The architecture of tall, supertall, and megatall buildings toward vertical urbanism

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IN my speaking engagement yesterday for the Asia CEO Forum, I shared with top leaders in business, real estate, construction, government, and many others, my talk entitled “Asian Cities Ascending: The Architecture of Tall, Supertall, and Megatall Buildings Toward Vertical Urbanism.” With global urbanization approaching 200,000 people a day, there is a dire need for new or extended cities and this is driving simultaneous massive growth in hundreds of Asian cities.

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According to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), most of the Tall, Supertall, and Megatall buildings are now moving to Asian cities like Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, and Riyadh from cities in North America like New York and Chicago.

CTBUH is the world’s leading body in the field of tall buildings and it arbitrates on tall building height, determining the title of “The World’s [or Country’s or City’s]Tallest Building.” It defines a Tall building as a building with a height of more than 50 meters. For buildings to be qualified as Supertall, its height should be over 300 meters. Megatall buildings, on the other hand, are over 600 meters in height. As of August 2014, there were 82 Supertall and two Megatall buildings completed and occupied globally.

The shift from North America to Asia
Historically, North America holds the distinction of having most of the tallest buildings in the world. New York alone houses America’s most iconic skyscrapers like the Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, and the former World Trade Center. This growth is expected to decline as the construction in Asia continues to boom. Today, the world’s tallest buildings are in Asia, including Burj Khalifa in the United Arab Emirates, Shanghai Tower in China, Taipei 101 in Taiwan, and the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, among many others.

China remains to be the heavyweight and overall undisputed champion of tall-building construction, according to the CTBUH review of record completion per country in 2014. Last year, 60 percent of the global 200-meters-plus completed tall buildings were located in China, maintaining its position as the tallest country in Asia and the world. Other countries on the list include the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, United States, Japan, Indonesia, and Canada.

While China’s success may be attributed to different factors like GDP growth, increase of the urban population, and technological advancements, it is also worthwhile to take note of the attention they have given to developing their building codes and standards in the past 30 years. According to Junjie Zhang of the East China Architectural Design and Research Institute, China has published standards pertaining to the construction of Supertall buildings like the High-Arise Concrete Structure Technology Regulations, High-Level Civil Buildings Steel Structure Regulations, Building Seismic Design Codes, High-Rise Construction Seismic Fortification regulations, and many others covering areas like elevator technology, mechanical and electrical equipment, and façade technology.

In Europe, cities that are traditionally anti-tall buildings like London, Paris, Frankfurt, and other 2000-year-old cities have now embraced tall buildings.

Tall building developments in the Philippines
The tallest building crown in the country has since been passed to the Gramercy Residences. Tall building design in the Philippines is only beginning to take shape starting with Rizal Tower, Luna Gardens, Hidalgo Place, Amorsolo East and West at Rockwell Center in a vertical urbanism.

“Private-led vertical urbanism in the Philippines,” a paper I presented in the 2012 CTBUH Conference in Shanghai, has been the prevailing trend in the last 30 years, evidenced by the increasing number of Central Business Districts (CBDs). In fact, Jones Lang Lasalle’s Research and Consultancy reported that there are eight emerging CBDs in Metro Manila alone: Metropolitan Business Park in Pasay, Asiaworld City and Aseana Business Park in Parañaque, Nuvali and Southwoods City in Laguna, Arca South in Taguig, Circuit Makati in Makati, and Capital Commons in Pasig. Although not mentioned in JLL’s report, I believe the SM Business Park is also worth mentioning because of its size. These CBDs will be built on the principles of vertical urbanism as an answer to the country’s continuously growing BPO industry, public-private partnership and tourist influx.

As our skylines reach new heights, our national building code must also be updated to keep up with international standards. The government, developers, architects, engineers, planners, and allied professionals in the built environment must be able to work together to review and update our building code in order to build taller, safer, smarter and towards more sustainable vertical urbanism.

I have been honored and privileged by CTBUH as a country representative and elevated as CTBUH Fellow, only one of two in the world in 2013. There are a lot we can learn from the CTBUH, as I have, in planning, designing, and developing communities, cities, and tall, supertall, and megatall buildings. The next conference will be in New York in September 2015. On behalf of CTBUH, I encourage everyone in the building and real estate industry to actively participate, learn, and share your tall building projects to the rest of the world.

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