November 11, 2011
Column | Korky Koroluk
Building tall to fight urban sprawl
It’s nice, in these edgy economic times, to see the volume of construction in Toronto, especially in the highrise sector.
There are dozens and dozens of them scattered around the GTA. Some are office buildings; some are residential, with downtown condominiums being popular. There’s a good sprinkling of high-rise construction in other major Canadian cities, but nothing to compare with what’s happening in Toronto.
Highrises, however, can be divisive. In residential areas, people complain that their once-sunny properties are now shaded much of the time. Others complain about the increased density in their neighbourhoods.
In many cities, densification is a real hot-button issue. Everyone claims to understand the reasons for it, as long as it’s in someone else’s neighbourhood.
But there is a large and growing body of research that tells us that highrises are more energy efficient, that they reduce infrastructure costs as they replace urban sprawl, that they result in fewer cars on the road as people give up the commutes they love to hate as they make their way between the city core and their single-family suburban homes.
More and more attention is being paid to cities and their problems — if not by our governments, at least by many residents and some academics. Richard Florida, the director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, is a noted scholar who has equated density with innovation, and Canada is starved for innovation in all its business sectors.
Florida recently teamed up with Atlantic magazine to produce an informative website, The Atlantic Cities , that is a continuing study of all the problems and opportunities of cities. You can subscribe to a daily newsletter from the site that offers five or six articles, and most make interesting reads. Now, an international group called the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat is, for the first time in its 42-year history, getting involved in research to aid the developers, architects and builders of the really tall buildings, the ones that people are now referring to as the “supertalls” or “supertowers”.
Next year, the group plans to publish five design guidelines on natural ventilation, foundations, column shortening, performance-based seismic design, structural outriggers and wind-tunnel testing. It is also beginning a $20-million fire study. The culmination of that study will be a real building burn.
Most folks have never heard of the council, but it claims to reach about half a million people worldwide if you count the staff of member firms. It held its annual conference in Seoul, Korea, last month, and drew an attendance of about 800 people.
Most supertalls are in Asia, but the rebuilt One World Trade Center, due for completion in 2013, will qualify, and will rank sixth in the world and something over 530 metres in height.
Some of the supertalls are, or will be, immense. The tallest under construction (but not above grade yet) is the PingAn Finance Center in Shenzhen, China, which will top out at 660 metres. To give you a point of comparison, the CN Tower in Toronto is 553 metres.
The tallest of all, though, will be the Kingdom Tower, which is expected to be under construction within a few months. It will be slightly more than 1,000 metres tall. That’s a kilometre. That’s tall.
When first conceived, it was dubbed the Mile High Tower, but that design was abandoned before it was completed, and the project scaled back, if a kilometre-tall building is scaling back.
The Kingdom Tower will be in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with a preliminary cost estimate of about US$1.3 billion. It’s a project of Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, a nephew of Saudi King Abdullah.
It’s supposed to be finished in 2016-2017.
Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
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