Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
Introduction and Congress Overview

With 954 people from 43 countries in attendance to witness over 100 presentations from the world’s experts in all disciplines of tall buildings – as well as engage in building technical tours, the accompanying exhibition and numerous social-networking events – this was, without a shadow of a doubt, the Council’s most successful congress in its 40-year history.

And so it was that almost a thousand people joined us from all corners of the globe – owner-developers and financers, architects and engineers, urban planners and government officials, construction companies and building system suppliers, cost consultants and legal firms, not to mention the cream of the world’s building journalists – to learn more about the topic that has captivated the construction world in recent years – sustainability – and what sustainability means in the context of tall.
The title of the Congress – “Tall & Green: Typology for a Sustainable Urban Future” – set the scene for the three days, with papers ranging from global and urban-scale sustainability, through individual building design approaches and case studies, to the detailed technical considerations of sustainable technologies such as harnessing wind and solar energy in tall buildings.

The opening plenary session  profiled three cities that are taking both tall buildings and sustainability very seriously – Chicago, London and Dubai – with a high-ranking official from each urban center – Sadhu Johnston for Chicago, Peter Wynne Rees for London and His Excellency Hussain Nasser Lootah for Dubai – portraying what policies and directions are being pursued to promote sustainability in each city.

The second day’s plenary focused on the world’s next tallest building – the extraordinary Burj Dubai which was already standing incredibly tall and slender under construction on the Sheikh Zayed skyline – with the inspiring combination of His Excellency Mohamed Ali Alabbar, Adrian Smith and William Baker – the client, the architect and the structural engineer – talking about the project on the same stage together for the first time.

Day three’s plenary focused on one of the other themes than ran alongside the main congress theme of sustainability throughout the three days and that has similarly taken the tall building world by storm – the trend towards non-orthogonal, tapered, tilted, twisted, ‘articulated’ towers. Woven within and around these three plenary sessions were a treasure-trove of presentations profiling the great in tall building trends and developments internationally.

     So why Dubai as the venue for our 8th World Congress? Well the answer to that question could be clearly seen through the windows of the congress venue, on the skyline of Dubai that has been created in a little over a decade. Against an unprecedented boom in tall buildings internationally in the preceding 10 years that has seen such buildings built in unprecedented number and height on almost all continents, Dubai stands out as the global epicenter of tall ambitions, and we wanted to let delegates experience that by visiting Dubai. In addition, CTBUH research has shown that, by 2010, based on projects either built or currently under construction, one in three of the world’s 100 tallest buildings will be located in the Middle East region.

However volume of construction alone is not reason enough to have people travelling from far-flung corners of the globe to discuss tall buildings, and the irony of holding a conference on sustainability in a city with one of the largest carbon footprints on earth was not lost on many of our delegates. This was, however, rather the point: to take the message on tall sustainability to the place where it is likely to have most effect; to convene the world’s leaders and experts on tall sustainability in Dubai in the interests of information-share and debate. Many people were cynical a decade or so ago when the leaders of Dubai stated that they were going to build a city out of the desert in 15 years, and yet a city they have built, an achievement that is unprecedented in the history of mankind. It may not yet be a city with the infrastructure and livability of urban centers with several hundreds of years history such as London or Chicago, but it is a remarkable achievement none the less. Now the same leaders of Dubai have stated that the city needs to re-align itself along ‘green’ principles.

This is, of course, no easy feat, but to those same people who were cynical at the notion of a city rising up from the desert fifteen years ago: is it wise to be so cynical again? So what is contained in this publication is an overview of what transpired in those three days of the CTBUH 8th World Congress in Dubai: an insight into the keynote papers and some of the other seminal presentations, highlights of the exhibition and social networking events, and an overview of some of the amazing building technical tours held in Dubai and the wider Middle East region. There are two other short points that need to be addressed here, both on the subject of holding conference events themselves
. The first involves the inherent un-sustainability of flying many hundreds of people around the world to attend a conference in air-conditioned spaces surrounded by reams of paper proceedings and other printed documents.

Though there is no 100% solution to counter this – the carbon from all those flights and air-conditioning is emitted despite our best intentions – we did our best to ‘offset’ this carbon expenditure by contributing a proportion of every delegate’s registration fee towards investing in sustainable schemes administered by the congress carbon-offsetting partner, ‘Climate Care’.

The second point relates to the rationale behind holding conferences. It seems, especially in recent years, that there has been an explosion of conferences happening around the world and, as a ‘hot typology’; tall buildings seem to figure prominently. The majority of these conferences, however, are organized by commercial companies whose primary motivation in holding the event is to make a profit. The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat was established 40 years ago with the primary mission of disseminating the latest cutting-edge, multi-disciplinary information on tall buildings and, to this end, we hold a conference every year and a World Congress every 3-5 years. We take this mission of information-dissemination very seriously. The true dissemination of information is not just about presenting to 500 or so people in a room. It is about encouraging the author to reflect on the information in advance, recording it in the form of a paper, subjecting that paper to the scrutiny of peers and experts for suggested improvement, publishing it in a proceeding for those who cannot be in attendance at the event itself, and to create a historical legacy for the future.

Thus every presenter on stage in Dubai contributed a paper to the Dubai Congress which was published in the 865-page physical proceeding that accompanied the event. All these papers, together with video highlights of the plenary presentations, technical tours and social-networking events, are included in the CD and DVD in the post congress publication.

It is publications like this that sets CTBUH conferences apart from the glut of more commercial conferences now prevalent, and it is this which helps maintain the Council as the world’s leading body for all matters connected with tall buildings and their role in the urban habitat. We do hope you enjoy reading the following website and watching the video highlights of our three seminal congress days in Dubai, and we encourage you to get further involved with the Council by contacting us at

      Robert Lau, CTBUH Coordination Committee Member and Technical Editor of the CTBUH Journal, was in attendance at the Congress and attended several tours and the social-networking events. His experiences, logged in daily chronicles reflect the wealth of insights and experiences offered to those who participated. To read his full report please click here.