Sprawl to tall

Tall buildings are the future of sustainable architecture.

The relationship between tall buildings and sustainability-and how that relationship will shape future cities-was the subject of the 8th World Congress of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) in early March.

More than 800 delegates from 42 countries descended on Dubai for the three day conference to hear how the world's leading experts propose to design, build and operate structures that maximise both liveability and energy efficiency.

Ken Yeang called for "furrier" buildings that harness sunlight and include a layer of live foliage. Adrian Smith divulged his desire to build a 2km zero-carbon vertical city. David Fisher extolled the benefits of his rotating tower, which, like a large liveable wind turbine, produces energy while it spins. And, Drs. Dickson Despommier and Eric Ellingsen warned of an impending land shortage and the necessity of vertical farms in urban areas.

Despite proclamations of Dubai as a "model of urban sustainability", several visiting architects and engineers disagreed with the concept of ‘taller is better'. In fact, despite local media reports to the contrary, shadows of doubt were cast on the idea that Dubai, in its current form, is a model of anything sustainable.

However, organizations like the CTBUH bring together experts-whether technical, structural or creative-to explore issues. Regardless of how simple or outlandish the concept, the CTBUH provides a forum for academic exploration and structural progress and for that, it should be commended.

While the sustainability of a single building is subject to debate, compact masterplans that include mixed-use towers reduce the necessity for vehicle-based transportation and provide options for myriad lifestyle functions. For this reason, clusters of tall buildings, or ‘super-communities', are inherently and fundamentally sustainable.

Although the evidence is less compelling for buildings in isolation-regardless of height-it seems a large majority of those in attendance at CTBUH 2008 would agree that super-communities are the way forward in the carbon-profligate Middle East.

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