Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
“Living Tall” Event Asks: “What Will Make Tall Buildings More Habitable?”
Thursday, 16 November 2017

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CHICAGO – Living Tall: What Will Make Tall Buildings More Habitable, the third installment of the CTBUH / Chicago Architecture Foundation’s (CAF) joint skyscraper lecture series, brought together a diverse group of experts in development, architecture, technologies, and landscape architecture to discuss how to achieve a greater symbiosis between tall buildings and cities at the urban scale. Like the previous two lecture installments, each of the four speakers were allotted only a little over six minutes to present in the 20|20 Panel Discussion format, followed by an engaging group discussion with the audience.
Lecture Sponsor
(From left to right) Jim Burnett, President, OJB Landscape Architecture; Chan-li Lin, Partner, Rafael Viñoly Architects; James Loewenberg, Co-Chief Executive Officer, Magellan Development; Richard Pulling, Vice President – Sales, Otis Elevator Company; and Antony Wood, Executive Director, CTBUH, fielding a long stream of thought-provoking questions.

CTBUH Executive Director Antony Wood provided opening remarks, in which he noted that skyscraper development trends had taken a sharp turn in the past three decades. Three decades ago, it was believed that the majority of tall buildings would rise in the United States, not in Asia or the Middle East. It was also believed that tall buildings would trend toward steel, not concrete composite, and that tall buildings would primarily be offices, not residential. But more or less the opposite has happened.

Furthering Wood’s point was the event’s first speaker, James Loewenberg, Co-Chief Executive Officer, Magellan Development, who showcased a handful of Chicago residential towers developed by his company, and expressed his ambition to create a community within and around each. Loewenberg pointed to Aqua at Lakeshore East’s collection of activity-based amenities, such as a half-court basketball court and a swimming pool, which helped bring people together. Another building, the river-adjacent Wolf Point West Tower, weaves the outside landscape into the interior by offering a sitting area that faces downriver, and is surrounded on three sides by water.

 “It’s about building experiences for residents,” he said.

Jim Burnett, President, OJB Landscape Architecture (left) and Chan-li Lin, Partner, Rafael Viñoly Architects (right) discussing their roles in the tall building industry.

While Loewenberg focused his presentation on the development side of tall buildings, Chan-li Lin, Partner, Rafael Viñoly Architects, focused on architecture. “Living high is a very exciting thing, it’s almost like flying,” Lin said. “It’s also about spectacular views.” Therefore, he viewed it as his job to deliver residents as much of a view as possible, he said.

Lin pulled up a picture of his firm’s 432 Park Avenue tower in New York City, which honors to Lin’s vision by providing occupants with 10-by-10-foot (3-by-3-meter) windows. In another residential building, 277 5th Avenue, every unit is a corner unit, and every unit has floor-to-ceiling windows.

Lin also spoke of the importance of amenities, citing 125 Greenwich Street as an example of “the arms race of amenities going on between developers.” In an unorthodox move, the building’s developers asked for the amenities to be at the very top of the building, rather than at street level. “This was a bold and unique thing,” said Lin.

Attendee asking a question to the panel.

Up next was Richard Pulling, Vice President – Sales, Otis Elevator Company, who waxed nostalgic for the days when elevators were controlled by elevator operators, allowing for a more personalized experience.

“Elevators used to be a catered experience,” Pulling said. “[The operators] knew who you were, what you were about. But with automatic elevators, we lost that personal touch, that connection to the building, that feeling of being a member of a team and a community.”

The question, he continued, is “how do we use today’s technology to feel more connected to the urban space?” Pulling said he is trying to answer that question by harnessing technology like sensors, facial recognition, geo-fencing, and Bluetooth to deliver customized experiences to users. Pulling seemed thrilled at the possibility of one day using an elevator that automatically responded to one’s personal preferences.

Closing out the presentation round was Jim Burnett, President, OJB Landscape Architecture, who contemplated the vertical city and its potential ability to make tall buildings more habitable and sustainable.

“The truth is, we desire nature,” Burnett said. “It’s encoded in our DNA. We once lived in nature and we thrive better when connected to it.”

Burnett offered Bosco Verticale in Milan as an example of this theory in action, where a building with over 400 trees produces a micro-climate for residents, most of whom report high levels of satisfaction at their living arrangements. Burnett also spoke of Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, which healed a gash in the city created by a highway, and connected the uptown and downtown neighborhoods. The park, he said, has created a livable community out of thin air.

“The city now has a new town green to connect its citizens,” he said.
Chan-li Lin mingling after the discussion.
James Loewenberg, Co-Chief Executive Officer, Magellan Development (left) and Richard Pulling, Vice President – Sales, Otis Elevator Company (right) sharing a laugh.

The panel discussion that followed was lively and informative. The subject of amenities fueled much of the conversation, with panelists offering their own take on importance of amenities, and the roles they can play.

The discussion prompted more questions about tall building communities, and the challenges that come with forming relationships with your neighbors. Also on the docket was the cost of living. How can tall buildings attract more young people? How can they become more affordable? The panelists echoed these sentiments, and were optimistic that they would become more habitable for younger residents once residential tall buildings hit a critical mass.

See the Other Events in the Series