World’s Tallest Buildings

We have a love affair with super tall buildings – those 3,500 to 4,000 feet tall, or the “mile-highs.” It not only needs to be safer than others, it has to be flexible and green, and preferably meeting a passive standard.

In one design this year for another super tall building, I was very unhappy about many of the safety-related aspects that I had to do, as the site dimensions dictated hash constraints – a usual situation for us architects.

So I took the experience and started to think about how look and function would look if as many things as possible were addressed. SoI composed the super tall building called “Bentley ACHOsim Symphony” – named for the best software around for dealing with also very large projects. I designed this to be as safe as it possibly can be – very green, with a sacrificial glass layer (with solar PV) exterior so it can be replaced without disturbing future clients.

Mega-Tall-5500 feet-NY City by Tapani Talo-s-It has vertical inner chimney turbines so that the height is utilized rather than wasted. It has eight exterior turbines harnessing wind all along the vertical facade and few at the top, depending on the final location and height beyond 3,500 feet (to about 4,000 feet). Extra stairs and exterior elevators can be called for both maintenance and rescue, and helicopter landing areas – plural – are there for immediate rescue and first aid.

Floor plates are as flexible as possible, which helps to make them also quite powerful, while in the upper regions, sky atriums give respite rather than forcing occupants to travel down to the city streets.

Since I am from Finland originally (and grew up in Aalto Campus), and as a painter and photographer, the building’s softer features offer a feeling of height with immense vertical clarity – it’s just as tall as it should be. With Philip Johnson in particular I learned to tackle high rise design, which is actually even more difficult than “normal” building.

There are plenty of towers that are super tall, but God forbid if something serious happens in the middle part of the building – as it did few months ago when flames engulfed several floors of the iconic Torch skyscraper in Dubai. In these situations, What happens to the people above it? The Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, like many others in the same category, is a good example of the “needle” approach. I will get back to tower design, but I do want to say that the good building principles of the super tall towers are no different than the smallest single-family houses that I have created – they just have some added constraints.

One has to understand what makes buildings comfortable and easy to run (and economically viable with the least amount of equipment). In tall buildings, there are thousands of small pieces of equipment and controllers that all consume power, for instance, and up till now, nobody paid attention how much power they consumed. The passive building standard in Europe has finally shone a light for the benefit of our entire profession.

Architecture, like any other art or profession, requires experience. Accepting and understanding “good” is the goal and loving it, as architecture is a lifetime of learning, honing skills, perfecting balance and focus – the prize of losing the rush of the new and seemingly just different versus great. That’s why lucky architects who have had good clients, and thus good team of consultants, are in the position to offer great buildings to great clients. Without a great client, some great buildings – like Bank America Tower in New York City, for instance – simply couldn’t exist.

Working with Edward Barnes and Philip Johnson, I found that real architecture for real clients were so much better with age – just like Impressionistic painters started their real thing in their 50s.

I am starting with Philip Johnson in architecture (Barnes was similar, but 15 years younger, so Johnson is more suited for this example). He was 80 when I joined him, and I was six years into working as a principal designer on many projects around the world during those years. What was so beautiful was the fact that we did not flutter around options like in the many instances in the past, but were able to focus on real issues of current artistic thought and practicality (program and construction price). There was a sizzling atmosphere in our thoughts – although in retrospect, other results were not earthshaking, but good at least in each instance. And if we look around, good is hard to find. Good new cities with rich street life are nearly impossible to find. That needs travel, study and understanding people and their culture. Architects too often build objects, quite often as clients want it and demand it. But many objects in a row create a very dull and deadly cityscape.

The one thing we could not do, as we still cannot, is making a client able to understand the green of our means and methods. There is no room for extra time (cost of architects, engineers and consultants) or extra technology (small cost and payback over seven years) – developers need year-one, immediate payback. The fact that the country suffers from this approach is never entered into the equation. To talk about the planet means immediately being fired, so only clients who are already interested can get those goodies.

If one is to talk about young architects, yes, general design can be achieved, but for them to have an internal and external consultant team that can give real deep detail, material and truly green info at the right moment is nearly impossible. The showmanship of big comes to my mind – interesting-looking buildings, but not cheap, nor green, despite somewhat loud language trying to say so.