Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
Shanghai Conference News: Day 2
September 15, Pre-Conference September 16, Day 1
September 17, Day 2 September 18, Day 3
September 19, Technical Tours September 20/21, Regional Tours
Second Day of Conference Brings Megatall Developers Together for a Momentous First
Attendees pack into Grand Ballroom 2 for the opening ceremony.
The second day of the Shanghai 2014 Conference accelerated the event to a pace appropriate to the frantic rate of construction happening throughout its host city and nation.

Drum Ceremony Starts Session With a Bang (or Two)

The traditional Chinese drum troupe in action.
After a brief word of welcome from outgoing Chairman Timothy Johnson, Professor Shiling Zheng of Tongji University, and Yao Jiang of Shanghai Tower, any remaining torpor from the previous night’s social events was blasted away by an invigorating performance from a traditional Chinese drum troupe.

Together at Last, for the First Time

Though admitting that the drum performance was a hard act to follow, Executive Director Antony Wood nevertheless cast the opening plenary session in an appropriately significant light. Referring to speakers Jianping Gu of Shanghai Tower, Wai Ming (Thomas) Tsang of Ping An Finance Center Construction, and Dong Shen of Zhongnan Group, he said: “I don’t think there has ever been a time in which the three top developers of three megatall buildings in the same country have been on stage before.” Of course, the three had already been seen together, along with many of the other key speakers, at the VIP photo session in front of the CTBUH Skyline Background earlier that morning, but the point was still valid.

VIP Photo Session
Back Row: Zhenyu Li, Tongji University; Zhaohui Jia, Greenland Group; Kazunari Kano, Mori Building Co., Ltd.; Wing Ip (David) Ho, New World Development Co., Ltd.; Yoshinori Kotera, Sinar Mas Group – APP; Peter Kok, Shum Yip Land
Middle Row: James Robinson, Hongkong Land; Antony Wood, CTBUH / IIT / Tongji University; Timothy Johnson, CTBUH / NBBJ; David Malott, CTBUH / Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates; Mounib Hammoud, CTBUH / Jeddah Economic Council; Robert Pratt, Tishman Speyer Properties
Front Row: Cathy Yang, CTBUH / Taipei Financial Center Corporation; Shiling Zheng, Tongji University; Wai Ming (Thomas) Tsang, Shenzhen Ping An Finance Center Construction & Development; Jianping Gu, Shanghai Tower Construction and Development; Dong Shen, Zhongnan Group; Yang Wu, The Bund Finance Center; Nengjun Luo, CITIC HEYE Investment Co., Ltd.
Jianping Gu took the stage first, characterizing the twisting, sinuous form of the Shanghai Tower as a “back to nature” project in a sense. Although the building is the height of sophistication in terms of double-skin façade, elevator, and outrigger technology, among many other feats, at its core it is an attempt to create a new template for community spaces, by making the project’s atria stand in as a proxy for the small neighborhood meeting places that have been lost with much new development. Gu referred to the “stereoscopic” three-dimensional design of the project as being supportive of supporting human connectivity.

“All architects and investors pay a lot of attention to exterior shape and design,” Gu said. “We also thought about the harmony with the surrounding ambience. If you compare Shanghai Tower to Taipei 101, Petronas Towers, those were all isolated. There were already two towers in the vicinity when we started. We had to pay particular attention to harmonizing with those buildings. We consider this an issue of sustainability.”
Jianping Gu of Shanghai Tower Construction and Development presents
This line of thought informed the very careful selection of the building’s height of 632 meters – it is 140 meters higher than the neighboring Shanghai World Financial Center, which itself is 70 meters higher than the Jin Mao Tower. Thus the three towers now form a tightly calibrated tripartite formation, defining the Pudong new Central Business District.

Perhaps no other city embodies the rapidity of Chinese urbanization like Shenzhen, which has grown from a sleepy fishing village to a city of 14 million in little more than 30 years. It is here that the 660-meterPing An Finance Center is being built, on a construction site that, on the occasion of Wood’s last visit, was “so clean, it felt as if you could eat your lunch off of any horizontal surface.”

As demonstrated by the next speaker, Thomas Tsang, the Ping An project is a tour de force of complexity, driven by seismic and wind considerations, as well as the massive investment and attendant expectations of a single occupier.

“From the start, the owners were determined to have a high-performance, sustainable building that epitomized their corporate values,” Tsang said. “The focus centered around three main areas: an effective vertical transportation system, an energy-efficient façade and high indoor air quality.”

Tsang gave a brief overview of the architectural features that resulted from this remit, including the tower’s widened base, to increase structural stability; a tapered profile, to reduce seismic and wind forces acting on the structure; shaped corners, to improve aerodynamic performance, and a megastructural system as a means of achieving economic structural resiliency that would be economically effective.

In a seeming friendly rejoinder to his colleague from Shenzhen, Dong Shen of Zhongnan Group, which is building the 729-meter Suzhou Zhongnan Center, began his presentation with some facts that helped explain how Suzhou, a city only 40 minutes from Shanghai could support a building of this scale.

“Suzhou’s GDP has actually outperformed Shenzhen economically, and it is a major manufacturing center in addition to being a historical capital,” Shen said.

The Zhongnan Group envisions the Zhongnan Center as only one of a “cluster of modern architecture along the axis of the No. 1 Subway line” that connects the critical districts of the city. Though it is certainly intended to be a needle like thing of beauty on the shore of Jinji Lake, some of the defining characteristics of the Zhongnan tower include public displays of its engineering brawn. The observation deck in the crown will showcase the building’s hybrid sloshing / mass-damper in a highly prominent way, with the ball-shaped device clutched above the deck in a massive housing, like a pearl in the jaws of a great diving bird leaping from the lake.

More detailed information about each of the three megatalls whose VIP representatives spoke at the plenary was available in two daylong sessions in project rooms devoted to each building – a CTBUH Conference first.

At the end of the plenary the three megatall developer executives took questions from the audience. In response to a question about the potential for the Chinese real estate bubble to burst, the consensus among all three was that established “tier one” Chinese cities with diversified economies were well placed to continue the construction boom for the foreseeable future – in other words expect more supertalls – whereas “tier two and three” provincial cities that were expecting the construction of supertalls to change their fortunes needed to be “more careful and prudent,” in the words of Dong Shen.

“China is a big country with multiple markets with different conditions,” said Gu. “In some first-tier cities like Shenzhen and Guangzhou, economies are on the rise – [supertall tower development] is in line with the needs of economic growth. We do have some faster-growing tier-two cities. The tier-three and -four cities should use caution and not rush into these kinds of undertakings.”

Sessions Dominated by Tales of Tradeoffs and Innovation
Prudence, caution and pragmatism were met in equal measure with bravado, courage and inspiration in the stories related during the day’s sessions.

The investment landscape for tall buildings varies considerably around the world, as was indicated by the diversity of perspectives in the panel “Tall Buildings as International Investments.”

Mounib Hammoud, new CTBUH Trustee and CEO of Jeddah Economic Co., brought new light on the Kingdom Tower project, which many think of as being an isolated work of singular ambition. In fact, Saudi Arabia has a housing shortage of 1.6 million units, and the Kingdom Tower is part of a much larger project called Kingdom City, a new city center that will provide development plots around the iconic tower. This conjoined development will help to alleviate the capacity issues facing one of the world’s youngest countries, Hammoud said. Although everyone wants to turn a profit, the view of Kingdom Tower’s investors is a long-term one that involves creating a new, livable city with usable public spaces, Hammoud said, alluding to the success of Downtown Dubai near the Burj Khalifa, where nothing had been before. Still, it cannot be denied that ego is a factor – “ You want to leave something for history,” Hammoud said.
The panel answers questions (left to right):  Robert Pratt, Tishman Speyer Properties; Mounib Hammoud, CTBUH Trustee / Jeddah Economic Council; Timothy Johnson, CTBUH Trustee / NBBJ; and James Robinson, Hongkong Land
For anyone who thought that the recession blues still plagued the real-estate business, CTBUH former chairman Timothy Johnson had some news from a closed-door session at MIPIM this year: 2014 would be the first year in which $1 trillion would be invested in real estate worldwide. But traditional investment models may be going by the wayside. Johnson cited the efforts of his client as a design partner at NBBJ, Eton Properties, and its project in the northern Chinese city of Dalian. About 2,000 units of residential were built in the first phase, with the second phase in retail podium, which was sold to Pavilion. The 400-meter SOHO tower onsite was developed last, and can also be sold to deliver equity to the project. This is in contrast with the many government-subsidized projects in China and elsewhere in the developing world, but it may be a reliable future model.

“That is a real change we are going to see continue, where private investors are coming to the fore, when the main force had been government interests,” said Robert Pratt of Tishman Speyer, chair of the panel.

James Robinson, Executive Director of Hongkong Land Ltd., offered a brief history of the former island colony turned global financial powerhouse. Although one thinks of Hong Kong as the quintessential tall building city, in fact it has many height and plot-density restrictions, view corridors and political issues to negotiate when a tall-building development is on the table. With current rising demand for more office and hotel space, Hong Kong needs to reconcile with its mixed feelings about supertalls, Robinson said.

Tall Buildings and Urban Design in China
Session Chair (far left): Jiaming Cao, The Architectural Society of Shanghai China; Speakers (left-to-right): Bin Niu, ECADI; Enfang Liu, ISA Architecture; and, Yiru Huang, Tongji University.
Though the speed of development in China is so well acknowledged it almost seems a cliché, the real news may be that serious thought is now being given to controlling sprawl and fostering a more sustainable vertical urbanism in the country. This was the subject of the session “Tall Buildings and Urban Design in China.”

Bin Niu of ECADI shared recent developments in regional and urban planning regulations in China, including the National Land Use Planning Act of 2008, the Major Functional Area Planning Notice of 2010, and the so-called Three-Joined Rules of 2014, in which the central government aligned some previously disparate planning hierarchies, so as to avoid certain issues, such as local aims to avoid certain issues, such as local governments lending premium land to earn a one-time disposable income, a practice that results in short bursts of construction but risks empty towers with dubious ownership on a city’s edge. The crowning achievement of this effort is the National Development and Reform Commission of Development and Planning issued in March 2014, which advocates for sensibly dense development and integration of the built environment with transportation and other infrastructure.

Enfang Liu of ISA provided a brief history of Chinese urbanization for the panel, which has transformed from direct attempts to “Westernize” in the late 1800s and early 1900s to a kind of “groping” forward that prevails today - the search for an urban and tall vernacular that reflects indigenous history but acknowledges a globally connected, environmentally fragile world. She ended her presentation by calling for more connectivity and access to and between tall buildings – and not just in the physical sense of skybridges and horizontal planes.

“Supertall buildings should be accessible and free to everyone,” Liu said. “We need to have interconnectivity between the supertall buidlings and the rest of society – the public nature of supertall buildings can be optimized. We need to think about our cultural inheritance, protect our history, and extend our new agglomerations so that the new spaces can have their own cultural relevance.”

Yiru Huang, Associate Dean, Tongji University, advanced a thesis that the contemporary tall-building world was edging toward the “utopia” of megastructures that have been variously predicted by the likes of Italian Futurists, Japanese Metabolists, and the likes of provacateurs like Archigram and Superstudio. But again, caution was the word of the day. Haung said he did not yet think the world was ready to surge forth into structures the size of cities, even if that is technically possible, and that China would be a prime first candidate.

“I don’t think it is quite time to magnify a tall building into a vertical city,” Huang said. “We’re in the middle of a transitional stage, a group kind of form, where we can add multiple urban lifestyles via horizontal connections between tall buildings. But we need to do a lot more studies on urban streets. We need to be mindful of the possibility of what might happen when we are at altitude of 400-500 meters day in and day out.”

The Chairman’s Gavel, Giant Checks Change Hands at Conference Dinner
The formal Conference Dinner, a CTBUH tradition, was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Grand Hyatt Jin Mao, and provided the stage for several important announcements.

The first major announcement was of the recipient of the Research Seed Funding program, which grants $20,000 to a worthy research project in tall buildings. This year’s recipient of the funding, kindly sponsored by ECADI, was a team from the University of Southern California, which will study façade design optimization. ECADI Chairman Junjie Zhang presented an oversized check to USC team member Andrea Martinez.
Chinese diabolo jugglers performed during the dinner.
Alex Balchin receiving his student competition award with the other student finalists on stage.

Several brief interludes of intense acrobatic ink dancing and traditional music performances interrupted the consistent drumbeat of special acknowledgements and copious flow of Shanghaiese and Cantonese cuisine onto the dinner tables’ Lazy Susans.

Further fanfare accompanied the ranking of the five finalist teams from the CTBUH International Student Design Competition, kindly sponsored by ISA Architecture. The students had traveled to Shanghai to participate in a final judging session earlier in the day. The final rankings were:

  1. Clean Air Tower / Alex Balchin
  2. Vertical Aquaponic Farm / Matt Humphreys
  3. Dust-Collecting Skyscraper / Hong Seob Ahn
  4. Re-Stitching the City / Mikela Marques, Michael Dawson, and Clara Senatore
  5. Green Valley / Ran Song, Mengyu Li, Chengxing Hou, and Qian Zhang
David Malott, the new CTBUH Chairman, speaking after receiving the gavel.

The inventiveness and ambition behind the student projects, and in particular their belief that tall buildings have a role to play in actively improving the natural environment, earned special recognition from new CTBUH Chairman David Malott, who accepted the gavel from Timothy Johnson at the Conference Dinner. Malott compared the carbon-spewing habits of the building industry to his own recent bout with smoking – a bad habit that’s much harder to shake than to acknowledge.

“I used to be a heavy smoker,” he said. “What we are doing is like continuing to smoke even though we know it will kill us.”

Likening the Council’s mission to the public-health advocates who have prevailed in curbing dangerous practices worldwide, Malott took the opportunity to present his vision for the Council through his two-year plan. The pillars of the plan include:

  • Increase our capacity to effect change
  • Grow and diversify the CTBUH membership
  • Expand globally so we can speak locally
  • Shape the forces shaping our future (urbanization, virtualization and climate change) before they shape us
Both former and new chairman enthusiastically discussed CTBUH’s influence and intense growth during Johnson’s chairmanship, with Johnson crediting some of the successs of his tenure to the hard work of Executive Director Antony Wood and his staff at headquarters in Chicago. In this spirit of collaboration, as important a role as Chairman is, Malott said he felt that all of CTBUH membership “shared the gavel,” and his sincerity was hard to doubt when he revealed the last slide of the night, half-jokingly renaming the CTBUH the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat…and Saving the Planet.
September 15, Pre-Conference September 16, Day 1
September 17, Day 2 September 18, Day 3
September 19, Technical Tours September 20/21, Regional Tours