The panelists from the latest Building Tall lecture, Skyscrapers for All? at Chicago Architecture Center: Carol Ross Barney, Principal, Ross Barney Architects; Mimi Hoang, Co-Founding Principal, nArchitects; Katrin Klingenberg, Executive Director & Co-Founder, PHIUS, and moderator Susan F. King, Principal, HED Architects.

Susan F. King, Principal, HED Architects, explains how social housing strategies in Chicago have progressed over the past century.


4 June, 2019

CHICAGO – CTBUH hosted the latest installment in its ongoing lecture series, Building Tall, at the Chicago Architecture Center on June 4, 2019, examining the applicability of affordable housing strategies to the modern skyscraper. The event kicked off with an introduction by Lynn Osmond, President & CEO, Chicago Architecture Center, who gave a tribute to recently deceased Chicago architect Stanley Tigerman. Susan F. King, Principal, HED Architects, then provided some background to the topic through a timeline of social housing in Chicago over the last 100 years, highlighting some key projects that have provided for mixed income levels. This was followed by presentations from Carol Ross Barney, Principal, Ross Barney Architects; Mimi Hoang, Co-Founding Principal, nArchitects, and Katrin Klingenberg, Executive Director & Co-Founder, Passive House Institute US (PHIUS), and concluded with a panel discussion moderated by King.

The voices on the panel highlighted different approaches to tackling global housing shortages in cities that have resulted in simultaneously rising rents and tightening square meterage. Ross Barney recapped a master class she had run with architects in Hong Kong on how to include public engagement in the design process, so as to determine the minimum space and amenity requirements that would create the ideal urban living conditions. Hong Kong, which is twice as dense as New York City, was a prime location for conducting this research, as it features the world’s tiniest dwellings—and is also tied with two other cities for the world’s most expensive place to live. “The housing shortage is so stunning that some living spaces that emerged were branded as ‘nano-flats,’ at less than 200 square feet (18.5 meters),” said Ross Barney. Ultimately, the master class synthesized their feedback and determined that an apartment with an area of 750 square feet (69.6 square meters), abundant natural light and green space, along with specific amenities located within a 10-minute walk, would create the most enjoyable experience for dense city living.

“Ultimately, the master class synthesized their feedback and determined that an apartment with an area of 750 square feet (69.6 square meters) would create the most enjoyable experience for dense city living.”

Klingenberg added that multi-family constructions are rising in number across the country, noting that transitioning the principles of Passive House to the United States from Europe was a challenge because of the vastly different climatic zones within the country. “In the US, we started with single-family projects, which made it a challenge to meet targets,” Klingenberg said. “It actually became easier with taller and larger buildings.” Klingenberg was thus enthusiastic that Passive House standards could easily apply to the high-rise, highlighting Cornell Tower at Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island in New York City, which was the first high-rise designed to meet Passive Building Standards.

Hoang talked about the changing cultural trends of the urban population, and how this should inform how we utilize and design residential space in cities. “Our houses continue to cater to the nuclear family, but we actually do not compose this type of population anymore,” said Hoang. “One half of Manhattanites actually live alone, and globally, this statistic is climbing. Do we squeeze ourselves into sublets or move to the suburbs and become bored?” Hoang launched a pilot project of 55 modular units at 300 square feet (27.8 square meters) each, to test whether New York City should change its zoning to reduce the minimum size of an apartment unit. The results of this pilot project included a creative re-imagining of space to accommodate more units, but without sacrificing quality of life. Large windows, even in smaller apartments, were part of this solution, as was an efficient gym/porch hybrid.

The event concluded with a panel discussion, moderated by King, about how high-rises could accommodate a wide range of demographics, touching on topics from the applicability of modular high-rises above 20 stories, to the idea of an affordable high-rise that could reach icon status, to how to combat the insularity of high-rises with adequate amenities and intentional places to connect.

“There’s got to be a certain number of social amenities per square foot,” said Hoang, noting that she felt, upon visiting, that living in a super-dense city like Hong Kong had the potential to be very lonely. Klingenberg noted that the techniques to populate the world with environmentally-conscious, energy-efficient high-rises is not only possible, but cost-effective too. “Developers who build with PHIUS standards say to me, now why would I do it any other way?” said Klingenberg about the lack of information about how affordable PHIUS can be. “I can tell you what it will take and what it will cost you. So, what are we waiting for?”

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