Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
Publications: The Look and Feel of 40 Years

By Jan Klerks, CTBUH Communications Manager

One of the great things about books is that they have the power to trigger multiple senses at once. You can hold, touch and look at them, and even appreciate the smell of them while breezing through. And of course you can read them. As such, they make both knowledge and history tangible. 40 Years of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat has produced 168 CTBUH and CTBUH-affiliated books and publications totaling around 53,000 pages. In total, these make up almost twenty feet of bookshelf.

To look at this collection is not only to look at 40 years of the Council’s history, but also to see the changes in goals, scope, practical organization and even printing techniques for the publications themselves. Not aided by computers with spell check, edit functions and a delete button, earlier publications were shaped with a sheet of carbon paper, a pair of scissors and a pot of glue. The oldest copies have “patience” written all over them. Leafing through these publications also involves travelling from blurry images, handwritten equations and graphs and the classical Courier font type on a typewriter, to full color, professionally-edited and well-groomed publications containing CD-ROMs for your convenience.

Early work
The very first items on the shelves are a set of proceedings from the days in which the Council was a newly found Joint Committee of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering (IABSE). It was created as an international effort to evaluate and coordinate significant tall building research. Lacking modern tools of communication, such as email and the Internet, those active at the time must have enjoyed considerable travel budgets because in as little as a year’s time, regional conferences were organized in scattered and sometimes exotic places such as Paris, Bled (former Yugoslavia), Tokyo, Prague, Chicago, Delft (the Netherlands) and New Delhi.


Figure 1. CTBUH Conference “Planning and Design of Tall Buildings” attendees, Bled (former Yugoslavia), 1971


In these early days, given the scope of the two fostering organizations, the focus was very much on overcoming problems, predominantly technical ones. As engineers speak the universal language of science and nature, the cultural aspects of tall buildings were hardly addressed. It was simply assumed that tall buildings exist to cope with urban growth, and that it was up to the engineers to solve the technical problems that came with it.

Many modern conferences have now become a commercial business in which social networking is of equal importance to the dissemination of knowledge and insights. At the early conferences, the attendees, all very distinguished looking gentlemen in the group picture (see Figure 1), were simply putting in another day of work. During the early conferences, committees would report on the progress of the 27 different topics, which were predominantly technical by nature. These topics were grouped into three main themes: Systems & Criteria, Steel Buildings and Concrete Buildings. They were always nicely summed up in a black column on the left on an otherwise very yellow proceedings cover (see various early publications Figure 2). In 1973, the year in which organizations on architecture, planning and housing affiliated themselves with the Joint Committee, the three main themes were reorganized into five themes with the theme of Planning and Environment introduced into the scope of the Council. The five main themes were now totaling a staggering 52 committees on tall building topics.

Figure 2. Selected CTBUH World Congresses and Conferences proceeding covers

The fruit of these conferences was to be a series of monographs containing the work of the committees (see Figure 3). Five collections of monographs, one for each of the main themes, were published between 1978 and 1981 with chapters corresponding to the committee structure. One noticeable fact is that the Council did not organize a congress or a conference between 1977 and 1982, roughly the years required to prepare and publish this magnum opus of tall buildings. The series was expanded with 1983 and 1986 volumes containing reports on recent progress and developments on all of the five themes. As a result of the Council’s name change in 1976, the monographs appeared as the first publications of the new Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat instead of the Joint Committee. The logo, a characteristic 1890’s skyscraper wrapped in a vertical oval shape, remained the same, with a slight text change (see page 14 to see past logos).

Under the wings of the McGraw-Hill publishing organization, a new series of monographs appeared in the early 1990’s (see Figure 4). In the meantime, two new themes had been added to the scope of the Council; Development and Management and Building Service Systems. However, this monograph series did not follow the themed structure of the earlier series but covered more specific topics, such as Fire Safety in Tall Buildings, the Architecture of Tall Buildings and Building Design for Handicapped and Aged Persons.

Congress reports
One impressive library shelf at CTBUH Headquarters contains the set of publications that resulted from, to date, eight World Congresses. The first three did not come with a general theme, but from the fourth onward, they were labeled as: 2000 and Beyond, Tradition and Innovation; Tall Buildings and the Urban Habitat; Renewing the Urban Landscape  and Tall & Green, Typology for a Sustainable Urban Future.  Although themed, these congresses are characterized by a generally wider scope of topics compared to the more technically-oriented early conferences. Social, cultural, architectural, historical and environmental papers were also presented. In fact, the 1977 2nd World Congress in Paris had no technical papers at all.

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Figure 3. CTBUH monograph series, 1978–1981

Figure 4. CTBUH monograph series published with McGraw-Hill, 1990–1995
Figure 5. International Conference on Tall Buildings, Singapore 1984

Scattered throughout the archive are a number of publications which are the product of conferences organized by local or affiliated organizations, mostly emphasizing local developments. Some of these proceedings have been published in their own language, leaving someone to guess what the conference was
about when not proficient in Greek, Serbian, Arabic, Bulgarian or Polish!

As most covers of the conference proceedings were not designed to excite you, the award for the most noticeable cover goes to an encyclopedia-sized publication of proceedings of a Singapore conference in 1984. It’s wrapped by a dust cover picturing an uplifting, cartoon-esque bird’s-eye view of the city and its people doing various exciting activities (see Figure 5).

Another striking book is a 1986 collection of lists of tall buildings in the world, organized according to country. Entitled “Tall Buildings of the World”,  the book doesn’t impress because of its cover, which is plain, but for the sheer work that it must have taken to compile these facts and figures in a pre-Internet era.

The early 1980’s section of the library contains the collected papers presented at a symposium at the University of Sydney entitled Energy Consumption in the Design of Multi-Storey Buildings. This was quite ahead of the current heyday of this topic. The late 1980’s introduces topics of computer-aided design and robotics in tall buildings. In 1992, a book was published on the Sick Building Syndrome in Tall Buildings.

Recently, the Council started cooperating with professional publishers to increase the quality and the distribution of the publications. Examples of this are the 2008 Awards Book and the 101 of the World’s Tallest Buildings (2006) (see Figures 6 & 7), published with Elsevier and Images respectively.

Figure 6. 101 of the World’s Tallest Buildings (2006)
Figure 7. 2009 CTBUH Awards Book

Council Newsletters
Next to proceedings and reports on the archive’s shelves, a couple of binders can be found containing all past CTBUH newsletters. “The Times”, as the newsletter was called, was printed for the first time in 1970 and ran until 2002. 33 Volumes produced a total of 105 issues. The Times started out as a sheet for informal conversation and developed into a more formally structured newsletter on an approximately quarterly basis.  

Printed on yellow paper, the early edition of The Times typically counted four pages and contained practical information on progress of the committees and announcements for meetings and conferences. Occasionally it came with an extra special insert to announce a new congress or publication. The first issue features a copy of a newspaper article announcing the World Trade Center in New York as the new tallest building in the world (for more on The Times see here). Up to 1975, all issues were stenciled copies written on a typewriter and autographed by Lynn Beedle himself.

In 1983, The Times received a makeover giving it a more professional appeal. The yellow color was confined to the header of the pages and the paper itself is glossier. The Gothic font type, in which the Times logo was set from the beginning, remained. News items, columns and other bits of information on tall buildings now found their way into the newsletter. In later issues, the number of obituaries increased as the Council came of an age in which it started to outlive its oldest members.  The 1996/II issue features a story written by a middle school student about one Tommy the Tower, who loses his title of Tallest Building in the World but overcomes his grief through the respect he still receives from the people of the city. The story was inspired by a class visit from Lynn Beedle explaining how the Sears Tower lost its title of World’s Tallest Building to Petronas Towers (click here for more).

Around the year 2000, signs that the end of The Times was looming became more evident. Frequency was down to two issues per year, and the last four issues were printed on plain white paper. Although The Times was never officially cancelled, it was replaced by a magazine called the CTBUH Review. Premiering in 2000, this was positioned as a biannual electronic journal dedicated to providing professionals throughout the world with state-of-the-art research and information. Along with practical information from the Council, these issues published collected articles on various topics. Averaging one Review per year in the next six years, it was relaunched as the CTBUH Journal in 2007 in the format as we all know it today (see Figure 8).

Figure 8: CTBUH Journal Covers 2009–2006

CTBUH website
Not to be found on the shelves of the archive, yet part of CTBUH publishing history, is the CTBUH website. The 1990’s are characterized by the rise of Internet and email. By 1996, usage of the Internet had become commonplace, and by then many companies and organizations were represented on the web. On July 10, 1997, Lynn Beedle formally announced the first steps of CTBUH into cyberspace: The website contained information on our publications, conferences and what’s new. The site was hosted on one of the servers of Lehigh University. An exciting new feature was an interactive high-rise buildings database, containing information on over 9,000 buildings. This was a members-only tool, managed by Lynn Beedle’s son David. In September 1999, the Council acquired its own address on the Web by registering the domain.

Screen shots of the old CTBUH website still can be found on archival websites here (see Figure 9). It is easy to be critical of the look and feel of these by today’s standards, but bear in mind that webdesign and markup options were still in their infancy, and that the relatively slow speed of Internet in these early days prohibited any fancy designs. The first website showed a compact overview of the Council’s structure, its activities and the database, all set against a bright red background. In 2001, the website was redesigned showing a more structured and graphic based interface using sea-green and light-yellow as predominant colors.  It also showed the new logo of the CTBUH. This design lasted until March 2007.

Figure 9.  Top Left: CTBUH website in 1997; Bottom Left: CTBUH website in 2001; Middle: CTBUH website in 2006; Right: CTBUH website in 2009

In 2007, the CTBUH purchased a content-management software package through which content can be added and updated without knowledge of Internet coding and markup languages, and the website was re-created and re-launched. The website now reflects the new ambitions of the Council and is its primary communication medium. Many new sections were added, such as a resource database and a frequently updated news page. Today, the CTBUH website has expanded to over 600 pages, chock-full of up-to-date information, papers, images and even videos on tall buildings. Today, these are viewed by thousands of unique visitors each day from all over the world.

CTBUH Library
Next to CTBUH’s own publications and outings, the wider CTBUH library contains many hundreds of books and other third-party publications on skyscrapers and related issues, varying from study books, guides and monologues, to coffee table books and novels. The office of the CTBUH is most likely the only place in the world that contains this vast collection of resources on tall buildings, and one of our current goals is to make it more accessible through a proper inventory. Much has already been archived; more is yet to be done. But once completed, it will be for current and future researchers and Council enthusiasts to enjoy.