It is with great pleasure that I welcome everyone to the New Year and an exciting 2012 ahead! Before we move into the year ahead, I wanted to inform you that 2011 was another banner year for the Council. It was a busy and successful year which included the kick-off of our research initiative; enhancement of the quality of our output both in print and on our website; a successful World Conference in Seoul, and continued growth of our membership (now going on for more than 60 consecutive months). I want to thank all our Members for their continued support and commitment to the Council – without your extraordinary efforts to advance the tall building industry, we wouldn’t exist. On behalf of the Council, we all wish you a happy, healthy, prosperous and TALL 2012.
As I do every year, I take one last trip around the world (both physically and virtually) and check in with clients and colleagues to get their opinions on the year ahead. Although I would be remiss to mention that the global economy continues to be a challenge in some regions, it appears that the outlook on 2012 will again be very positive. China, India, and Southeast Asia keep humming along; the United States seems to finally be picking up momentum; Europe appears to have its financial challenges sorted out; the Middle East is starting to take off again; and there is strong activity beginning to make the global chatter in Brazil.
As you have heard me profess in the past, the design of high-rise buildings is in its infancy and there are so many ways to innovate towards the role tall buildings will play in an optimal future. Three recent articles further emphasized this to me. The first article was in a French newspaper that showcased over a dozen high-rise buildings that were planned for Paris. I found it extraordinary and reassuring to see not only the interest in, but also the need for, tall buildings to play a significant role in urban growth in the heart of Europe. Many of these high-rises were outside the La Defénse; area and were of significant height. Although there was little detail on the developments, I can only assume that the iconic nature of the vertical towers will also be sensitive to the human scale of this intimate pedestrian scaled city, and play a role in shaping the street life as well. I also found it gratifying that much of the intent was driven by the global proliferation of tall buildings and that the general feeling was that high-rise buildings were necessary to maintain an attractive global city and compete with Asia. As Carol Willis states in her SUPERTALL! exhibition now showing at the Skyscraper Museum in New York, tall buildings are not mere objects of desire that are costly to build - on the contrary, they are financial devices that are economic engines for cities.
The next two articles were both in the NY Times although separated by a few weeks. One article was more real estate focused and discussed how the office market in New York was demanding spaces with higher floor-to-floor heights. As we know there is always a push and pull between floor height, the cost of additional materials, and in some cases the maximum building height allowed. This article emphasized that some tenants were looking for more than “average space” with nine-foot ceiling heights and were willing to pay higher lease rates to get space that was more inspiring. To me this is a signal towards how tall buildings are to be optimized – this is a challenge to the days of low floor-to-floor heights where tall buildings were seen more as an ubiquitous commodity.
The second article was on tall building observation decks. The point of the article was twofold – the joy for the public in accessing the tops of tall buildings and how this growing desire was a booming industry that had a significant financial return for building owners. It discussed the Empire State Building and how the building owners through the recent building renovation have streamlined the process to reach the observation deck and therefore increased the capacity and subsequently have made the enterprise a significant profit source for the building. To me this also points out that the mix of uses that can occur in a high-rise building can also add unique energy and vitality, making the building a 24/7 enterprises and not just a 9 to 5 work place.
I am encouraged and inspired by these articles, as we reach the conclusion of 2011 – they reinforce the notion that the tall building is more and more a part of main stream life. It is therefore incumbent upon our industry to constantly find unique and higher performing solutions for buildings. If we can achieve this, then the tall building industry will only become more relevant, and we have much to look forward to in 2012.
Onward and Upward,
Timothy Johnson AIA LEED AP