“Architecture is a reflection of the society we live in.” – Sir Norman Foster
Architecture is a profession that is deeply affected by every aspect of a human’s life. As the population increases exponentially and global warming raises the sea levels, vertical living poses a solution for the eventual scarcity of land and holds the future of habitation on our planet.
Innovation in technology and material, and savvy utilization of space, allow for the possibility of accommodating every part and parcel of life on earth in a vertical city. A step towards that has already begun in the architectural community with the increasing popularity of vertical farming, and urban high-rise offices and dwellings. Seoul in South Korea, and Moscow in Russia, are among many of the currently rising vertical cities in the world. (Keegan, 2019)
This would lead to a necessary collaboration with system leaders from fields such as environmental science, and social anthropology, which would change the dynamics of the field of architecture. (LTD, 2017)
Growth of Population
Every day, approximately 200,000 people move to a big city. By the year 2050, almost 7 billion people which is about 70% of the world’s population will live in an urban city. The transition from a rural to an urban dwelling will call for the dire need for housing and infrastructure to cater to the growing population. This necessity is a boon as well as a curse for architects.
While the demand for design and buildings will increase, the scarcity of resources and the planet’s slow descent into demise with climate change and global warming, make it difficult to provide for the need. The obvious solution to the glaring land scarcity issue is vertical living.
The construction industry is innovating constantly to provide sustainable building solutions to meet the multifarious ecological and economic requirements that conserve resources and increase durability and productivity.
One of the materials being tested is carbon concrete; it has a load-bearing capacity that is 5/6 times higher than conventional RCC, is four times lighter, more durable, and does not rust. This new composite has the potential to transform the construction industry. The first carbon house was built in 2019 on the campus of Dresden Technical University. (ZAPFL, 2019)
A group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is developing an innovative building material that is lighter than plastic and constitutes a layer of honeycomb carbon atoms. It is claimed to be ten times stronger than steel.
The Poly Corporation Headquarters in Beijing uses a load-bearing precast concrete frame that eradicates the need for internal columns and hence, creates more floor area as compared to other systems of construction. It poses as an alternative to glass curtain walls that are conventionally used for high-rise building construction. Furthermore, the building features ‘The Rocker’: which is a unique construction element that supports the world’s largest cable-net glass wall while accommodating aspects like wind resistance and earthquake wave absorption. (5 innovations in high-rise building design, 2013)
While new materials and construction techniques are being invented, C.F. Møller Architects in Sweden implemented a traditional material like timber to design a multi-story apartment building. The major advantage of using wood is that the production chain emits a limited amount of carbon dioxide and is part of a closed cycle, where the carbon is retained in the frame of the building. (Kajstaden Tall Timber Building / C.F. Møller Architects, 2020)
Impact on Environment
Amidst the rising concern for global climate change, The World Green Building Council promoted the possibility to have all new buildings be net-zero carbon by 2030, and all buildings by 2050. High-rise buildings have a lower footprint which leads to a lesser impact on the ground and soil directly, however, this also implies that they do not have a large surface area on the roof to provide for sufficient solar panels.
Furthermore, they are also subjected to stronger winds, and harsher and longer rays of sunlight. Hence, additional energy is required to counter these climatic conditions.
A team from the Netherlands calculated and reported that with a 6-meter high wind turbine with solar panels on the roof of the building it is possible to attain net-zero energy for a building of up to 11 stories. (Experiment: How can net-zero energy be enabled for high-rise buildings?, 2018)
In 2019, Canada funded an apartment building that would be the first net-zero energy high-rise. The building would be a model to establish the feasibility of net-zero and inspire the construction industry worldwide. It is a step towards using renewable and clean energy technologies to help attain the desired climate change goals of the future.
Privatization of Public Spaces
With the rise of vertical, low footprint buildings to accommodate the growing population, the degree of isolation of humans increases. Furthermore, the concept of an apartment society with public functions like parks, grocery stores, gyms inclusive, are being increasingly popular in today’s day and age. While it arose from a safety point of view, it is making society more introverted and disconnected.
With the increasing density of the city fabric and digitization of information, the physical proximity and co-present interaction remains the main form of human interaction. Thus public spaces are a staged spectacle and the need to see and to be seen is what draws people out of their homes into public spaces.
Revolutionary urban theorists like Jane Jacobs, Doreen Massey, and Lewis Mumford, have all advocated that the life of a city lies in the public rather than the private sphere. However, an increasing number of public spaces like open-air theatres, parks, and gardens are being privatized.
While privatization is beneficial in terms of maintenance and regulation, it strips the population of the ability to gather and socialize by restraining its access to a certain part of society. Furthermore, the lower economic class of society that cannot afford the luxuries of the private societies and facilities, are deprived of any recreational facilities.
The public platform, therefore, is not just important because of its role as a relief from the claustrophobic growing density and isolation, but it is also a place where citizens across all economic groups can gather. The role of the architect extends to tending to a social cause in society to provide for the improved public open spaces in a world of verticality.
Redefining Open Spaces
High-rise buildings prompt one to question how ground cover, and open, green space are accommodated since it plays an important role in the mental and physical health of a human being and by extension the city in itself.
An example of an attempt is Bosco Verticale in Milan, Italy. It is a building that is the first example of a cohabitation tower between humans and plants in a high-density urban ecosystem. The vertical forest was aimed to increase biodiversity and repopulate the flora and fauna of the region.
However, the attempt resulted in the greenery being superficial ornaments rather than the expected lushness. Furthermore, trees play an important role as social activators, and the use of them in this example, restricts them to be shared and enjoyed only by a few.
The High Line in New York City, is a 1.5-mile-long public park built on an abandoned elevated railroad. Through the use of “agri-tecture”-part agriculture, part architecture- the High Line created modules of various gradients of paving and greenery to effectively simulate the environment of a public park, but above ground. The park tends to a wide range of environments from wild, urbane, intimate, and social.
Although vertical living might be the future of architecture, it comes with a set of disadvantages and creates a situation in which the buildings to be left in isolation. This would make urban design, planning, and the context in which these verticals reside, extremely important.
Architects would then bear, more than ever, the weight of social responsibility, to create healthy flourishing cities for the people. It makes architecture beyond the scope of aesthetics and experiential qualities and becomes a call for mental health, well-being, and the future of the planet.
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ArchDaily. 2020. Kajstaden Tall Timber Building / C.F. Møller Architects. [online] Available at: <https://www.archdaily.com/933091/kajstaden-tall-timber-building-cf-moller-architects> [Accessed 4 March 2021].
Keegan, M., 2019. Which is the world’s most vertical city?. [online] the Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/jul/16/which-is-the-worlds-most-vertical-city> [Accessed 4 March 2021].
Medium. 2017. Emerging Trends That Will Shape the Future of Architecture. [online] Available at: <https://medium.com/studiotmd/emerging-trends-that-will-shape-the-future-of-architecture-356ba3e7f910> [Accessed 4 March 2021].
Mbauniverse.com. 2021. Privatization of Public Sector in India: A right step or selling family silver?. [online] Available at: <https://www.mbauniverse.com/group-discussion/topic/business-economy/privatization-of-indian-economy#:~:text=Privatization%20is%20beneficial%20for%20the,of%20the%20state%2Downed%20enterprises.&text=Privatisation%20always%20helps%20in%20keeping,efficiency%2> [Accessed 4 March 2021].
Building Design + Construction. 2013. 5 innovations in high-rise building design. [online] Available at: <https://www.bdcnetwork.com/5-innovations-high-rise-building-design> [Accessed 4 March 2021].
ZAPFL, D., 2019. 5 innovative building materials of the future. [online] Lead-innovation.com. Available at: <https://www.lead-innovation.com/english-blog/5-innovative-building-materials-of-the-future> [Accessed 4 March 2021].
Image 1&2: Growth of population (2018-2050): Damassets.autodesk.net. 2021. BUILDING THE FUTURE. [online] Available at: <https://damassets.autodesk.net/content/dam/autodesk/www/solutions/architecture-engineering-construction/docs/20190322_Autodesk_Whitepaper.pdf> [Accessed 4 March 2021].
Image 3: Dresden Technical University Campus: Aboutcivil.org. 2021. World’s First Carbon-Fiber Reinforced Concrete Building – CUBE. [online] Available at: <https://www.aboutcivil.org/carbon-reinforced-concrete-building-cube#:%7E:text=A%20two%2Dstory%20building%20locally,entirely%20on%20Carbon%20Reinforced%20Concrete.> [Accessed 4 March 2021].
Image 4: Precast concrete frame used on the elevation of the Poly Corporation Headquarters: Skyscrapercenter.com. 2021. Poly Corporation Headquarters – The Skyscraper Center. [online] Available at: <https://www.skyscrapercenter.com/building/poly-corporation-headquarters/15093> [Accessed 4 March 2021].
Image 5: The Rocker designed to support the glass wall: Building Design + Construction. 2021. 5 innovations in high-rise building design. [online] Available at: <https://www.bdcnetwork.com/5-innovations-high-rise-building-design> [Accessed 4 March 2021].
Image 6: Kajstaden Tall Timber building elevation: ArchDaily. 2021. Kajstaden Tall Timber Building / C.F. Møller Architects. [online] Available at: <https://www.archdaily.com/933091/kajstaden-tall-timber-building-cf-moller-architects> [Accessed 4 March 2021].
Image 7: Proposed net-zero high-rise in Ontario: Lamelza, J., 2021. First Residential High-Rise Net-Zero Energy Building. [online] Blog.databid.com. Available at: <https://blog.databid.com/blog/first-residential-high-rise-net-zero-energy-building> [Accessed 4 March 2021].
Image 8: Rendering vs. Reality of Bosco Verticale’s “green curtain”: Kohlstedt, K., 2021. Renderings vs. Reality: The Improbable Rise of Tree-Covered Skyscrapers – 99% Invisible. [online] 99% Invisible. Available at: <https://99percentinvisible.org/article/renderings-vs-reality-rise-tree-covered-skyscrapers/> [Accessed 4 March 2021].
Image 9: The High Line, New York: DS+R. 2021. The High Line. [online] Available at: <https://dsrny.com/project/the-high-line> [Accessed 4 March 2021].