Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
CTBUH Young Professionals Committee Hosts
Roundtable Discussion: Hackable Cities and Work in the City
February 27, 2014
See more about the Young Professionals Committee
CHICAGO - The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat’s Young Professionals Committee (YPC) held a roundtable discussion on Feb 27 at the Chicago office of Thornton Tomasetti, which introduced the concept of “hacking” the built environment to create dynamic yet pragmatic augmentations to the city’s existing buildings.

The roundtable offered an opportunity to shift the dominant dialogue from tall buildings to that of the urban habitat, and provided a platform for various firms and young professionals to engage in an exchange of ideas with the aim to better service clients.
Committee Vice-Chair Nathaniel Hollister with presenters Gail Borthwick of Gensler, and Jeff Boyer of dbHMS
After a welcoming introduction given by Sasha Zeljic, YPC Chair and design director at Gensler, the group viewed the Shawn Gehle, of Gensler L.A., TED Talk: Hackable Buildings (see below). More than 10 billion square feet of office space exists in the United States, and Gehle demonstrated how the adoption of new approaches to design informed the transformation of his workplace, a former bank building, which encouraged socialization, collaboration, learning, and access to dedicated focus space. He emphasized that “what was once static is now mobile.”
Gail Borthwick, design director at Gensler, and Jeff Boyer, group leader of the High Performance Studio at dbHMS, each gave presentations that advanced understanding of current design challenges and offered insight into what their respective firms have done to re-shape their thinking, and consequently, the city itself.

Borthwick extended the notion of hackable buildings to hackable cities. The "Work in the City" and "Hack-able Cities at Gensler" programs articulate how changes in the workplace have led to a surplus of office space, and offer solutions to create an authentic environment with underutilized urban building stock. Some of the changes Borthwick presented include the trend towards “public aloneness,” where people work independently in a public space; the rapid loss of retiree talent dubbed the “silver tsunami;” the emergence of pop-up cities in oil boom-towns; the obligations to a company town; and the infrastructure needed to support differing types of work, be they manual, creative, or automated.
CTBUH Young Professionals and Nathaniel Hollister Committee Chair Sasha Zeljic and Jeff Boyer
Boyer asserted in his presentation that every building has a story to tell, and said he learns the narrative through structural analysis and interface with design. His work attempts to bridge the missing connection between conceptualizing and engineering, while being mindful of where to invest creative capital. Boyer compared the contemporary practice of stacking spaces in a conditioned container to stacking food in a refrigerator that is always cycling on and off.  He lauded the access to natural light and ventilation fostered by older buildings. “In the current economic and information climate medium is more important than content,” he said. “Form is dead and function is dead. The only thing that matters is flow. This emergence of flow must meet architecture, because finance sells capability, not construct.”
Gail Borthwick, Sasha Zeljic, and Jeff Boyer lead roundtable discussion
The discussion that followed queried; “Are we tied to the nine-to-five workday model? How do we go beyond adaptive reuse of one building to a pastiche of urban space?” The session concluded with the illuminating acknowledgement that smaller workstations, technology that eliminates paper, and the choice to work independently from an office factor into the exportation of workplace architecture from the U.S. to growing markets that have demand. Where does this leave our own cities? How do you “hack” a building in time? The answers may be found in thought leadership opportunities, such as the YPC roundtable discussion, that dare to ask.
Roundtable discussions continue in small groups Secretary Saul Moreno (left) hosts at Thornton Tomasetti