The shape of tall buildings

Advocacy for tall buildings as the dominant future global building type while focusing on the need to explore their urban, environmental and economic performance as products of their shape

Outline of my speach at the World Congress of the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in Hong Kong in 1991

  • The need for increased density in urban areas persisted and has been growing exponentially since the beginning of urbanization.
  • Society responded to this need by the only means available — increasing the number of floors in buildings, the greater the density, the taller the buildings.
  • Science and technology were always available to provide the means for accomplishing this task.
  • The current generation of tall buildings is larger and stronger than any man made structures of the past.
  • These buildings are sophisticated machines. They are capable of being renewed by replacement of failing systems within their assemblies.
  • These buildings are here to stay.
  • The act of creating a building is organizational — resources are gathered from around the globe, and re-organized into a new order, a building.
  • Architects shape the forms of these buildings.
  • The generic form of the first generation of functional tall buildings was an imposing box, insensitive and usually indifferent to its urban role.
  • As these buildings proliferated, their adverse impact on the environment multiplied and could no longer be ignored.
  • In their search for more appropriate forms, some architects and critics turned to the past, but history could not provide the answers because these problems are unique to our times.
  • The act of creating a building appropriates open public space and transforms it into an enclosed private space.
  • With this, the building also takes away from its surroundings a portion of its sky dome, resulting in a reduced level of ambient daylighting, mostly for the public areas on grade.
  • Tall buildings also change the patterns of air movement around them, affecting their cleansing qualities and inducing uncontrollable, some times nasty drafts affecting pedestrians at street levels.
  • They always cast shadows on public areas and on other buildings, on most occasions indiscriminately.
  • From these we learn that most of the adverse affects of large buildings on their environment are caused by their bulk and its placement on the site, and by their form, not by their architectural style or surface decorations.
  • The design of tall buildings is based on many principles, intimate knowledge of these principles reveals that there is room for manipulation of their form.
  • Through specific manipulations of form unique for each particular site, a tall building could be made very responsive to its environment; its volume shaped and located to reveal more sky, and the perception of its bulk reduced. It could be made to direct, enhance, brake or block the wind in the different surrounding areas. It could be made to turn a corner, provide a street wall to any desired height, and taper toward the sky. It can form optical illusions, it could be made to be expressive, it could make welcoming gestures, and it could be made to be beautiful.
  • However, design of tall buildings must be very logical, systematic, and much of its components repetitive, its structure must be clear, balanced, and direct, its mechanical systems efficient.
  • The relative ease of use of the simple box in achieving these requirements explains why it still persists as a common form for tall buildings, in spite its acknowledged deficiencies.
  • Morphology, the study of form and structure, along with geometry and mathematics, contain the logical aspects of complex forms, the logic of their inner structure and their interrelationships.
  • Selection or manipulation of forms that is based on a thorough understanding of their Morphological / geometrical qualities will result in maintaining or improving the pragmatic aspects of the buildings. It will also provide greater dimensional and visual harmony between its components while allowing for a wide range of flexibility and variety.

Reason, not whim

Reason, not whim

eli attia architect