As far as Cities and climate change are concerned: why low-rise buildings are the future – not skyscrapers. Skyscrapers are tall and/or very tall buildings. with advantages and disadvantages. They were considered a forward step within the current civilisation, up until these latter days or years where we started to realise that these structures mean a certain impact on the built environment as described by Ruth Saint, Edinburgh Napier University and Francesco Pomponi, Edinburgh Napier University.
The above image is for illustration and is of Abu Dhabi2.
More than half of the world’s 7.8 billion people live in cities and urban areas. By 2050, an additional 2.5 billion will be living there. As that figure continues to climb and ever more people flock to metropolitan areas in the hope of a better life, the big question is: how do we fit everyone in?
It is the job of city developers and urban planners to figure out how to build or adapt urban environments to accommodate the living and working needs of this rapidly expanding population. There is a popular belief that taller, more densely packed skyscrapers are the way forward, because they optimise the use of space and house more people per square metre and limit urban sprawl.
But given the global commitments to emissions-reduction targets and mitigating climate change, is this the most sustainable solution from a carbon-reduction perspective?
Our recent study, which examined whether building denser and taller is the right path to sustainability, busts this myth: we found that densely built, low-rise environments are more space and carbon efficient, while high-rise buildings have a drastically higher carbon impact.
Impact on the environment
We assessed the whole-life cycle of carbon emissions – meaning both operational and “embodied” carbon – of different buildings and urban environments. Operational carbon is generated while a building is in service. Embodied carbon is all the hidden, behind-the-scenes carbon produced during the extraction, production, transport and manufacture of raw materials used to construct a building, plus any produced during maintenance, refurbishment, demolition or replacement.
This aspect is often overlooked, especially in building design, where operational efficiency is always to the fore. The argument for cutting carbon at the design stage has been made by numerous researchers, and it is gaining traction with leading international organisations such as the World Green Building Council. But it’s still something that is largely disregarded, mainly because embodied impact assessment is voluntary, and there is no legislation concerning its inclusion. But it must be advocated for if we are to reach our 2050 emissions targets.
At a global scale, the construction sector is responsible for a significant impact on the environment, as is clear from the graph below. The largest contribution comes from its consumption of energy and resources, which boils down to the design stage – the part of the process that no one is looking at.
Now that new buildings have to be more energy efficient and the energy grid is being decarbonised, this hidden embodied energy varies from 11%-33% for projects such as Passive House designs (a building standard that uses non-mechanical heating and cooling design techniques to lower energy use) to 74%-100% for near-zero energy builds (high performance buildings where the low amount of energy required comes mostly from renewable sources).
Given the focus on driving down the energy impact of day-to-day operations, the proportional share of embodied energy consumption has been driven up. So as energy demand becomes lower when the building is in use, the materials and activities required to build it in first place produce proportionally more impacts across the building’s lifespan. For example, low and near-zero energy buildings are made by improving insulation and using more materials and additional technologies, which greatly increases the hidden energy impact and carbon cost.
Moving to a smaller scale, the embodied carbon share across construction materials shows that minerals have the largest proportion by far, at 45%. The graph below shows the breakdown of materials, where concrete dominates in terms of hidden carbon contribution. This is important because skyscrapers rely heavily on concrete as a structural material. So the type of materials we use, how much we use, and how we use them is crucial.
How we can fix it
We developed four different urban scenarios shown in the graph below, based on data from real buildings: high-density, high-rise (HDHR) which are tall and close together; low-density, high-rise (LDHR) which are tall but more spread out; high-density, low-rise (HDLR) which are low and close together; and low-density, low-rise (LDLR) which are low level and more spaced out.
To do this, we split the building stock into five main categories: non-domestic low-rise (NDLR); non-domestic high-rise (NDHR); domestic low-rise (DLR); domestic high-rise (DHR); and terraced/house. We gathered numerous data, including height, number of storeys, building footprint (the land area the building physically occupies), facade material and neighbouring constraints. This includes the number and area of blocks and green spaces within one square kilometre, average street width and average distance between buildings.
These parameters were all fed into a computer model to analyse the data looking at the following:
1. How whole life-cycle carbon changed based on the buildings and the number of people accommodated within an area of 1km².
2. How whole life-cycle carbon changed due to an increasing population based on four fixed population sizes – 20, 30, 40 and 50 thousand people – and the land use required to accommodate them under the four different urban scenarios.
Our findings show that high-density low-rise cities, such as Paris, are more environmentally friendly than high-density high-rise cities, such as New York. Looking at the fixed population scenarios, when moving from a high-density low-rise to a high-density high-rise urban environment, the average increase in whole life-cycle carbon emissions is 142%.
Equating this to the potential savings per person, based on the fixed population size, building high-density low-rise offers a saving of 365 tonnes of CO₂ equivalent per person compared with high-density high-rise.
It’s time for urban planners to start embedding this new understanding of the whole carbon life-cycle of a building, balancing the impact of urban density and height while accommodating expanding populations. To achieve urban sustainability the world will need more Parises and fewer Manhattans.
This QUARTZ‘s article about Rethinking cities, could be yet another way of demonstrating that nothing could affect nor alter the development of a town’s built environment. It has, on the contrary, ended up in teaching us the hard lessons of Sept. 11 led to the boom in supertall skyscrapers. It is by Anne Quito, Design and architecture reporter. But despite that Is it Time to Stop Building Skyscrapers? Let us see in any case what it all boils down to.
The hard lessons of Sept. 11 led to the boom in supertall skyscrapers
After the Sept. 11 attacks, former New York’s mayor Rudy Giuliani encouraged developers to build low. Like many, he feared Manhattan’s tall buildings would become targets for terrorists, after seeing how swiftly the twin towers crumbled.
Twenty years later, quite the opposite has happened. For better or worse, New York City’s skyline is populated with ever taller and taller skyscrapers, with the highest among them in the heart of the original World Trade Center complex. Nearly all of the city’s supertalls—the term for a structure that rises above 300 meters (984 ft)—were built after 2001. Many of them are luxury condos clustered along 57th Street, two blocks south of Central Park.
Outside New York City, supertalls built after 2001 include the Trump International Hotel and Tower and the St.Regis in Chicago, the Comcast Technology Center in Philadelphia, the Wilshire Grand Center in Los Angeles, and Salesforce Tower in San Francisco. Before Sept 11, there were 20 supertalls in the world. Today, there are more than 200 and several more are in various stages of construction.
How did Americans go from a mistrust of tall buildings to an unprecedented growth in skyscrapers in the US? In a word, science.
It stems from a steely belief in engineering innovation after the attacks, says Carl Galioto, president of the global design and architecture firm HOK. “I think it has to do with confidence,” he says.
Galioto would know. Prior to HOK, he was a partner at the firm Skidmore, Owings & Merril (SOM) and was an architect-of-record for two of the towers that were rebuilt at the World Trade Center complex. Galioto also worked with the US National Institute of Standards and Technology to translate its forensic reports to improving the international building code.
Changes in building safety regulations after 9/11
Innovations in building safety led to the current boom in supertall buildings, Galioto says. “There is a direct relationship between the developments in building science related to high-rise construction and the perception of improved safety that allowed supertall towers in New York to be commercially viable,” he says.
About 30 safety and security recommendations were added to the building code as a result of the twin tower collapse. They included widening staircases, using thicker glass on the lower levels, using reinforced concrete for a building’s core, installing back-up power systems, and reserving a dedicated elevator for firefighters. There was a greater understanding of “progressive collapse,” when a succession of structures falls like a stack of cards. There was also a renewed appreciation for bollards and the variety of creative forms they could take.
Some of that work included changing the fundamental understanding of safety. Before Sept. 11, building occupants were considered safe when they reached a fire-proof staircase. After learning that more than 200 people perished in the World Trade Center’s elevators, regulations were updated so people were only counted safe only when they reached the ground.
Galioto and his colleagues at SOM used the two towers they designed—One World Trade Center and 7 World Trade—as a kind of showcase for innovations in building safety. Galioto says he has immense trust in skyscrapers. “Not only do I feel confident about working at One World Trade Center, I felt confident enough that my daughters can work there,” he says. “I think it’s the safest building in New York.”
How much did Sept 11 change architecture?
Galioto remembers how the public came up with zany burning-tower escape plans during that time, such as giving parachutes to top floor occupants or designing chains and outriggers to trap wayward plans. “They were somewhere between Jules Verne and Rube Goldberg,” he says. Galioto recalls one proposal that involved installing escape chutes on the side of buildings. “As if people could just slide down 50 stories and pop out of the air like party favors,” he says. “We very quickly realized that people are safer if they don’t jump out of buildings.”
As to whether the Sept. 11 terrorist attack changed the building industry, Galioto says its impact is proportionate. He questions the notion that terrorism is the foremost fear in the mind of architects. “There’s only as much paranoia as there’s a concern for designing for earthquakes or hurricanes,” he says. “If you look at it objectively, it [anti-terrorism concerns] is just another set of design criteria.”
Santiago Calatrava, the widely admired Spanish architect says what happened in New York 20 years ago reverberates through his practice. “The tragic events of September 11th have undoubtedly made an impact on my practice as both an architect and engineer,” says Calatrava, who designed the Oculus transport hub and the soon-to-be-completed St. Nicholas National Shrine at the World Trade Center, in an email to Quartz. “There became new elements to consider in our designs such as building reinforcements, the use of resistant materials, and simply reimagining the flow of a space.”
Calatrava explains that he had to modify his original scheme for the Oculus—the bird-shaped building adjacent to the 9/11 Memorial—after the sequence of terrorist events after Sept 11. “Following the terrorist attacks in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2007, the structural design of the Oculus was modified per instructions from the New York Police Department and other responsible authorities to suit newly established security requirements,” he says. “One key change included reinforcing the support structure for the Oculus’ planned ‘wings’ to improve blast resistance. The Oculus had to have twice the number of steel ribs and a column free space was recommended.”
A different line of defense
If engineers have figured out the structure, urban planners say that New York still needs to reckon with the spirit behind building so many gleaming skyscrapers. Vishaan Chakrabarti was the director of the Manhattan office for the New York planning department during the decisive years of the World Trade Center’s reconstruction. In an email, he says engineering sturdy buildings is just half the battle.
Investing in welcoming public spaces is a better plan than creating exclusive “bubbles of security,” as Chakrabarti puts it. He echoes urbanist Jane Jacobs’s theory that a vibrant streetscape is the best form of security. “I wrote back then that using architecture and urbanism as a last line of defense when our national security fails is a mistake, and it continues to be so,” argues Chakrabarti, now the dean of the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design. “Security was obviously critical after the attacks, but unfortunately we are always fighting the last war.”
A tall building is not defined by its height or number of stories. The important criterion is whether or not the design is influenced by some aspect of “tallness.”It is a building in which tallness strongly influences planning, design, construction and use: the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.
Yanko Design has pertinent pictures of the world’s main trendy construction types to illustrate that statement best. A Touch of Nature + Sustainability to Modern Architecture are the elements that come, as it were, to justify the tallness of these structures and take into account all ecological concerns as if to alleviate their higher demand in the required material, men and money.
The above picture is for illustration and is of Yanko Design.
Green Skyscrapers that add a Touch of Nature + Sustainability to Modern Architecture!
Skyscrapers have taken over most of the major cities today. They’re symbols of wealth and power! And most of the skylines today are adorned with glistening glass skyscrapers. They are considered the face of modern architecture. Although all that glass and dazzle can become a little tiring to watch. Hence, architects are incorporating these tall towers with a touch of nature and greenery! The result is impressive skyscrapers merged with an element of sustainability. These green spaces help us maintain a modern lifestyle while staying connected to nature. We definitely need more of these green skyscraper designs in our urban cities!
Zaha Hadid Architects designed a pair of impressive skyscrapers that are linked by planted terraces, for Shenzhen, China. Named Tower C, the structure is 400 metres in height and is supposed to be one of the tallest buildings in the city. The terraces are filled with greenery and aquaponic gardens! They were built to be an extension of a park that is located alongside the tower and as a green public space.
Polish designers Pawel Lipiński and Mateusz Frankowsk created The Mashambas Skyscraper, a vertical farm tower, that is in fact modular! The tower can be assembled, disassembled and transported to different locations in Africa. It was conceptualised in an attempt to help and encourage new agricultural communities across Africa. The skyscraper would be moved to locations that have poor soil quality or suffer from droughts, so as to increase crop yield and produce.
The Living Skyscraper was chosen among 492 submissions that were received for the annual eVolo competition that has been running since 2006. One of the main goals of the project is to grow a living skyscraper on the principle of sustainable architecture. The ambitious architectural project has been envisioned for Manhattan and proposes using genetically modified trees to shape them into literal living skyscrapers. It is designed to serve as a lookout tower for New York City with its own flora and fauna while encouraging ecological communications between office buildings and green recreation centers. The building will function as a green habitable space in the middle of the concrete metropolis.
ODA’s explorations primarily focus on tower designs, in an attempt to bring versatility and a touch of greenery to NY’s overtly boxy and shiny cityscape. Architectural explorations look at residential units with dedicated ‘greenery zones’ that act as areas of the social congregation for the building’s residents. Adorned with curvilinear, organic architecture, and interspersed with greenery, these areas give the residents a break from the concrete-jungle aesthetic of the skyscraper-filled city. They act as areas of reflection and of allowing people to connect with nature and with one another.
Heatherwick Studio built a 20-storey residential skyscraper in Singapore called EDEN. Defined as “a counterpoint to ubiquitous glass and steel towers”, EDEN consists of a vertical stack of homes, each amped with a lush garden. The aim was to create open and flowing living spaces that are connected with nature and high on greenery.
Designed by UNStudio and COX Architecture, this skyscraper in Melbourne, Australia features a pair of twisting towers placed around a ‘green spine’ of terraces, platforms, and verandahs. Called Southbank by Beulah, the main feature of the structure is its green spine, which functions as the key organizational element of the building.
Mad Arkitekter created WoHo, a wooden residential skyscraper in Berlin. The 98-meter skyscraper will feature 29 floors with different spaces such as apartment rentals, student housing, a kindergarten, bakery, workshop, and more. Planters and balconies and terraces filled with greenery make this skyscraper a very green one indeed!
Algae as energy resources are in their beginnings and are seen as high potential. Extensive research work has dealt with algae as an energy source in recent decades. As a biofuel, they are up to 6 times more efficient than e.g. comparable fuels from corn or rapeseed. The Tubular Bioreactor Algae Skyscraper focuses on the production of microalgae and their distribution using existing pipelines. Designed by Johannes Schlusche, Paul Böhm, Raffael Grimm, the towers are positioned along the transalpine pipeline in a barren mountain landscape. Water is supplied from the surrounding mountain streams and springs, and can also be obtained from the Mediterranean using saltwater.
Tesseract by Bryant Lau Liang Cheng proposes an architecture system that allows residents to participate in not just the design of their own units; but the programs and facilities within the building itself. This process is inserted between the time of purchase for the unit and the total time required to complete construction – a period that is often ignored and neglected. Through this process, residents are allowed to choose their amenities and their communities, enhancing their sense of belonging in the process. Housing units will no longer be stacked in repetition with no relation whatsoever to the residents living in it – a sentimental bond between housing and men results.
In a world devoid of greenery, Designers Nathakit Sae-Tan & Prapatsorn Sukkaset have envisioned the concept of Babel Towers, mega skyscrapers devoted to preserving horticultural stability within a single building. The Babel towers would play an instrumental role in the propagation of greenery in and around the area. These towers would also become attraction centers for us humans, like going to a zoo, but a zoo of plants. Seems a little sad, saying this, but I do hope that we never reach a day where the Babel Tower becomes a necessity. I however do feel that having towers like these now, in our cities, would be a beautiful idea. Don’t you think so too?
MEA construction activity flat; infrastructure on recovery path
DUBAI, Construction activity in the Middle East was broadly flat in the last quarter of 2020, but there are clear signs of growth in areas such as ICT and energy infrastructure, according to the latest RICS Global Construction Monitor.
The RICS Construction Activity Index for the Middle East and Africa was seen at -10% in Q4, up from -11% in Q3 and -40% in Q2.
This indicates that whilst activity broadly flat, this is an improvement on the negative trends reported back in Q2, stated the expert.
Moreover, looking at a sector level reveals some areas of strength in terms of infrastructure activity, it added.
A net balance of -34% of respondents in the Middle East and Africa said that their workloads in private residential fell in Q4, with -41% of respondents also reporting a fall in private non-residential.
However, -1% of respondents saw a fall in infrastructure workloads, which is more or less flat, and looking at the sub-sectors, there was a rise in workloads in ICT and energy infrastructure, said the RICS report.
Financial constraints continue to hold back activity in the last quarter, with 89% of respondents reporting this as an issue. Cost of materials and insufficient demand are also the main factors holding back activity, it added.
According to RICS, professionals believe infrastructure will be at the forefront of the wider recovery of the sector over the next twelve months.
Middle East experts also expect workloads in private residential and private non-residential to increase this year.
Looking at headcount and profit margins, whilst a net balance of +7% of respondents expects to see a rise in headcount over the course of 2021, -6% of respondents expect profit margins to fall.
Sean Ellison, Senior Economist, said: “The building blocks for recovery are being put into place, with construction activity growing once more on the back of concerted infrastructure investment and rising optimism.”
“Despite the early signs of recovery challenges remain. Whilst construction will play a vital role in wider global economic recovery, the sector’s recovery is not yet entrenched – nor is it universal across countries,” remarked Ellison.
“With infrastructure a key driver in leading this bounce back, greater government spending will be vital. Many governments have committed to substantial infrastructure spending, bringing forward shovel-ready projects and we can expect more fiscal stimulus. How effectively this capital is put to use will dictate the speed of our recovery,” he added.
Globally, infrastructure projects have been central to the construction sector’s return to growth.
The RICS Global Construction Activity Index returned to positive territory in Q4. It rose to +3, signifying the market’s return growth, and up from -9 in Q3 and -24 in Q2.
The trend of modest growth was not uniform across all regions, however. The strongest results were seen in the Americas (+5) and APAC (+8), with respondents noting an increase in aggregate workloads.
However, there is a more mixed picture in Europe (-1) and MEA (-10), where sentiment in Spain, Turkey and South Africa was notably weaker.
Alan Muse, Sector Lead Building & Construction Standards, RICS: “Using effective and timely infrastructure stimulus measures to rejuvenate the economy is never straightforward. New build infrastructure schemes are invariably complex with long gestation periods.”
“Concentrating on quick wins in the repair and maintenance of infrastructure may have a more immediate impact on the market and a quicker multiplier effect. In addition, fiscally constrained governments need to attract more private sector investment into this sector and de-risking projects through the application of standards to improve reporting, data collection and predictability is crucial,” observed Muse.
“Transparent and prioritised pipelines of implementable design and construction work are key to attracting private sector investment from pension funds: comparing pipelines of projects on a common datum basis using ICMS and RICS standards will ensure a consistent and more meaningful approach,” he added.
The Region is wrestling with oil demand slowdown but construction recovery is predicted for 2021 and 2022, GlobalData report as per Dominic Ellis of Construction Global who elaborates on the MENA construction output growth forecast sees 4.5% drop.
18 December 2020
Region wrestling with oil demand slowdown but construction recovery predicted for 2021 and 2022, GlobalData report says
The construction output growth forecast for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region for 2020 predicts a contraction of 4.5 percent this year, before a recovery with growth of 1.9 percent in 2021, and 4.1 percent in 2022, according to GlobalData.
The region is wrestling with two distinct but related issues: climate change, and the slowdown in oil demand.
The data and analytics company reports that the 2020 contraction reflects the severe impact of COVID-19 lockdowns, as well as other restrictions on construction activity. Much will depend on its ability to embrace digital transformation.
Yasmine Ghozzi, economist at GlobalData, said: “The construction sector will face headwinds in 2021 with a slow recovery, but the pace of recovery will be uneven across countries in the region. Throughout 2020, and running to 2021, spending on real estate megaprojects, especially in the GCC, is likely to take a backseat as a result of budget revisions.
“However, large-scale projects in the oil, gas, power and water sectors have gained traction against the downturn in market conditions this year, and this is likely to continue. As a result, some local contractors are pursuing development in these sectors to replace the loss of real estate work.
“There is also a push towards decoupling power and water production across the region to reduce energy consumption continuing to provide the impetus for Independent Water Projects (IWP) implementation and in the future, there will be a lot of contract awards in that respect as the region pushes its renewable energy programme, particularly solar photovoltaic and wind.”
GlobalData has slightly revised up its forecast for Saudi Arabia’s construction output to -1.9 percent from -2.8 percent and expects a recovery for the sector of 3.3 percent in 2021. This revision reflects an improvement in economic performance and the Kingdom ending a nationwide curfew at the end of September, lifting restrictions on businesses after three months of stringent curbs and a notable decrease in infection rate.
Recovery is also underlined by the crown prince’s announcement in mid-November that the Public Investment Fund (PIF) is to invest £29.5 billion (5% of GDP per annum) in the economy in 2021-22.
Nearly half of the construction of the five minarets of the Grand Mosque in Makkah is now complete.
GlobalData still maintains its forecast for construction output growth in the UAE of -4.8 percent, with a rebound in 2021 of 3.1 percent and a promising medium-term outlook.
Ghozzi adds: “The recent approval of a new Dubai Building Code is a positive development for the UAE. The new code outlines a revised set of construction rules and standards and seeks to reduce construction costs by streamlining building rules.”
The UAE is proceeding with plans to expand its production capacity with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) announcing its five-year investment plan worth £90.1 billion.
Qatar, Kuwait, and Oman
GlobalData has not changed its estimated growth rates for Qatar and Kuwait in 2020, at -4.5 percent and -9.5 percent, respectively. However, it has further cut the growth forecast for Oman to -10.3 percent from an earlier estimate of -8.1 percent, as the construction industry struggles with the challenges presented by the outbreak of COVID-19, low oil prices and the impact of sovereign credit rating downgrades.
Ghozzi adds: “The new fiscal plan launched by the Omani Government to wean itself off its dependence on crude revenues through a series of projects and tax reforms is a good step which will aid the construction sector recovery in the medium term”.
GlobalData expects construction in Egypt to grow at 7.7 percent in 2020, slowing from 9.5 percent in 2019 – given a short-term slow down due to the pandemic – and 8.9 percent in 2021. The industry is also expected to continue to maintain a positive trend throughout the forecast period.
Ghozzi continues: “Egypt has become the first sovereign nation in the MENA region to issue green bonds with a £553.9 million issuance. Bonds’ earnings will be used to fund projects that meet Egypt’s commitment to the UN goals for sustainable development.”
Egypt’s comprehensive development plan provides varied opportunities for construction companies, such as the national project to develop the countryside which targets 1,000 villages nationwide.
GlobalData expects Israel’s construction industry to contract by 8.9 percent in 2020, reflecting the significant fallout from the pandemic, with growth expected to resume at a modest pace in 2021.
Ghozzi said containing a second wave of the virus, while trying to revive the economy and approve budgets for 2020 and 2021, are the government’s top priorities. “However, difficult decisions will be postponed, with the deadline to pass the 2020 budget being pushed to the end of 2020,” he said.
In the Arab Maghreb, GlobalData maintained its forecasts for construction growth in 2020 for Morocco and Algeria to -5.5, and -3.4 percent, respectively.
Ghozzi adds: “Amid a second wave of COVID-19 with restrictions placed on public mobility along with increasing public sector doubt about economic prospects and social tensions continuing to cause shutdowns at oil and phosphate-manufacturing facilities, GlobalData has further cut its forecast for Tunisia to -13.3 percent from an earlier estimate of -12.5 percent.
“Recovery in the sector is expected to be very slow and expectation of an early legislative election is likely in 2021 but is unlikely to reduce political volatility.”
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