In today’s digital age architects and engineers are able to produce images of buildings and cities that offer compelling visions of the future. Looking at the people walking around the building of your dreams it is sometimes difficult to believe that it is not real.
Perhaps the bright skies and lack of pollution should be the initial clues that things may not be as rosy as they are being portrayed. Architects have always used imagery to show clients the aspirations of what could be achieved, yet it is the perception of reality, such as the trees fluttering in the wind that often make the images so compelling.
Clients, developers and indeed the press, often need help to understand the visions that are being portrayed and the challenges of making them real. Some very complex building forms can be made surprisingly simple but others are just going to very complex and very expensive and these buildings need a much closer collaboration between architecture and engineering. It is easy to make mistakes. I was recently involved in a complex tower where we were able to save hundreds of millions of dollars by simply rotating the building so that the spire moved about 35m from its initial position. The client liked the original version but quickly changed his mind when he understood the implications.
While it is possible to build almost anything, costs and complexity can rise exponentially if fundamental engineering is not integrated into the architecture. For instance it is much easier to show images of buildings that rotate than it is to detail one that can be easily maintained.
Yet reality can be even better than images. I was fortunate to visit Beijing’s Birds Nest Stadium last month, and to see it on a bright sunny day. It truly generates a sense of wonder and excitement and is much more stunning than any image I have seen.
Beijing is a beautiful modern city that has transformed itself in the last 20 years. In its financial center there are many wonderful buildings, such as CCTV. It is interesting and sad to see Beijing struggle with the pollution and smog that transforms the city into something much less appealing than the place it could be. Many places are similarly affected. Hong Kong, which is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, has fewer and fewer days where you can truly see and feel the buildings, the harbor and surrounding mountains. The loss of clean air in cities has had a major detrimental effect to city life, and has a direct effect on the economy, health and quality of life.
I hope that smog is a transition phase that cities like London have gone through. However, the world cannot afford for all modern cities to repeat the mistakes of the west and I learned, last week, about some of the work China is doing to avoid these mistakes.
I had the fortune to hear Peter Head’s Brunel Lecture that is sponsored by the UK’s Institute of Civil Engineer, titled Entering the Ecological Ages. This lecture can be downloaded on http://event.concepglobal.com/accounts/register123/concep/clientaccounts/ice/events/brunel/
brunel_report.pdf and I strongly recommend this to all of you.
The lecture aligns very closely with the Council’s aim of spreading knowledge on sustainable design of tall buildings. Watch out for more on this in our next CTBUH Journal that should be coming to members shortly.