Sprawl to tall

Tall buildings are the future of sustainable architecture.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith

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.

Middle East Architect editors Jeff Roberts and James Boley caught up with some of those experts during CTBUH 2008 and got answers to questions on everything from inspirations to limitations to the current state of Middle Eastern architecture.

Adrian Smith, founder & partner, Adrian Smith+Gordon Gill.

What does architecture mean to you?

First and foremost, architecture is the delight component, which is the artistic endeavour.

The commodity component of architecture means that the building has to function. It was built to house people and to offer places of living, working, entertainment and relaxation. But you've got to remember, architecture forms the external spaces in which people interact.

The firmness component is also very important as well. Buildings need to have a lasting value. Hopefully it will withstand the test of time.

After all the planning and designing, what's it like to see your projects come to fruition?

The process of doing a building, especially these larger ones, is a long process. It takes several years.

You pretty much know what the building is going to be by the time you start construction. However, there is something that you never quite feel about a project in its design phases and that's the scale of the project.

The scale and the relationship of elements in the building are completely unknown until it's finished. You can guess at it, but you're often surprised by it.

What are your impressions of architecture in the Middle East? What does the future hold for this region?

It's interesting what's happening now in the Middle East. Architecture in the Middle East and China is fundamentally different from the way in which cities have been built in the past.

There is an enthusiasm for things of great difference. And, there is a search for beauty. This is all happening at a very rapid pace. The rapid pace is something that should be a cautionary note.

Without time for development and matriculation of an idea, quite often, those ideas are not put together in the best way. Quality can suffer when speed is the driving force-which it is here.

Having said that, speedy architecture is something that is very exciting to see and the Dubai of the future, if left to its own devices, will certainly create some extraordinary occurrences.

It promises to be very different from European or American precedents.

How sustainable are tall buildings?

Tall buildings are like any other buildings in terms of sustainability. There are ones that are sustainable and ones that are not.

Sustainability of a design is one where you have to start with the principles of good site finding and orientation.

If you can orient and shape the building to harvest the energy-i.e. wind, solar, geothermal-and screen the inhabitants from the harsh sun, you're half way there.

Is there a limit to how tall you make a building before it becomes impractical?

I don't think so. You have to look at the larger picture. If you were to take Burj Dubai-five million m²-and you were to spread that out over the countryside in a suburban context, it would take well over 100 acres of development to create the same amount of space available in one building on a four acre site.

What's the value of 100 acres of trees and forests? That doesn't even consider the number of vehicles necessary to service all those sites.

In a tower, especially mixed-use, it's possible to live and work in the same place. The key isn't just one tower, it's a cluster or series of towers that results in a car-free environment in which everything is accessible by walking.

Russia, China and India are major growth areas. What challenges come with working in regions that are historically unstable?

I think property development is a very good stabilising aspect in countries that are somewhat unstable. Once you start putting real property in a location, it becomes a valuable thing to lose. That makes people act differently.

If you could ignore traditional limitations, what kind of building would you like to build?

I'd like to build a 2km tower. Forget the mile-high building; Foster did the zero-energy horizontal city in Masdar; I want to do the zero-energy vertical city.


Ken Yeang, partner, Llewelyn Davies Yeang.

What does architecture mean to you?

Architecture is about providing improved comfort, improved public conditions. But at the same time, doing it in a green way.

After all of the planning and designing, what's it like to see one of your projects completed?

The architect is like a craftsman. And as a craftsman, your objective is to do the same thing again and again, but every time we do, we try to do it better.

What are your impressions of architecture in the Middle East? What does the future hold?

That's something I'm very worried about. Probably within the next 5-10 years they will go through a period where they have overbuilt and they don't know what to do with it.

What inspires your projects? How does that differ from what you see here?

We build all over the world now. I live in London and we have work in America, Canada, the Middle East, India, China, Singapore and Malaysia. What differentiates us is we do green building. Not just green buildings, but ‘deep green' buildings that go beyond LEED Platinum.

How sustainable are tall buildings?

Tall buildings are not the most sustainable of building types, but they're inevitable in some locations. They need to accommodate people in terms of work and habitation, so we try to make them as sustainable as possible. But tall buildings typically use 30% more energy and materials to build, 30% more energy to operate, and 30% more energy and materials to remove and recycle.

Do you think there's a limit to how sustainable you can make a tall building before it becomes impractical?

Oh yes. Generally, over 50-60 storeys, it doesn't make sense structurally. That means the economic viability of the scheme becomes so inefficient because of the site's structure that it's not economical to build.

I find that you can achieve the same results by spreading the built up space over a wider area.

Tall buildings cannot be seen in isolation, they should be in the context of the city, of its totality, the city block. It's not an easy answer.

How can you maintain quality and cost-effectiveness in a tall building?

High-rise living can be economical, but what people found is that to make them into communities, then you need to create public realm spaces, and that may decrease efficiency of the tall building.

If efficiency drives a design, then we would not have architecture, we would not have socially pleasurable buildings. Efficiency and cost effectiveness should not be the only factor that drives the design of tall buildings.

[Green design] is very difficult to justify commercially. People should build green buildings because they're ethically, rather than commercially, committed to it.

Is it difficult to maintain originality? What inspires your creative process?

We draw a lot of ideas from nature. Nature is the best inventor in the world. If you keep looking at nature, you'll never run out of ideas.


Ole Scheeren, partner, OMA.

What does architecture mean to you?

I'm interested in comprehending architecture as a larger social issue. As something that plays a particular role in society, while obviously subject to developments, forces and changes within that society.

So on one hand it reflects those conditions, but at the same time it bears the scope for intervening and influencing those conditions at the same time.

How can a tall building be sustainable?

It's a typology that still lags behind, compared to low-rise or smaller volumes and their ability to be energy efficient. But beyond this, one thing that is entirely absent in discussions on sustainability is the question of how correct or efficient it is to build a new building, especially when it implies erasing a previous structure.

We have discussions about how energy friendly a new building is, or are impressed by a few features, but hardly ever question how much energy it actually takes to build a new one and what the real demand and needs are.

Is it difficult to maintain quality and cost-effectiveness in buildings, so that buildings can be affordable for all people?

If every single project was subject to mere forces of a risk-averse and profit-margin oriented development, it would mean that ultimately invention might no longer be possible. Everything will be captured in the straightjacket of economic calculation.

There is a need for moments of experimentation and moments of freedom, yet at the same time it remains an undeniable responsibility for architecture, especially in contexts such as housing, to work on affordable environments.

With those moments of freedom, is there a point where a tall building becomes less sustainable and just impractical?

We are not interested in the construction of designs for pure effect. I think this is something that we really have to take very seriously and work against. A very different, yet possibly more powerful iconography can arise out of thinking of buildings in terms of their organisational structures and their social ambitions and qualities.

What are your impressions of architecture in the Middle East? What does the future hold?

The Middle East is in highly specific position where it probably has the largest amount and strongest combination of financial resources and pure willpower.

It finds itself in a very interesting space between a dangerous lack of definition, yet an enormous potential and freedom for things to happen.

Is it difficult to maintain originality? What inspires your creative process?

That is the most impossible question to answer. It comes down to continuous searching, a continuous attention and observance to what's happening in the world.

I'm very interested to both dive deeply into actual conditions where I'm undertaking projects, yet at the same time be able to withdraw myself and connect and observe things that are happening globally.

The multiplicity of experiences in different cultures stays one of the main inspirations.

If you could ignore traditional limitations, what kind of building would you like to build?

I'm actually not at all interested in limitless architecture. I think architecture is a profession and domain whose sense and obligation lies in the recognition of a number of limitations and to find the hopefully most visionary concepts to exceed those at the same time.

There is no point in the desire for a context-less project. Limitations as they exist are ultimately things that propel or define the creation of architecture.


Shaun Killa, principal architect & head of design, Atkins.

What does architecture mean to you?

Architecture is a passion. I used to really enjoy building unique buildings within Dubai or the Middle East, but in fact, in the last five or six years, I've become incredibly passionate about sustainability. I enjoy the challenges of bringing in renewable energy sources and sustainable measures, whether they are active or passive, from the very first day.

After all the designing and planning, what's it like to see your projects come to fruition?

Mostly it's pride. I'm proud because I've managed to do something for the good of nature and the good of humankind, which may become a prototype for the future of building technology.

How sustainable are tall buildings?

On a masterplanning level, high-density is very sustainable-especially if you have mixed-use dynamics within the masterplan. There are some examples [of developments] in Dubai where that is not quite so, but there are more that are starting to create their own sustainable dynamic.

Is there a limit to how tall you make a building before it becomes impractical?

Yes. One thing to consider in doing any tall buildings is its embodied energy. If it takes so much energy to build, regardless of any sustainable measures in the building, it becomes impractical.

One of the things with very tall buildings is that they have a very large wind load. The consequence of that wind load is exponential in terms of forces, because ultimately a hi-rise building is a cantilevered structure.

Are high-rise builders targeting the ultra-wealthy or all socioeconomic groups?

Worldwide there are issues with creating high-rise buildings for all groups. In London, any new building has to have a certain amount of social housing.

I've heard from the developer's side what that actually means for the value of the development. I know it's noble to do a building that can include all social and economic groups but in some parts of the world, it's more challenging.

How do you maintain your originality? What inspires you?

You have to be a sponge for knowledge and you have to constantly keep your pencil sharp. You must have two forces: aspiration, which moves you forward, and fear, which pushes you from behind.

If you could ignore traditional limitations like procurement, budget or climate, what kind of building would you like to build?

I'd like to build a high-rise tower or community that is zero-carbon, or better yet, energy positive. It is much easier to do a zero-carbon low-rise building. High-rise is far more challenging but I believe it can be done.


Kerry Galbraith, head of Structural Department, KEO.

What does architecture mean to you?

It's not just about a building, it's about a place that people...good architecture is where you get good functionality in the space, the space is comfortable to be in and it's nice to look at.

After all of the planning and designing, what's it like to see one of your buildings completed?

There's a sense of achievement. It often takes so long to get a building going, like on the Burj Dubai, the construction period is 48 months and that's just construction. The design period adds another year on that.

Everyone's an architectural critic. Some people will like it, some won't. But it's nice to see something built after all your hard work.

What are your impressions of architecture in the Middle East? What does the future hold?

People keep asking, 'how long is it going to keep going in this region?'. That's the million dollar question. A friend sent me an email with all these projects that are taking place in Dubai-and all the images were AutoCAD renderings.

The thing is most of them are being built now, so really from a construction professional, this is an amazing time in our careers to be part of what's actually happening here.

How sustainable are tall buildings?

I'm a structural engineer and what we can do to make it sustainable is have efficient structural systems. A lot of that is just doing due diligence as professionals.

People are more aware of what sustainability is now. They can understand that it's something that needs to be defined right from the beginning of a project.

It's not just limited to the design professional; the contractor needs to get involved; the end user needs to get involved.

One aspect in the Gulf, which differs from other parts of the world, is maintenance of structures.

Historically, people here have built things and haven't really maintained them. They've just let them run and if things break down, they may fix them, they may not. It's important to remember, with sustainable buildings, the actual use of the building can play a signficant role in reducing its overall environmental impact.

Do you think there's a limit to how sustainable you can make a tall building before the building becomes impractical?

The Burj Dubai once it's occupied will be the tallest building in the world. It's supposed to happen in the later part of next year. Someone else is going to come out and build a taller building. It's inevitable.

I think we'll always be able to incorporate sustainability into these buildings. We just need to be more diligent in what we're doing.

Technology is changing all the time. By the time the building opens, some of the technology in that building will probably be outdated.

But ultimately, the bigger the building doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be less sustainable.


Peter Weingarten, partner, FXFOWLE.

What does architecture mean to you?

It's interesting; I was recently in Riyadh, doing a project. And when you enter the country, you have to put down your religion, and I almost put 'architecture' because I really believe it's an all-encompassing way of life. Once you get bit by that bug it stays with you forever.

What's it like to see one of your projects completed?

It's an immense satisfaction, especially if you think you've done a substantial work that's meaningful.

What are your impressions of architecture in the Middle East? What does the future hold for this region?

There's been a wave of early adopters who've built some really iconic buildings. Now we have to plan so that architecture has authenticity in the eyes of the people it serves and its community.

I don't mean to imply a sort of vernacular expression. It still can be contemporary and modern, but the architecture doesn't have to say 'look at me'. It has to be a servant to the people and the city, and especially in this region where there's a lack of interconnectivity between these towers in the desert. We need much more urban fabric and infrastructure to support this density.

How sustainable are tall buildings?

It's been well documented they serve a diminishing point of return within themselves. But as long as they're interconnected, they have a great potential. Think of each building as a hub on the internet, and it's only through the interconnectivity of all those hubs that the internet functions as a real web.

Do you think there's a limit to how sustainable you can make a tall building before it becomes impractical?

They don't ever stop being sustainable; they just become not as efficient. But the idea that you can serve a population vertically is always going to be sustainable. Again it has to be part of a larger system, and iconic buildings that stand alone and are egocentric don't play nicely.

How can you maintain quality and cost-effectiveness in a tall building?

A building that is well endeared to the people it serves will be sustainable because people will care for it. But we shouldn't ignore the existing building stock. There are programmes, such as LEED for Existing Buildings, which really take great strides to popularise what people can do with their own residences and offices. But I think we're approaching the time that the 'human tribe' needs to start working together.

Russia, China and India are major growth areas. What kind of challenges come with working in regions that are historically unstable?

Construction is the biggest problem. You see a lot of tall buildings influenced by Western-influenced design principles, almost irrespective of the fact that they almost cannot be built in that region.

In Mumbai we're seeing a US $51 billion industry, with some of the highest fatalities and illnesses attributed to construction in the world, because they're still using bamboo scaffolding, there aren't proper safety precautions.

If you could ignore traditional limitations like procurement, budget, or climate, what kind of building would you like to build?

I'm partial to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I always thought, that was an opportunity for someone to design something without gravity.

The imagery and the architecture in that movie is fantastic. And the way we're going, we're going to need that architecture, because we're not going to be able to ride this spaceship.


Simon Allford & Paul Monaghan, partners, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris LLP.

What does architecture mean to you?

SA: it's the bringing together of all those questions of need-visual need, aesthetic need, but also programmatic need. To us, programmatic need is the key driver. We're trying to think of different ways people might want to use buildings rather than just an image-based thing.

PM: In much of the work we do, we work out all the important parts-the brief, the sun, movement of daylight, the movement of different people through buildings-and only after you've understood those things can you start designing a building.

What are your impressions of architecture in the Middle East? What does the future hold?

SA: I think it's a huge challenge that people are just starting to take on. There's a real problem that obviously people want glamorous international architecture, which involves glass, towers and lifts.

I'd like to think that in the next 10 years, we'll come back and see very powerful forms, giving the international identity they require, but maybe they'll be smarter, environmentally intelligent buildings that are relying less on mechanics and more on nature.

PM: What you see is shape-driven buildings, buildings where being an icon is important. They design the building even though the design doesn't work and a lot of that is due to speed. I'm sure they're being procured too quickly and not being thought about why you might need a building before you build one.

How sustainable are tall buildings?

SA: The one rule about tall buildings is that they're very visible and more people see them, so they have to be better designed. Tall buildings can be very sustainable if you look at the bigger picture.


If a tall building is sited in the right way and has the right social programme, it can actually be a long-term sustainable thing. People want to live in the cities. Here, the key workers are all pushed out to the peripheries.

They travel vast distances, so what you need to is bring those people into the centre of the cities and reduce travel, which has a huge impact on cities.

Do you think that's possible in this region?

SA: This would be the archetypal place where you could make it work. The real problem is energy prices. If energy prices are too low, it's incredibly difficult to justify. You need legislation but you also need a cultural shift.

You need the market to actually say they want to bring workers into a building where there's a crèche, it's near transport links, it's low-energy, etc.

If you could ignore traditional limitations, what kind of building would you like to build?

SA: To me it would be a 3D city map somehow stacked through a building that's beyond the ground plane.

What's it like to see one of your projects completed?

SA: The moment we finish is when its life begins. If it's a really good building, it will cater for lives you haven't yet imagined. People will live and work in it in different ways, and that's a really good sign of a building that it's getting better with use rather than worse.

PM: We like the idea of our buildings getting a strong reaction. A building not being noticed is the ultimate insult to us.


Sudhir Jambekhar, director, FXFOWLE.

What does architecture mean to you?

There is a Sri Lankan architect named [Geoffrey] Bawa who is a brilliant, extraordinary architect. Bawa's answer to that question was, 'to make people happy'. I agree with this.

From my point of view, architecture is a combination of multiple things: first, it's about creating a thoughtful human habitat and contributing to the built environment. And, of course, it's about passion.

After all the designing and planning, what's it like to see your projects come to fruition?

It's the most exciting thing. When we go from city to city and we see some of things we've designed, it's the most fulfilling moment-and it never goes away. It's like children. Parents always love their children and it's the same for architects.

What is your impression of Middle East architecture? What does the future hold?

What's interesting about the ME is that it's providing unprecedented opportunities for the world's greatest talent. There is no question about that. Throughout history, different parts of the world flourish for many different reasons and now, in the age of economic empires, it's here.

Russia, China and India are major growth areas. What challenges come with working in regions that are historically unstable?

The Middle East, Russia, China and India are where the action is. The biggest challenges are not political because politics have nothing to do with it.

The biggest challenges are going to a new place and trying to understand the culture in a very short amount of time. There are a lot of subtleties involved.

How sustainable are tall buildings?

Tall buildings are the greatest thing one can do in terms of sustainability. First, they support the idea of compactness, which protects you from sprawl. That's the key. Once you do that, making them energy and water efficient is the next question. The third aspect of the tall building is that most of them tend to be mixed-use, which in itself is sustainable.

Ken Yeang asked how we can bring the spatial qualities of a horizontal city into vertical buildings, and while I don't quite agree with his ideas, nevertheless he makes a good point.

Is there a limit to how tall you make a building before it becomes impractical?

I don't think in terms of energy consumption but, as I understand them, they do become a bit economically challenging. After a certain height, construction costs tend to be much higher. But, tall buildings certainly add tremendous presence to a city. They become icons by their very nature.

How do you maintain your originality? What inspires you?

I am surrounded by people better than I am. As a result, it keeps me on my toes. My brain always has to be sharp.

If you could ignore traditional limitations like procurement, budget or climate, what kind of building would you like to build?

To ignore those things makes the process much more challenging. If I have constraints, it's much easier to design. If you are given an open piece of land, there are no references, no clues, no context.


Hani Rashid, founder & partner, Asymptote.

What does architecture mean to you?

I think one has to remember that architecture is a very high form of science, and also an art form. With environment and structural prowess, we still have to find ways to create spirited, powerful, poetic works for people to experience and cities to celebrate.

Architecture is really a cultural poetry. In my mind, it's closer to a great film or great music, than it is to great bridge design.

After all the designing and planning, what's it like to see your projects come to fruition?

It's exhausting, but exhilarating. When one becomes an architect, he/she enters a fantasy world of buildings and ideas. Every idea that comes from one's hand or mind is geared toward its inevitable possibility of construction. When you see things getting built, it's a kind of delirium.

After dealing with cutting-edge virtual reality technology, it's amazing how slow concrete seems and what drudgery there is in getting the building from the concept stage into its actualisation.

What is your impression of architecture in the Middle East? What does the future hold?

It's out of control. But, I think one could've said the same thing about architecture in New York City at the turn of the century.

There is a lot of stuff going up very fast. A lot of it, however, will disappear fast. But the stuff that will persevere over time is the stuff that acquires a cultural relevance.

How sustainable are tall buildings?

In many ways, architects in much of the field are a bit old-fashioned and behind the times. If we were to just put our ear on the tracks as innovators, we could create sustainable buildings beyond just tall buildings.

Density, masterplanning and tall buildings together, are a very viable model for the future. But, unfortunately, only one of those three is operating in Dubai at the moment.

Is there a limit to how tall you make a building before it becomes impractical?

It has to be tied to masterplanning. It's important to recognise that buildings are essentially recyclable. I do think that old models are leading us to very dangerous places in terms of sustainability.

Part of the problem is marketing. One has to recognise how much marketing is driving architecture here. That's a dangerous situation. It's not necessarily spawning good architecture.

Russia, China and India are major growth areas. What challenges come with working in regions that are historically unstable?

You could write a book on that. Architects are in a very problematic position. In the end, the clients are the ones with the means and desire for architecture. You've got to filter them out because nine out of ten clients who come to us are after a building, not architecture.

If we do find someone who's after architecture and not just a building, that may come with some baggage. There needs to be a bit of a suspension of disbelief.

You have two choices, you can turn your back on that because it's dangerous, or you go in and try to contribute something.

How do you maintain your originality? What inspires you?

I count my blessings as an architect on the fact that I got addicted to analogue artistry very early on and have become equally passionate about digital technology.

Originally, I wanted to be a filmmaker and I've managed to turn architecture into a film making process. The authenticity in the work is an embrace of the collaborative effort between architects, engineers and experts on every level.

If you could ignore traditional limitations what kind of building would you like to build?

How people answer that question shows you where their mindset is. If you answer that question, it means that you're in a backward trajectory because there is no performance in architecture without procurement, climate and budget challenges operating on you. They are part of the game and they always have been.


Roger Frechette, director of MEP & sustainability, SOM.

What does engineering mean to you?

We look for our buildings to do so many different things. I like to think of a building as a machine. They are what channel the energy; they are what allows us to plug into our own environment and separate us from the harsh environment.

After all the planning and designing, what's it like to see one of your projects completed?

It's exciting. It's both pride and relief. It's sadness because it means a project is coming to an end.

I used to tell my wife that if I'd lived in ancient Egypt, I'd have to have been on the team that built the pyramids. But these buildings, the Burj Dubai and the Pearl River Tower [in Guangzhou, PRC], are the pyramids of our generation.

What are your impressions of architecture in the Middle East? What does the future hold for this region?

It's interesting because a lot of places you go, the architecture is like stepping stones. There was something there hundreds or possibly thousands of years before and it slowly transformed into something else. Then you come to Dubai and there really wasn't much here even 30 years ago. That makes it very unique.

How sustainable are tall buildings?

If you talk about a tall residential building, you could argue that they're inherently sustainable because of their density. So much about sustainability is about putting people near their places of work so they're not impacting large areas of land. A tall building does that by its very nature.

Is there a limit to how tall you make a building before it becomes impractical?

I think the answer is yes. However, that changes over time. I think Burj Dubai would have been entirely impractical 20 years ago, and now it's practical. Today, a two-mile high tower would be impractical but in 10 years, the methodology for construction and technology will advance to the point where it's feasible and practical.

Russia, China and India are major growth areas. What kind of challenges come with working in regions that are historically unstable?

Absolutely. Take India for example. Buildings in an urban environment need to connect to an infrastructure. But sometimes the development gets ahead of the infrastructure.

In parts of India, the buildings have gotten way ahead of the infrastructure. We're designing properties there where there is no sewer or water. The sewage treatment is all happening on site and even where electricity is available, the power is out for 12 hours per day, everyday-and it's getting worse.

There are places in India where there is no infrastructure whatsoever and tremendous development. I think that's dangerous.

If you could ignore traditional limitations like procurement, budget or climate, what kind of building would you like to build?

I would like to build a regenerative building. We do a lot of research in our group on the topic of bio-mimicking and enabling buildings to respond to or learn from the lessons of nature.


David Fisher, chairman, Rotating Tower Technology Limited.

What does architecture mean to you?

For me, architecture is feasibility. I'm from Florence, the city of Renaissance. Thirty years ago, I met a colleague in New York City who designed timber buildings. I asked him about the cost of timber buildings versus concrete buildings and his answer shocked me. He said, 'I don't know the difference. I'm an architect, why should I care about the cost?'

If a building doesn't hold water from an economic point of view, I don't give a damn about the shape; I don't want to design it and I don't want to build it.

Most architects today build those strange shapes and 'iconic' buildings just to be different. It's ridiculous; they should be sculptors.

What is your impression of architecture in the Middle East? What does the future hold?

Generally speaking, I don't mind iconic if it makes people think. Even if a building is ridiculous, it gives you proportion for the rest.

Sooner or later, however, Dubai should start to think about architectural language instead of becoming another Las Vegas, or a combination of strange buildings.

Dubai needs harmony. Dubai can afford, both financially and conceptually, to stay away from that which is too obvious or, if I may say, childish.

How sustainable are tall buildings?

Towers should offer more guarantees of sustainability than smaller buildings simply because of their scale. Rotating towers like ours are not based on a shape, but on the concept of sustainability. The idea informs the shape.

When you add wind power, our tower is the greenest building ever designed. Energy production of our buildings is not 100%, it's 500%. We can produce and supply energy for surrounding buildings as well.

Is there a limit to how tall you make a building before it becomes impractical?

Yes. I am not a believer in the idea that ‘taller is better'. Especially places where there is a surplus of land, people are used to distance and there is an infrastructure for travelling. From a business point of view, there is not much reason to go so tall. New York or London is different, but Dubai doesn't need tall buildings.

How do you maintain your originality? What inspires you?

The sunset of my childhood. This is what influenced me more than any architect. From it, I realised at an early age that time and dimension are always moving. This is how everything started.

If you could ignore traditional limitations what kind of building would you like to build?

I would like to build a space with no walls. Just open space, that's it. Just like one of the sheikhs in Dubai. He lives in a tent in the desert. Ninety percent of the time, he's interacting with nature.


Leslie Robertson, founder & partner, LERA Engineering.

What does architecture mean to you?

Architecture provides mundane things like a place to sleep and work. It also provides inspiration for us and leads us into a better world in almost every respect. In a sense both art and architecture are essential to survival.

After all the planning and design, what's it like to see your projects come to fruition?

The most interesting projects to work on are museums and cultural projects. It's very satisfying work. There was a time when there were no architects, just engineers. In today's world, however, structural engineers and architects are equal in the way they work together and what they contribute to the project.

What is your impression of architecture in the Middle East? What does the future hold?

I think when you take a quick look you see two things: first, you see a lot of banal, very unfortunate buildings; and you read about buildings that are excesses, or attempts to create something spectacular.

How sustainable are tall buildings?

It's a difficult sell. It takes a lot more material per square metre to build a very tall building than a short one. You can improve it with better designs and better planning and better structural concepts. But, you bottom out pretty fast.

Are high-rise builders targeting the ultra-wealthy or all socioeconomic groups?

I look at the cost of housing and office space and think that it's certainly not for the poor. Four thousand or five thousand dollars per ft² is mind-boggling. Clearly, the market here is for quite well-to-do people.

How do you maintain your originality? What inspires you?

I teach at Princeton and my students often ask, 'how do you get your ideas?' and my answer is always the same. If you want to play basketball, you go out and shoot baskets.

Anyone can generate ideas, but they have to do two things: first, they have to see things around them and always be questioning; two, you have to practice.

Certainly, some people have more aptitude than others but that's the same with basketball. But, it doesn't mean that you can't shoot baskets.

If you could ignore traditional limitations, what kind of building would you like to build?

I really like to work on museums and concert halls and things of that nature. Those are what really interest me. The 'building' that most concerns me though is a different kind of building.

We are working very hard at trying to convince young women to go into math and science. You look at the audience out there today and it's all male. That's really sad. My students at Princeton are about 50:50 men/women in both architecture and engineering.

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Construction Week - Issue 767
Sep 01, 2020