Are tall buildings really sustainable?

Tall buildings are certainly one of the most important pieces in urban centers. For the past 10 years, many cities around the world have been involved in the development of tall building projects, a competition for the tallest building, the most innovative design, the most sustainable, etc. All cases have embraced environmental approaches to a lesser or greater degree.  There are those that believe that the concentration of population through high-density (therefore reducing transport costs and urban / sub-urban spread) combined with the economies of scale of building tall, make typology an inherently sustainable option, on the other hand others believe that embodied energies involved in construction at height, make them inherently anti-environmental.

According to this debate, several issues should be considered in the evaluation cases “for” and “against” tall building. (Fig. 1)

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 3.35.53 PM

(Fig. 1)

According to Wood, A (2008), after a rise of environmental conscience in tall building design, several design principles have to be considered for the new sustainable skyscraper, simply based on a response to climate; an aesthetic based on sustainability.

Design Principles:

  1. Variation with height. Building should not be monolithic vertical extrusions on an efficient floor plan.
  2. New programmes. Increase the usefulness of the typology in sustainable cities of the future. Tall buildings have the versatility to accommodate uses other than the standard office, residential, hotel or small retail and leisure functions.
  3. Communal space. More open, communal, recreational spaces need to be introduced into tall buildings, rather than insistence on the maximum financial return.
  4. Envelope Opacity. Tall buildings should be designed with more envelope opacity, not as all-glass transparent boxes. Usefulness of daylight has to be taken more into consideration.
  5. Vegetation. Vegetation should become an important part of the material palette for tall buildings, both internally and externally.

If you are more interested in this matter, here is the link for the complete research paper, where you can find several sustainable and non-sustainable tall buildings designs examples,

Paper title: Green or Grey? The Aesthetics of Tall Building Sustainability

Author: Wood, A.


One thought on “Are tall buildings really sustainable?

  1. Would love to see DATA on this question, including comparisons of operational energy use per occupant or unit floor area, as well as embodied energy in materials and construction.

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