Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
How are Cities Responding to Urbanism?

September 1, 2015

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BRISBANE – On September 1, CTBUH Australia held its first national symposium in Brisbane, Queensland. Delegates from the construction and property industries, including developers, design consultants, and academics spent a half day in Brisbane’s historic Customs House hearing from both local and international speakers at an event entitled “How are Cities Responding to Urbanism?”

The discussion topic was timely, with significant development taking place in Australia’s central business districts, the property market at an all-time high, and major projects such as Barangaroo and Queen’s Wharf poised to impact key cities.

Heralded as both thought provoking and highly informative by the over 135 delegates (a sell-out capacity), the symposium was jointly organised by CTBUH Australia and the Brisbane Development Association (BDA), and attracted sponsorship from Brookfield Multiplex, ISPT, ARUP, Conrad Gargett, and the University of Queensland.

Bruce Wolfe, Managing Director, Conrad Gargett

The event also included a walking tour of Brisbane CBD with a site visit to the 43 story, 260-meter One William Street – currently under construction – and sunset drinks overlooking the CBD from the Conrad Gargett Studio.

The event began with an introduction by Bruce Wolfe, Managing Director of Conrad Gargett, who welcomed speakers, guests, and sponsors, and invited Renaye Peters, Director, Conrad Garret, to the stage for the first presentation. Peters talked about the global challenge of urban densities, highlighting several facts from the State of Australian Cities 2014-15 Report. She noted that 75 percent of Australia’s population lives in cities, with 60 percent living in the country’s five largest cities – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide. Renaye then posed some questions to the audience about what infrastructure is needed to support this increase in urban density in Australia, and encouraged them to consider these questions as the day’s presenters offered their own thoughts.
Renaye Peters, Director, Conrad Garret
The two keynote addresses of the day were given by Ahmad Abdelrazaq, CTBUH Advisory Group Member and Senior Executive Vice President and Head of the High-Rise and Complex Building Division at Samsung C&T Corporation, and Carol Willis, Founder and Director of The Skyscraper Museum.
Ahmad Abdelrazaq, Head of the High-Rise and Complex Building Division, Samsung C&T Corporation Ahmad Abdelrazaq's Persentation

Abdelrazaq’s presentation questioned what makes a tall building successful and what makes a city “smart.”  Design efficiency and a focus on increasing density were mentioned throughout, with Hong Kong and Singapore highlighted as vertical cities that are sustainable and energy efficient.

For the first part of his presentation, Abdelrazaq stressed technology and management as the key factors in evolving skyscraper trends. He explained the impact that construction cycles and long-term planning have on high-rise designs, as well as the necessity of maximizing efficiency to maximize return on investments. Finally, he detailed the importance of structural system optimization to ensure durability.

Abdelrazaq provided insight into how structural health monitoring was implemented on the Burj Khalifa – the biggest building monitoring research project ever undertaken – allowing the building design to be compared with the actual building operation. The monitoring program runs continually, and monitors everything from climate conditions to the stress and strain in every column, as well as items such as foundation settling and building verticality, providing continuous monitoring of the building’s health. 

The presentation concluded with a discussion of what makes a city “smart.” A number of factors were listed, including fast transit, energy efficiency, access to technology, and public safety. A question and answer session followed, which allowed Abdelrazaq to expand upon the ideas discussed during his presentation.

Carol Willis’s presentation focused on the advent of the supertall, superslender building typology, which is particularly prevalent in New York City. She examined the causes of this trend as well as its impact on streets, parks, and the broader housing market.

Sophisticated engineering has made these towers possible, but it is soaring condominium sale prices, in part driven by an excited international market for real estate investment, that explains their recent proliferation. Because these towers are expensive to build, they require a price platform of around $3,000 per square foot ($32,000 per square meter) to make their basic economics work. Today, top prices for the first completed 57th Street towers have achieved an astonishing price $9,000 to $11,000 per square foot ($97,000 to $118,000 per square meter).
Carol Willis, Founder and Director, The Skyscraper Museum

The potential effect of these new towers on streets and public spaces, especially parks, is complex and controversial. There are four principal criticisms that Willis voiced (but did not necessarily endorse): that the new buildings strain the existing infrastructure; that the many absentee apartment owners are bad for local businesses and neighbourhoods; that they skew the housing market, to the detriment of more-affordable housing for “regular New Yorkers;” and that they steal the light from the streets and cast shadows on parks and public space.

A most serious citywide concern is the contention that the boom in ultra-luxury housing is distorting the housing market overall and discouraging construction of less-than-luxury buildings and, especially, of affordable housing for low-income New Yorkers.

After Willis completed her address, a moderated panel discussion was held with Willis and Abdelrazaq, along with James Tuma, National Director, Urbis, and Sandra Kajj-O’Grady, Professor and Head of School, University of Queensland.

An exhibit on supertall, superslender towers at the Skyscraper Museum in New York

With the success of this inaugural event, there is a commitment from the Australian Chapter to ensure that this remains an annual event on the CTBUH Australia calendar moving forward.

Panel answers questions, (left to right) Craig Gibbons, Arup; Carol Wills, The Skyscraper Museum; Ahmad Abdelrazaq, Samsung C&T Corporation; Sandra Kajj-O’Grady, University of Queensland; and James Tum, Urbis
Vidoes of the talks:
Welcome and Opening Address Victoria: Phil Gardiner & David Waldren Victoria: Phil Gardiner & David Waldren Q&A
NSW: Ken McBryde & Chris Johnson
NSW: Ken McBryde & Chris Johnson Q&A Queensland: Malcolm Middleton & David Brown Queensland: Malcolm Middleton & David Brown Q&A The Challenges of Designing Tall Buildings
Carol Willis - Keynote Address - Part 1 Carol Willis - Keynote Address - Part 2 Panel Discussion and Vote of Thanks and Closing Address