildings through multiple layers of the city is key. In theory, the physical urban infrastructure would continue up into the buildings, circulating the daily flow of urban life into a multidimensional plane that becomes an extension of the city. Essentially, this means that tall buildings would become part of the public realm, complete with civic functions such as schools, hospitals and parks, all connected by skybridges. This would reduce the need for ground-plane infrastructure and increase physical space for the rapidly expanding urban population.

Willis Tower (Image © Antony Wood)

COMPASS: Do such ecosystems require different relationships among owners, architects, engineers, contractors, sub-contractors, fabricators and citizens?

AW: There’s been great progress toward this goal, but the industry itself needs to shift its emphasis from the purely commercial results of tall buildings to amplify the focus on creating places that improve people’s lives. For example, adding new types of high level open green spaces and other cultural and leisure areas to dense urban developments might not always drive profits, but it certainly increases the quality of life for the residents of a city.

COMPASS: Can virtual worlds – simulation and modeling – help the industry create more people-friendly tall buildings?

AW: Absolutely. In fact, we’re highlighting the new and expanding role of virtual technology in tall buildings by hosting a Smart Tall Buildings Symposium at our 2018 Middle East Conference, being held in Dubai and Abu Dhabi October 20-25. We believe there’s enormous potential for smart technologies in our sector. 3D modeling, for example, is revolutionizing the way that tall buildings are designed, evaluated and constructed. Given the scale and urban impact of skyscrapers, we believe there’s enormous potential for smart technologies in our sector. For example, 3D modeling is revolutionizing the way that tall buildings are designed and constructed. For an architect, being able to evaluate the experience that you expect to deliver to a customer in the preliminary design stage is becoming invaluable to our practice.



COMPASS: What are your expectations for the growth of digital simulation in creating tall buildings?

AW: Given the rapidly expanding role of product lifecycle management and 3D simulation in our field and across all industries, I expect the global need for these services to increase exponentially in the coming decade. Advances in 3D simulation, virtual reality and virtual worlds are changing the way we envision tall buildings. From a commercial perspective, these innovations allow architects to create more accurate representations, improving client relations and stakeholder cognition while reducing the need for numerous design iterations.

From left to right: Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai World Financial Center, Shanghai Tower (Image © CTBUH)

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