Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
 London Conference News: Day 1
June 10, Pre-conference June 11, Day 1
June 12, Day 2 June 13, Day 3
Plenary Addresses the Challenges of Building Tall in a Historic Urban Fabric

The opening plenary of the CTBUH International Conference, “Height and Heritage,” made it clear why the Steering Committee chose London as the venue this year.

The City of London has been at the center of the debate on “tall versus historic” over the past two decades, as witnessed by a number of now-evocative words; Gherkin, St. Paul’s, Cheese-grater, Prince Charles, Walkie-Talkie.

But before it got underway, Executive Director Antony Wood cited a few evocative words of one of Britain’s most famous citizens and architectural observers. His Royal Highness Prince Charles had addressed the last CTBUH conference in London, in 2001, before the current burst of tower design and construction.

The Plenary Session was held in the capacity Porter Tun room. All Photo Credits: Toby Phillips
Wood regaled the audience with Charles’ cutting words for the progenitors of “commercial macho turned into adolescent fantasy,” but acknowledged that the Prince had a point when he pleaded with developers and city planners to place “buildings with their heads in the clouds” firmly with “their feet on the ground.”

“Are tall buildings the answer?” Wood asked. “Is Prince Charles’ message then as relevant as it is now?”

Peter Wynne Rees, City Planning Officer for the City of London, gave a presentation that could hardly have been engineered to be a more direct answer to that question. Celebrating the diversity and vitality of the 2,000 year-old City, Rees said that, counter-intuitively, a medieval city, densely settled and criss-crossed with excellent transport networks, might be the ideal ground for skyscrapers – so long as they do not impede the very characteristics that make a city appealing in the first place.
Antony Wood, CTBUH Executive Director.

Noting that over 90 percent of 380,000 City workers commute by public transport, Rees said, “How can we make buildings more sustainable? By building them in a sustainable place. If you build a ‘sustainable’ building in a place people reach mostly by car, you are wasting your time.”

Criticizing edge-city developments (towers notwithstanding) such as Croydon, Canary Wharf and La Defense, Rees maintained that older districts in city centers are the ideal ground where young and enterprising people can intersect accidentally while having fun and working hard  - which is how partnerships and ideas form, and money is ultimately made.

“If we are going to build beehives that poke through the clouds to accommodate people who need space, we have to do it carefully without messing up the gossip networks, because that is the compost where the flowers grow,” Rees said. Despite his career as a city planner, Rees seemed to be saying that the best places are those where unplanned interactions happen with frequency. Towers are fine, as long as they contribute to, rather than drain the energy. Putting a tower in green field is like a morbid variation on “Field of Dreams,” build it and they’ll come, but they will be the walking dead unless there is a real city that interchanges with its buildings meaningfully.

“We’ve never tried to build the world’s tallest building here,” Rees said. “If that is all you do, people will be bored in three months. Don’t build tall to change your fortunes, build tall because you are already successful and have run out of space. And when you do, do it well.”

Richard Pilkington, senior vice president and managing director of Oxford Properties, presents on the Leadenhall Building.
Of course, there is no getting around the fact that developments have to make money. Richard Pilkington, senior vice president and managing director of Oxford Properties – developers of the Leadenhall Building, noted that the demise of the financial bravado of the pre-Lehman Brothers era meant that risks were now being taken by real estate developers and occupiers, who have different priorities than bankers.

London, which at that time was solidifying its role as one of the world’s top financial centers, was as shaken as the rest of the world by the crash. “Now, having emerged from global crisis and, we hope, headed to full recovery, it is important for us to discuss what has changed,” he said. “Banks are no longer a reliable source of funding; only well-capitalized investors can help. Investing and developing tall buildings in today’s economic climate leaves no room for error.” As such, the eccentric shapes of buildings in the British capital has less to do with the “look-at-me” iconic ambitions for which they are often pilloried in the press, than it does with the need to, first and foremost, be marketable, but also, to meet extremely constrained regulatory and financial conditions.

“What we have is a set of rules that tell you what you can’t do – obstruct St Paul’s or the City Airport approach,” Rees concurred.

“All of these set constraints. But once you set those there is great flexibility. The Gherkin is a reaction to planning constraints and the site itself. Maximize open space, minimize height impact, and control the micro-climate.”

Rees noted that the quality of financed buildings had actually gone up since banks stopped dominating the real-estate investment market. The priorities of the financial markets in times past had not been altogether great for architecture, while investors with an interest in finding tenants or moving in themselves for the long term tended to set down skyscrapers with more due care, he said.

This was not to say the marketing and commercial verve are unimportant, or that they cannot be a part of context or built heritage. This point of view was provided by Carmine Bilardello, Senior Vice President of Willis Group, the construction insurer responsible for the Willis Building at 51 Lime Street, London and the Willis Tower, renamed from the Sears Tower, in Chicago.
Carmine Bilardello, Senior Vice President of Willis Group, presents during the day 1 plenary session
Bilardello, a native New Yorker, came to the conference clearly aware of the tone his presence would set. Simultaneously accounting for the prominent voices in London that have objected to American-style commercial imperatives as the chief motivators of tall building design, as well as the complaints of smart-planning advocates such as Rees, who have criticized the tendency of foreign investors to pump “gangster cash” of dubious origin into high rises that are at best, under-occupied, and often uninspired.

“We do marine, aviation, kidnap and ransom... insurance,” he joked. “We have a lot of customers, and you should be one, too. There are a couple of chaps in the audience you should talk to.”

Bilardello posited that today’s corporate towers really are cathedrals, but that they serve as important a role in bringing people together and inspiring them as their ecclesiastical precedents.

“Publicity is about baptizing the building and making it a part of the culture,” he said, noting that Prince Andrew had dedicated the Willis Building in the company of a priest. To be successful, tall buildings must engage the public while reinforcing the corporate brand at the same time.

Willis has faced some umbrage in Chicago, where it could be argued the Sears Tower was as much a part of the city’s heritage and self-image as the Water Tower that survived the fire of 1871. Renaming the building did cause some upset. But the building had become hard to rent because the Sears name was seen as dated, and the anger of citizens should have been directed at Sears, which left town for the suburbs “in the middle of the night,” Bilardello said.

Willis took 150,000 square feet in the tower and was able to rent space at an unthinkably low $14.50 per square foot. The story was so compelling, that people “lined up around the block” to rent in the new Willis Tower, and a bankruptcy judge practically compelled United Airlines to move there, he added. He said there was much value in building tall for a corporation because being in one building afforded more flexibility in scaling than trying to work across multiple assets spread around town.

Bilardello believes strongly in the integrity and importance of central cities, even in an era marked by much discussion of technology-enabled distance working.

“We did 700 interviews with people under age of 35” when planning its consolidation into 51 Lime St., Bilardello said. “They all said, ‘I don’t want to work from home. I want to be in this building.’ It works for some industries, but it’s not so easy to break up teams. And people want to be in the city. They want to go out on Thursday night. They want life.”

In a sense, building tall – and critically, building in a way that respects heritage while taking on the best characteristics of that heritage – in a central city can support the aims of social engineering that urban renewal and towers-in-the-park never did achieve, the panelists agreed.

“If you cannot connect the party and the work place, then people will not go to work,” Rees said. “People focus on work as their main social network as the family network breaks down.”
The London skyline with multiple towers under construction

Session 1: “The Economics of Building Tall in Historic Cities”
By Daniel Safarik
Chair: Steve McGuckin, UK Managing Director, Turner & Townsend
David Glover, Chief Executive, Building Engineering, Aecom
Nigel Smith, Managing Director, CBRE; Nigel Biggs, Head of Global Premier Properties, CBRE
Steve Watts, Partner, Alinea Consulting
Steve McGuckin listens to the speaker

Market Fundamentals of Tall Buildings Come Under the Spotlight

The unique set of challenges and opportunities posed by building tall in a historic city can often result in a better product than the traditional solution driven by the modern city planning block, asserted David Glover, chief executive of building engineering at AECOM, kicking off the first session of Day 1 of the conference.

The imperative to provide density, to consider engagement with the ground plane and balance the impact on the surrounding city, has driven designers to engineer innovative design and technical solutions not found in traditional solutions. The combined drivers of form, irregular plots, viewing corridors, and heritage considerations move solutions into expressive incarnations. These still need to be balanced by the traditional economic drivers and increased costs, minimized through innovation and offset against improved net area, better space utilization, and environmental strategies that serve to increase the value of the building, the panelists said.

David Glover

“We no longer have regular sites in the city,” Glover said. “That means no more podium, center-core buildings. The standard just doesn’t work.” The combination of these irregular sites and the impetus to optimize space for rent means that buildings not only are taking on irregular shapes, they also have to employ space-saving technologies such as double-decker elevators. This means that the core, while still necessary, becomes a “feature” that can be altered (and preferably shrunk), such as at the Leadenhall Building Glover noted.

“The average high rise building net to gross ratio of 60 percent is good,” Glover said. “Pushing to 70 lets you pay the capital costs.”

Setting a theme that would continue to resonate throughout the conference, Glover observed that the quest for sustainability would continue to strengthen and guide design choices. While goals such as a 30-percent net energy reduction are feasible in the near future, the maxim that gives economic and environmental sustainability to the building remains true – only more so: “To me it is about creating a building that does not quickly become obsolete,” Glover said. “How people live and work in that space drives everything.”

Whereas form was once driven solely by the aim of maximizing floor space and the limits of technology, resulting in the vast majority of skyscrapers being shaped as rectangles, now many more factors and choices play into the decision. In a typical tall building, fabrication represents 63 percent of the cost, material 24 percent, and erection 7.5 percent, Glover said. Prefabrication can save a great deal of cost in all three areas, as can integrated design through 3-D building information management (BIM) software, he added.

The speakers watch the monitor.

It’s not just the development and construction team feeling cost pressure driving the economics of tall. Occupier and landlord needs – the fundamentals of supply and demand - have also changed.

Drawing on a wide global experience of leasing and managing tall buildings from the Gherkin to the Shanghai Tower, Nigel Smith, managing director of CBRE’s Landlord Office Agency Asia and Nigel Biggs, head of global premier properties at CBRE, explained how to fully maximize leasing opportunities, create successful marketing strategies, and meet the needs of a diverse tenant audience. Focusing on major international financial centers from around the world, the presentation examined the key drivers on the investment market cycle and capital value of tall buildings, including how this affects rental growth and development opportunities.

“Occupier trends have changed since the opulence of the 1980s,” Biggs said, indicating more desire for open-plan, non-hierarchical space that facilitates collaboration and admits natural light. Both the cost of construction and the shrinking amount of available land in cities such as London means that many buildings dating from 1950 to 1990 are now getting retrofits that meet these objectives, as Peter Rees demonstrated on his walking tour of the City of London later in the week [link].

Despite all of the data we now have at our disposal, timing a development is still everything, and is often an art more than a science.

“The desired stock is a function of employment in the key service-producing industries and the price of office space,” Biggs said. “But delivery is really volatile and comes in waves – there is no real pattern, partly due to the volatility of the industries doing the renting. It’s like waiting for a bus – a clump all come at once which makes them harder to let.”

Nigel Smith

The scale of demand and broader market fundamentals are beyond what a developer can control, said Smith. So, one must focus on what one can control. In Smith’s view, that means marketing, and trying to match market fundamentals with architectural fundamentals.

“Flexibility, learning, and collaboration are the key focuses in today’s workplace,” Smith said. “Such needs lead to sky lobbies and improvements to common spaces. Large floor plates have become less necessary. The new big floorplate is the vertical system. Companies achieve branding through a common staircase. It’s a way to create community through branded 3-D experiences.”

The changing workplace, rising land and construction costs, and volatile financial markets means the menu of options has to increase in quality, said Smith, noting the difference in the value proposition between a place like Canary Wharf – large floorplates with made-to-order fit-outs, naming rights and signage – against a place like Hudson Yards, which is emphasizing a rare combination of open space and proximity to Manhattan’s business core.

If CBRE’s duo of Nigels drummed home a new replacement mantra for “location, location, location,” namely, “creativity, space, effectivity,” Steve Watts, partner at Alinea Consulting focused on “shape, shape, shape.”

Steve Watts

“Shape, more than anything, drives the cost of tall buildings; but to what extent does cost drive shape?” This is the question Steve Watts, CTBUH Trustee and partner at Alinea Consulting, posed at the beginning of his presentation. The particular constraints of historic environments like London can make this an uneasy relationship, and one that is quite different to the approach found elsewhere in the world. Shape also affects longer-term issues, not least the value of the asset and the user-friendliness of the building. Watts spoke of the importance of these impacts and the difficulties in their quantification, and considered whether the industry will start to see a different approach to tower design.

Watts cited some interesting data in support of his theory – the US Bureau of Labor Statistics has estimated that “intangible assets” now add about three percent to the US economy. The spirit of this conclusion, if not the number, seems to translate across the pond.

“When the Gherkin was conceived and completed, no one would have known how much value it would create to London and the country,” Watts said.

The proposal and design of many towers, and the assessment of their economic virility, has been and continues to be notoriously hard to pinpoint. The Skyscraper Index by Andrew Lawrence posited that economic collapse tended to happen whenever a clutch of major skyscrapers completed. But many of those correlations have been shown to be flimsy, partly because tall buildings take a lot longer to realize than property cycles last, Watts said. He observed that it took 20 years to get planning approval for the NatWest Tower (now Tower 42), and the bank still got it wrong, somehow neglecting to put any restaurants or bars in its logo-shaped-behemoth; the tower was hard to rent until this was resolved.

Form continues to have multiple drivers, such as code enforcing view corridors and rights to light. Interestingly, there is a correlation between shape and cost, but not as much of one between height and cost. A greater variety of floor shapes drives greater value – but also greater cost.

Adding a key figure to earlier assertions in the presentation, Watts emphasized the importance of a building’s whole life cost.

“It’s more than capital cost; it’s whole life cost, and the subjective question of the building’s fit to its purpose,” Watts said. “When you consider the total cost of a workplace, 90 percent of it is people. So whether the building works for those people is critical.”


Session 2: What Contributes Most to Sustainability in Tall Buildings?
Chair: Dennis Poon, Vice Chairman, Thornton Tomasetti
David Malott, Principal, KPF
Klaus Lother, Europe Hub CEO, Permasteelisa Group
Neville Glanville,
Director, Bentley Systems
By Dario Trabucco

The next generation of tall buildings will be judged on more than sheer height or aesthetic appearance. In the context of sustainability, they will also be judged on more than just their energy consumption. They will be judged on their contribution to the well-being of their occupants, as well as the wider community. This panel investigated the sustainability characteristics of tall buildings – urban density, planning efficiency, materials and embodied energy, power generation sources, building systems, and more – that make them “good citizens” in the urban environment. Which characteristics of sustainability deserve the most intense focus of tall building developers going forward?

Dennis Poon, vice chairman, Thornton Tomasetti, began the presentation by illustrating the concept of embodied energy – the total primary energy consumed from direct and indirect processes associated with a product or service throughout its lifecycle – and described the role of structure and facades in contributing to or reducing embodied energy. The structure and façade’s initial embodied energy represents 50 percent or more of a built project and 20 percent of the total embodied energy for the life of the building.

Poon also defined the role of embodied carbon in a building, which can represent more than 50 percent of a built project. The steel manufacturing process is the biggest offender, comprising 35 percent of the total.

Panelists (l to r): Neville Glanville, Director, Bentley Systems; Klaus Lother, Europe Hub CEO, Permasteelisa Group; David Malott, Principal, KPF; and Dennis Poon, Vice Chairman, Thornton Tomasetti
The challenges of simultaneously building tall and green run to carbon footprint reduction, development of efficient architectural forms and structural systems, as well as the selection of building materials, Poon said. “We need to advance the design process to optimize building designs and minimize construction delays and field modifications,” he added.

The panelists all agreed that tall building sustainability should not be considered simply as an architectural "ingredient" but as a complex problem  that needs to be tackled with a comprehensive approach, using inputs from all the major players in the design, use and development of the tall building. Designers, facade specialists and suppliers of design tools are just part of a much bigger group of people who are working on a same objective, the panel concluded.

Energy efficiency is just one of the many aspects to be considered; other parts of the Lifecycle of the building should also be seen with the same interest that we have dedicated to the running daily consumption lately. Also, other respects, should be take into account, including the quality of life for occupies and tenants and the whole community of which buildings are a part.

Also, it is very important to tackle a much broader problem that is part of the sustainability: the quality of buildings, products and materials, so that they can last longer and act better. Certification is not just a formality, but rather, a leading strategy to move forward, as clients demand certified buildings and products.

David Malott, CTBUH Trustee and Principal at KPF, emphasized the need for a site-specific approach to tall-building design. He used the example of Hysan Place, Hong Kong’s first LEED Platinum building, as a case study of increased vertical density in a nuanced context.

“The volumetric arrangement of a mixed-use program--linked by an innovative vertical transportation system--allows for large openings in the tower which induce breezes to ventilate and improve the surrounding environment, provide multi-level public space, and create visual and physical porosity to reconnect a neighborhood,” Malott said.

Malott presented an offbeat but useful example of tall residential construction: the Kowloon Walled City, the infamous vertical slum that packed 500 buildings into 2.7 hectares at the periphery of Hong Kong’s former main airport, Kai Tak. The density was almost unimaginable – 1.92 million people per square kilometer, compared with an average of 6,700 in greater Hong Kong. Despite its daunting and squalid appearance and extreme, it was a tight-knit community that was poor but generally happy. It was demolished in 1994.

Hysan Place, Hong Kong, © Terri Meyer Boake
Neville Glanville, Director at Bentley Systems, showed an interesting slide: “Sustaining the infrastructure of London 2012.” The slide indicated how architecture and engineering firms used Bentley software to create and manage massive infrastructure projects in support of the London Olympics in 2012 and which continue to sustain tall buildings today.

Session 5: Session Focuses on Future Tall Technologies
Chair: Vince Ugarow, Director, Hilson Moran
Johannes de Jong, Head of Technology, KONE
Bashar Kayali, General Manager, Al Ghurair Construction
Ian Walker, Protective Coatings Global Director, AkzoNobel
By Daniel Safarik

New Elevator Technologies for the Cities of the Future
Buildings would not have gotten very tall without the introduction of the Otis Safety Elevator in the 1850s. The safe and efficient operation of elevators is no less crucial now, but today’s technologies are often as not about personalization, energy efficiency and creating optimum comfort as they are about life safety and structural integrity. All are the result of years of research and development, and some are readily identified as “high-tech.” Others have been around for thousands of years, and have been improved incrementally and adapted for contemporary uses all along. To this end, the three speakers in this panel, focused on elevator destination control.


Johannes de Jong

“Whether modern or historic, cities are getting higher and more integrated, while their buildings are getting smarter, requiring the intelligent integration of all systems,” said Johannes de Jong, Head of Technology for KONE. This was his way of introducing KONE People Flow Intelligence, a destination control system for multi-floor, multi-tenant buildings with a mix of uses.

The interface for the People Flow Intelligence touchpad could easily be mistaken for an Apple product, smooth and black with simple and crisp graphics. And, much like other technology products we use today, the system has a correlated app that works on a smartphone. Very soon, calling an elevator car to whisk you to your chosen floor after returning from lunch with a touch of a button – or more accurately, a swipe gesture – from blocks away will be a standard experience if KONE impresses upon owners that such conveniences are efficient and essential.

“Digitization has changed the way tenants use buildings,” De Jong said. “Tenants can have their personal profile, improving passenger convenience by guiding known tenants to their proper floors and destinations.”

De Jong even suggested incorporating timecard software into the destination control app, which is underlaid by the same software that manages security in the Pentagon and U.S. Air Force One – though  one wonders how enthusiastically this potentially intrusive feature might be received by office workers hoping to take extended lunches.

Incorporating Historic Elements in Façade Design
The second speaker saw the future as being less about digital personalization and more about re-learning some lessons from the past. In his speech, “Incorporating Historic Elements in Façade Design,” Bashar Kayali, General Manager of Al Ghurair Construction Aluminium, demonstrated how an age-old desert-climate tactic – strategic deployment of screens and shades to keep buildings cool, had strong applicability even in a region known for highly eccentric, context-less designs, and high-energy-demand profiles.

Kayali detailed how the use of the mashrabiya, a typically wooden privacy screen used in traditional Middle Eastern buildings, could be applied to modern tall buildings. Kayali’s company updated the look of the mashrabiya by cladding the ITCC Towers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with perforated aluminum diamond shapes, covering a total area of 80,000 square meters. The screens, suspended from steel framing at the tops of the towers, were painted in desert colors and illuminated at night, Kayali said. A catwalk runs in the 1-meter space between the glazing and the screen for easy maintenance.

At the Conrad Hotel in Dubai, Al Ghurair deployed one of the oldest building materials, stone, in a curtain wall application. The 255-meter tower was clad with oversized CW panels measuring up to 7 meters high by 2.5 meters wide, clad with 30-mm thick granite panels that could weigh up to 1.6 tons each. Not surprisingly, one of the main challenges was installation.



For centuries, the Bedouin wanderers of the Arabian desert have used goat’s hair to make fabric tents that kept families cool. Now, the region’s tall buildings are beginning to deploy some of the same techniques, albeit with polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) in Al Ghurair’s case. At the ITCC Hotel, not far from the aluminum-screened ITCC project in Riyadh, Kayali’s team chose a self-cleaning synthetic fabric, pre-stretched and mounted to a supporting bracket connected directly to concrete slabs at the curtain-wall spandrels. The screens are about 10 meters high and 8.6 meters wide.

Though Kayali mostly focused on modern adaptations of ancient Arabic shading techniques, there was no denying that stainless steel and reflective glass “present the façade of a modern nation to visitors,” and had become “the recent choice of Arabian buildings as a statement of the prosperous economic situation of the region,” Kayali said. And, no tall building more prominently embodies that statement than the Burj Khalifa, currently the world’s tallest at 828 meters.

Cladding the world’s tallest building was a tour de force of design optimization and strategic project management. The Burj uses 82 km of stainless steel and has a total curtain wall area of 132,190 square meters. Because of the extreme heat and wind conditions of the site and the tower’s height, the façade system had to be custom-designed. Al Ghurair devised a unitized system that was pressure-equalized, thermally broken, and was able to expand and contract in four independent directions.

The Burj’s façade construction was stunning not only for its scale, but its speed. By the time the Burj’s new owners had selected Al Ghurair in May 2007, concrete was already built up to the 106th floor, and the façade should have been up to level 96. It was at zero, Kayali said.

“We got brought in 12 months into the project,” he said. “We had to install 24,384 panels in 19 months in order to recover the program.”

The team divided the tower into eight zones, which allowed up to five installation teams to work simultaneously around the perimeter of the tower, such that no team was ever working directly above another, boosting the safety record to XXX. It also meant working both down and up from staging areas at the mechanical floors, sometimes lifting three-story composite sections of nine panels at once. Kayali designed a trolley crane with extension arms and a counterweight to speed the process. Working at a rate of nearly 1,000 panels a month, the team completed the installation in October 2009.

Tall Buildings as Future History: Considering Materials in the Whole Life Cycle
Ian Walker

Paint has not typically topped the list of exciting components in tall buildings, but it is a crucial tool for protecting the long-term aesthetic and insulating performance of a building’s exterior.

“Coating technology is increasingly being used as a design medium, for optimized, economic and safe steelwork,” explained Ian Walker, Protective Coatings Global Director, AkzoNobel. “Buildings require solutions to extend their lifetime or restore them to former glory. Appropriate solutions ensure that modern tall buildings become the heritage of tomorrow.”

“Paint” can be regarded as ubiquitous, but in fact, the use of paint and coatings opens up opportunities for the use of new materials and new construction techniques, such as long-span beams, Walker said. It’s no longer just about color and decoration; it’s about preservation and protection.

The presentation concentrated on how paint and coatings can contribute to successful construction.  It focused the issues relating to tall buildings and their context in older cities, and illustrated both recent and forthcoming developments that can reduce costs, accelerate schedules, increase returns and create better buildings for people to work and live in.

One of the key challenges with any construction product can be associated with its life to first maintenance, or rather, how long will it be before remedial repair work or replacement needs to happen.  Owners are looking for assurance that their buildings will be cost effective, not only to maintain but also in terms of improving rental opportunities.

“It’s imperative to get it right the first time and maintain it from then on,” Walker said.

The paint industry has both driven, and been driven by the key independent architectural paint standards, such as the American Architectural Manufacturers’ Association AAMA 2605, 2604 & 2605 and the European Qualicoat and GSB quality labels.  All of these have raised their performance requirements (in terms of gloss retention among other things) and paint, both liquid and powder, have kept up with this. In fact, the paint industry lead the way by developing new products and the industry standards raised their performance expectations based on the new materials, Walker said.

Among the most critical areas is fire protection. Fire protection coatings have evolved from their origins in space vehicle re-entry application into everyday structural engineering applications.  Some of the coatings developed for natural-gas marine platforms to protect against fire and sea spray have been deployed on tall buildings, Walker said. The desire to have visually exposed steelwork was always a problem with methods such as boards and cementitious coatings. 

“Fire protection coatings used in buildings today comprise what we call thin-film coatings, which appear very much like typical paint and can be used to express forms created by the steel itself,” Walker said.  “Importantly, however, they possess the ability to swell up in the event of a fire to form a char layer that insulates and protects the underlying steelwork.”

The steelwork industry has embraced the use of intumescent (fireproofing) coatings as a construction material.  Around 20 years ago, these types of coatings were not common and were considered expensive in relation to other methods. However, through increased commercial competition, innovative development and the growth of fire engineering, these materials are now common in construction. 

“Evidence shows that the majority of tall buildings in London today now adopt intumescent coatings as their preferred choice of protection,” Walker said. “Coating manufacturers are now working with their own intumescent coatings, as is the steel industry. It’s no longer only about insulating materials. It is really part of the design.”

As with many product-based industries, the coatings industry has become more integrated with other manufacturing processes and the design process itself. Coating manufacturers now commonly have their own structural fire engineering divisions with qualified engineers, who work with structural engineers, steelwork fabricators and contractors in a consultative fashion. Often, Building Information (BIM) Models are used from the outset of design, Walkter said. 

Sustainability has been a prime concern of designers for some time, and coatings have often been the subject of particular scrutiny, as they are a major source of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can release harmful gases as they set into the materials they cover.

“Reducing solvent content, commonly known as VOC, has also been a focus for the industry to make application a safe process,” Walker said.  Changing the way paint is manufactured with respect to its raw materials and the way it is applied can make significant contributions to overall sustainability criteria of economics, environment and the community.  Examples include coatings that need lower temperatures to react and cure saving both energy and money.  Paints that are durable, require little or no maintenance, or need fewer coats, all contribute to reducing the environmental impact.”

Walker also noted that the rise in prefabricated construction of structural and interior elements has been a boon to the environmental sustainability and service quality of coatings in tall buildings, as they are applied in factories under controlled conditions, instead of in the field, where they are subjected to more vagaries of weather and human error.“Ultimately, construction products can be seen to play a crucial role to realize the potential of building design, and importantly provide the assurance that they will function accordingly,” Walker said.  “In so doing, well-made construction products ensure that, in the context of social and environmental aspects, modern day buildings become the heritage of tomorrow.”

Vince Ugarow, Bashar Kayali, Ian Walker, Johannes de Jong

Session 6: The Urban and Public Realm, Reconsidered
Chair: Sir Stuart Lipton, Partner, Lipton Rogers LLP
Sir Terry Farrell, Principal, Farrells
Lee Polisano, President, PLP Architecture
Graham Stirk,
Senior Partner, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners
By Rachel Coleman

Tall buildings will be part of our environment in an increasing number of cities, whose ages span centuries. If it is to be integral to a city, a tall building must be understandable, and equally successful at different scales, from the axis mundi in the eye of the distant voyeur to the person experiencing the building at street level. This panel raised provocative questions. What standards or paradigms can we set for how tall buildings should deal with the public realm? Is it enough to be a landmark? How else can a tall building enrich our urban existence?

In observing that much technological advancement has occurred since the early years of the skyscraper, the interior spaces of towers are largely the same, said Sir Stuart Lipton. The real change is social.

Sir Stuart Lipton addresses the audience

“Whilst the technology has moved on, the most important part of the tower world is community and sustainability – the social issues are the change,” he said. “We are moving from factory farming of people in high density office layouts to free-range digerati.” In a world where tech companies want other creative industries around them, people work at any hour, and that means they want to be surrounded by music, restaurants, bars and action – “not stereotypical  bland floor space.”

He likened the future “social” tower to a vertical village green, with overlapping activities and adaptability baked in, such that constant change is institutionalized.

St. Paul's Cathedral, London, completed in 1710 it remains one of the top London destinations today
The other primary area that could stand some advancement is the retirement of restrictive development guidelines such as the view corridors in London, said Sir Terry Farrell, who has done much of his most significant work in China. Although some speakers at the conference credited London’s constraints as beneficial to the design of the tall building envelope, Farrell said he viewed the insistence on maintaining view paths to and from St. Paul’s cathedral to places such as Primrose Hill and Westminster Bridge as effectively creating “Haussmannized boulevards in the air.” Farrell was likening London’s planning constraints and heritage preservation laws to the grand design of Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann, who created the boulevards of Paris under the direction of Napoleon III, with the purpose of beautifying decaying medieval sections of the city, as well as discouraging street revolutions.

Session 9: Engineers, Architects Address Building Tall's Biggest Environmental Challenges

Chair: Albert Williamson-Taylor, Design Director, AKT II
Kamran Moazami, Head of Discipline, Building Structures, WSP UK
John Kilpatrick, Principal & Technical Director, RWDI
Helmut Jahn, Chief Executive Officer, JAHN
Werner Sobek, Founder, Werner Sobek Group

By Sian Disson, World Architecture News
In Tuesday’s late afternoon session, engineers from across the globe gathered to discuss how to effectively and economically construct tall towers in those cities rich with heritage architecture. Kamran Moazami, John Kilpatrick, Helmut Jahn and Werner Sobek took to the stage, chaired by Albert Williamson-Taylor from AKT II to impart their experiences in this field.
Kamran Moazami, Head of Discipline, Building Structures, WSP UK make his remarks to the assembly.

Kamran Moazami, head of building structures, WSP, opened proceedings by drawing attention to the importance of dynamic public spaces at the base of tall buildings in drawing people into the towers and stitching them into the public realm. Noting prominent examples from the WSP portfolio including The Shard, Leadenhall and the Shell Centre (all London), Moazami focused on the difficulties in designing tall buildings in the English capital with the labyrinth of tube tunnels which snake beneath its surface.

John Kilpatrick, technical director for RWDI, focused on wind engineering, returning to Renzo Piano's The Shard, and noting that the intelligent integration of London's tallest tower into the urban realm has reduced wind problems in the local vicinity. Quoting Piano, Kilpatrick stated that 'the city is fragile and vulnerable so we have to be careful'. Helmut Jahn took delegates on a journey through the past decades and the evolution of tall buildings around the world, from Mies van der Rohe's towers in Chicago which influenced his own work in the early 70s, through to the WTC site which, he said, is 'less New York than other buildings [in the city] and could just as easily be somewhere else'.

The speakers gathered for a group photo after the session (l to r): Kamran Moazami, John Kilpatrick, Werner Sobek, Albert Williamson-Taylor and Helmut Jahn.
Werner Sobek, founder of Werner Sobek Group, gave a series of hard-hitting facts in his concluding presentation, providing delegates with a number of points to mull over at the evening's dinner. He explained that our burgeoning population has used 50 percent of the available petroleum in the world and, should we continue to consume it at the same rate, we could run out by 2030.

“We must face the fact that we have an exploding population and an emissions problem,” he explained, concluding, “We do not have an energy problem. We have a consumption problem. We have the solar energy, but we need to find way to harvest, store and use it when we need it.. When 100,000 families in Germany can't pay their energy bills, we need to find solutions which address both a growing popularity and the rise in energy demands,” he stressed. Sobek also shared details of a recent design of his that generates 170 percent of the energy it needs, redirecting the excess back into the community, questioning how the industry may take this technology forward into the tall building market.
Werner Sobek, founder of Werner Sobek Group

Session 10: Developing High-Rise Living in the European Context
Chair: Angela Brady, President, Royal Institute of British Architects
Harry Handelsman, Chief Executive Officer, Manhattan Loft Corporation
John Mizon, Vice President, Advanced Programs, Schindler
Paul Monaghan,
Director, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris
By Robert Lau
An increase in high-rise living in traditionally commerce-focused urban centers has been a key urban trend in cities across the entire globe. This has great possible advantages; both in urban densification/ sustainability terms, and in increased urban vibrancy. There are, however, also implications, social and otherwise – on both the building and urban scale, which are only now beginning to be understood. The City of London, for example, has largely resisted this trend of increasing residential development in city centers. This panel debated these issues, specifically in the context of Europe and the European high-rise residential building.
Panelists discuss high-rise living (l to r): Paul Monaghan, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris; John Mizon, Schindler; Harry Handelsman, Manhattan Loft Corporation and Chair Angela Brady, Royal Institute of British Architects
Technology has improved high rises immensely. Elevator wait times and ventilation issues can be accommodated. Urban centers remain vibrant areas, but not necessarily for families with children. Technology may not have the answers for this situation but solutions are possible. The functions of commercial office versus “village living,” for families is a point of discussion, panelists said.
The hustle and bustle of traditional urban cores, such as the City of London, has limited the interest of adding residential development to this mix. Vibrant city centers are unique and have taken time to develop in their own ways. Their functions have been adjusted because of their importance to the entire city and region. The mix of office, boutique retail and restaurants/pubs with excellent public transport has made the City vibrant.

While mixed-use is a common project description in Asia, the mixing of some functions may not benefit areas like the City. Open green spaces for children to play and participate in sports are important. TheBarbican Center, located north of the City, includes some of these functions within itself. The issue of traffic has also been addressed since Barbican Center tends to isolate traffic at its perimeters, with limited entry points. Pedestrian and car traffic tend to be vital components to a commercial development, but not necessarily for a residential development, the panelists said.

At this time, several factors present obstacles to mixing residential and commercial high-rise living into the London context. The vibrancy of commercial may not be compatible with the open green space and nurturing nature of a residential setting. Schools and community continue to reside in the low- to mid-rise neighborhoods in order to serve families with children. This may change, but for now a solution has not been forthcoming.
Angela Brady chairs the session

Leadenhall Project Room
By Philip Oldfield

The Tuesday session in the King Vault Room focused on the Leadenhall Building, first introduced to attendees the night before, with the steelwork of its almost topped-out peak rising in close proximity to the conference opening reception held at the top of the Gherkin. In a room adorned with a panoramic skyline view from the 45th floor of the Leadenhall, along with a lit-up three-foot model, attendees gathered to hear more about London’s latest icon.

The Leadenhall Building project room was located in the King Vault Room.

The theme of the day can best be described as an investigation into the staggering attention to detail found in the project – in the architecture, engineering and construction. The day kicked off with Nigel Webb, Director of British Land giving a general overview of the project, describing the building as “a superb response to the challenges of its location…it’s absolutely a response to the environment within which it sits.”

Andy Young, Associate Partner at Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners then gave a more detailed explanation of some of the tower’s key features – the satellite core shifted to the north, the steel mega-frame wrapping its tapered form, the seven-story public ‘galleria’ space at its base. In describing these various features, Andy explained the process of ‘visual and functional optimization’ that is key to the project’s design; many elements that are hidden away in typical skyscrapers are exposed, highlighted and celebrated in the Leadenhall, from the elevator counter-weights to the springs that measure the weight of each car. Andy described the legibility of the north core structure as the “steelwork equivalent of watch-making”, comparing the celebration of joints, nodes and components as equivalent to a modern-day gargoyles.

It must be one of the only buildings in the world where even the elevator pit has a glass roof, so the public can see its inner-workings as they pass through the Galleria and beneath the core.

This theme of attention to detail continued in the following presentations by Nigel Annereau, Director at Arup and Andy Butler, Director at Laing O’Rourke. Nigel talked in detail about the building’s structure with fantastic pictures of the huge structural nodes that form part of the architecture, noting that “this sort of steel doesn’t lie around….you have to pre-order it.” Andy Butler discussed the attention to detail found in the towers’ construction with Laing O’Rourke’s mantra of “maximum off-site construction…minimum on-site.” He went on to give a fascinating insight into the tight tolerances such a project demands, presenting dramatic pictures of the prefabricated north-core ‘tables’ being lifted into place with only a 200mm tolerance to the already installed curtain-walling. Such discussions continued in the following sessions with Alex Harper of Severfield, Alistair Lazenby of Yuanda Europe, Bob Major of KONE and David Scott and John Stehle of Laing O’Rourke, presenting the details of the steelwork, façade, elevators, floor systems, structure and more.

Alex Harper presents his work in the Leadenhall Project Room.
However, while the Leadenhall Tower’s multitude of elegant components and details caught the attendees’ imagination, it is also perhaps telling the number of times the various presenters claimed to have “the best job in the world,” such was their clear enjoyment and passion in dealing with this fiercely complex, but clearly crafted skyscraper.

Image Gallery: Conference Dinner – Royal Courts of Justice
Sponsored By: British Land + Oxford Properties
Click on an image to enlarge.
June 10, Pre-conference
June 11, Day 1
June 12, Day 2
June 13, Day 3