Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
 

First CAF-CTBUH Lecture Series Draws Crowd, Rave Reviews

March 16, 2017

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CHICAGO – The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) in conjunction with the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) held the first of the four-part “Building Tall” lecture series on Thursday, March 16 at the CAF lecture hall, kindly sponsored by thyssenkrupp Elevator. As the inaugural event in the series, this program focused on an important question in the industry: How high can we go? The event included a welcome from Lynn Osmond, President and CEO, CAF, and presentations by Gordon Gill, Founding Partner, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture; Ian Smith, Vice President of Special Projects, thyssenkrupp; Richard Tomasetti, Consultant & Founding Partner, Thornton Tomasetti; and CTBUH Executive Director Antony Wood, who also moderated.

Rather than traditional lectures, speakers embraced the “20|20 Panel Discussion” presentation format, in which each presentation features 20 slides with 20 seconds dedicated to each slide. The format kept presentations brief and informative while allowing ample time to engage with the audience during a Q&A session following the lectures.

The multi-disciplinary panel provided key insights from diverse sectors of the skyscraper industry, including architecture, engineering, vertical transportation, and academia, respectively. During his introductory remarks, Wood commented that, “I don’t know that we could have pulled together a more distinguished panel for such a topic.” The presentations that followed confirmed this, showcasing the cutting-edge technologies, thought processes, and innovations driving the world’s tallest structures.

The event included a welcome from Lynn Osmond (far right), President and CEO,Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF), and presentations (from right to left) by Richard Tomasetti, Consultant & Founding Partner, Thornton Tomasetti; Ian Smith, Vice President of Special Projects, thyssenkrupp; Gordon Gill, Founding Partner, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, and CTBUH Executive Director Antony Wood, who also moderated.
Wood then dove straight into his presentation, which focused on setting the context for “building tall.” He touched on the history of the world’s tallest building and the role of the CTBUH in the industry, explaining the definition of a tall building and the controversy that comes with attributing height superlatives, such as where to draw the line between spires and antennae. Further, Wood noted evolving skyscraper trends over the last several decades, particularly in relation to location, function, and material selection.

In an enlightening exercise, Wood explained that a couple decades ago, it would have been logical to assume that a skyscraper would be built in North America, made from steel, and accommodate office space. Yet today, the tallest buildings are typically built in Asia, made from concrete or composite materials, and integrate multiple functions. With that in mind, he introduced the world’s future tallest, Jeddah Tower, which would be the subject of later presentations by representatives of the project’s structural engineer and design architect.

Next up, Richard Tomasetti addressed the structural limitations of height. He began by noting that “limitations are best perceived as a function of time,” suggesting that, over time, structural engineering can match any desired height given the right innovations. To illustrate this, Tomasetti presented a number of structural systems developed over the years, employing tapered designs and cutting-edge materials, that pushed the boundaries of height.
The audience packed into the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF)'s lecture hall to listen to presentations by an impressive selection of experts. Richard Tomasetti, Consultant & Founding Partner, Thornton Tomasetti, addressed the structural limitations of height.
Next, Ian Smith addressed the role of vertical transportation in determining height limitations. He offered a brief history of the elevator, explaining its dual role as both an enabler and limiter of height. As with structural engineering, when buildings grow taller, the challenges of vertical transportation grow exponentially; rope length and weight reaches its limits, cabin capacity is constrained by shaft sizes, and travel distances become longer, all leading to more costly and less attractive transportation experiences.

The final 20|20 presentation was delivered by Gordon Gill, who examined the role of architectural form in realizing extreme height.  He began by focusing on the potential of achieving stability by allowing wind to pass through buildings. Using the examples of Pearl River Tower in Guangzhou and Wuhan Greenland Center, Gill explained how voids in the structure improve stability while mitigating the need for expensive structural material. He also focused on the tapering tripod building form, which is found in the world’s tallest buildings, including Burj Khalifa and Jeddah Tower.
Ian Smith, Vice President of Special Projects, thyssenkrupp, addressed the role of vertical transportation in determining height limitations. The panel discussion began with a question posed by CTBUH Executive Director Antony Wood (far left): “How tall will the world’s tallest building be in 20 years’ time?”

Following the presentations, all speakers returned to the stage for a panel discussion, beginning with a question posed by Wood: “How tall will the world’s tallest building be in 20 years’ time?” For the most part, panelists focused on the sociological and economic factors that would push height further, but Gill put an exact number on it, laying out a scenario where buildings would step up in height to 1,250 meters, 1,500 meters, and eventually 2,000 meters. Smith backed this up by acknowledging that his firm is working towards a 1,500-meter building in design stages.

Later in the evening Smith added, “We talk a lot about technology and capability, and we have the capabilities to be able to build taller buildings...But I think there is one other issue that is really important in tall buildings, and that’s the social aspect. Who wants to live in a mile-high building?” Without a paradigm shift in how buildings are programmed, he argued, extreme height will be too impractical for most people.

Following the event, guests explored the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) Chicago Model.
As an example, Smith illustrated a scenario where forgetting your cell phone in your car is a hassle because you need to travel all the way downstairs to retrieve it. In response, Gill said, “It raises the point about technology and where we are as a species, because the real question is...What phone?” He pointed out that the rate of technological change means that designers don’t know when innovations will revolutionize how people live. Whereas 20 years ago people wouldn’t understand the concept of a smartphone, today we do not know what technology will change our lives 20 years from now.

These conversations revealed a common thread: Realizing the world’s tallest building is dependent on a complex nexus of technology, sustainability, economics, and social factors that are constantly in flux. This point is one that will likely be reprised in the three remaining events in the series, the next of which has the theme of “Securing Tall,” and will uncover the biggest threats to skyscraper safety.


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