Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
 

CTBUH Panel Handles Mean, Green Questions at Architect @ Work China
July 3, 2015
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SHANGHAI – As part of its role as a strategic partner of the Architect @ Work China Conference in Shanghai, on July 3, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) hosted a panel discussion entitled “Greening the Vertical Habitat.”
Panel discussion (from left to right) hosted by CTBUH China Office Director Daniel Safarik with featured speakers Bill Webb, General Manager, MAKE Architects, Eric Tomich, Architectural Technical Director, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, Eric Seymour, Senior Design Director, Atkins, and Albert Chan, Director of Development, Planning and Design, Shui On Development, Ltd.
The panel, moderated by CTBUH China Office Director Daniel Safarik, broadly discussed the role tall buildings play in the environmental future of cities all over the world, with a particular focus on implications for China. While not confined to one definition of “green,” instead the panel examined questions that implied a wide range of challenges and responses, from vertical vegetation on high-rises, to the continuing challenge of improving the socio-environmental performance of large-scale projects in the context of a rapidly urbanizing world. The panelists were:
  • Albert Chan, Director of Development, Planning and Design, Shui On Development, Ltd., Shanghai
  • Eric Seymour, Senior Design Director, Atkins, Shanghai
  • Eric Tomich, Architectural Technical Director, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, Shanghai
  • Bill Webb, General Manager, MAKE Architects, Beijing
Albert Chan, Director of Development, Planning and Design, Shui On Development, Ltd.
Eric Seymour,
Senior Design Director, Atkins
Eric Tomich, Architectural Technical Director,
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Bill Webb,
General Manager,
MAKE Architects
Most of the controversies surrounding tall buildings surfaced during the fast-moving 45-minute discussion. The panelists grappled with the fact that most tall buildings, by themselves, are enormous consumers of energy, and, even when fitted with the latest technologies for solar shading, natural ventilation, or energy management, do not contribute to the overall sustainability of their communities unless they are deeply linked with regional transportation networks, areas of activity where people already congregate and buildings are clustered, and the buildings present an inviting and engaging face at street level.
Chan provided a developer’s perspective, but an unusual one for China, where many new developments involve massive green-field new-builds or take-no-prisoners demolitions of older neighborhoods. His company Shui On, developed the enormously popular Xintiandi neighborhood in Shanghai, which preserved colonial-era shikumen housing as high-end retail boutiques and walkable, human-scaled streets, sprinkled with a few strategic tall buildings of high design quality. Similar “-tiandi” developments have arisen in cities such as Chongqing, Wuhan and Foshan. He questioned the rationale behind the development of supertall buildings in most places, reinforced the essential importance of the street wall, and cited Rockefeller Center in New York, now some 80 years old, as the most successful urban environment anchored by a tall building.
Albert Chan speaking from a developers view point to give a new perspective during dicussion
Acknowledging that most of the world’s largest and fastest-growing cities are in coastal areas with a high risk of flooding by increased storms and rising seawaters, Webb and Seymour provided fresh perspectives on the potential of tall buildings to serve as part of a coastal defense strategy. The architecture of such buildings will have to change significantly in order to avoid the kind of subterranean flooding that occurred during New York’s bout with Hurricane Sandy in 2012. This could perhaps result in placing electrical substations at the midpoints of tall buildings, which could then be interconnected horizontally with redundant infrastructure that could support other uses, such as transportation and commercial. This would likely need to be coupled with more absorbent, natural shorelines that accommodate tidal swells with dense vegetation or sacrificial recreational lands, with tall buildings and indeed the bulk of the population moving back to higher ground, they observed.
SOM’s Eric Tomich made a counter-intuitively good case for the urbanist credentials of Burj Khalifa, a project for which he was a technical director for half a decade. While an air-conditioned needle in a low-density desert city is by itself not an environmentally sustainable proposition, Tomich illustrated the degree of master planning that went into the surrounding areas, which are now well-inhabited and form the basis of an integrated community, connected to the nascent but growing Dubai Metro.

The panel ended with some excellent questions about the viability of vertical farming in tall buildings and the potential longevity of the Chinese obsession with building tall.

As part of the strategic partnership, CTBUH supported an exhibition booth and a “project wall” display of winners and finalists from the 2014 CTBUH Best Tall Buildings Awards program.
CTBUH Best Tall Building Awards Program Exhibition