Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
Philip Oldfield Gives CTBUH / IIT Cloud Talk –
Rethinking the Tall Building
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February 20, 2015
CHICAGO – Invited to speak by CTBUH and the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Dr. Philip Oldfield, Co-Chair of the CTBUH Research, Academic, and Postgraduate Working Group and Assistant Professor at the University of Nottingham, delivered a provocative presentation entitled “Rethinking the Tall Building: Opportunities in the 21st Century Metropolis.” Students, faculty, and industry professionals gathered in the packed venue at S.R. Crown Hall to hear this presentation, which was part of the ongoing IIT Cloud Talk Series.
Dr. Philip Oldfield prsenting on "Rethinking the Tall Building: Opportunities in the 21st Century Metropolis."
Oldfield began by giving a general introduction on how tall buildings are being employed around the world in various contexts, drawing a comparison between London and cities in China. He stated that in London, the past year has seen a surge of debate following an influx of high-rise proposals. This has caused Londoners to take a step back and question the ability of high-rises to promote a quality urban environment. Meanwhile, the opportunity for China to reflect on its developmental trajectory has long since passed, as many thousands of skyscrapers are rising in many of its cities, some of which have only come into existence in the past decade.

One of the major issues of the 21st Century, Oldfield posits, is how we will address the dramatic growth that cities are expected to experience in the coming years. “According to the United Nations, 193,000 people will be added to the world’s urban population every day,” he said. “The tall building has such a great opportunity to house these people, to provide a place where they can work, and create communities in dense, sustainable, compact areas.”

Oldfield continued by outlining some of the failings of tall buildings: first, the ubiquitous construction of large glass-clad towers, fueled by economic efficiencies and a disregard for local climates and cultures, which has created a host of negative environmental impacts; second, the social housing model that has been explored in many Asian cities, leading to cookie-cutter urban environments with very little variation and local expression; and finally, the reduction of the tall building to simple iconography.

During the final part of his lecture, Oldfield outlined the ideal future of tall buildings, exploring strategies that have been employed in the real world, and by his students at the University of Nottingham, to design skyscrapers that respect climate, culture, and context. In each of the examples he addressed (including The Interlace and PARKROYAL on Pickering), tall buildings were designed with a keen awareness of local conditions. This awareness is critical, Oldfield believes, to creating a tall building culture that provides livable homes, activated neighborhoods, and sustainable cities.

“We should look to the place, and the special characteristics of local culture to see if we can build tall buildings around that,” Oldfield said. “We have been relying too much on models of the past.  We have such a great opportunity to develop and change tall buildings of the future.”