Category I: Tall Buildings



Tall Buildings have enjoyed a resurgence in recent decades unparalleled in human history. They have been built in greater number, greater height, and in more varied locations than at any other juncture. At the same time, from a design perspective, many of these Tall Buildings seem to have been designed as either vertical extrusions of an efficient floor plan, or stand-alone pieces of high-rise urban ‘sculpture’. In both cases the only relationship with the urban setting is a visual one, with the tall building usually dominating. This has led to the syndrome of tall buildings as ‘isolationist’ architecture – stand-alone, non-site specific models that are readily transportable around the cities of the world. This has served to create an alarming homogeneity across global urban centers – a creation of a ‘one size fits all’ skyscraper ‘mush’. This is especially true of cities in developing nations, where the imported, rectilinear, air-conditioned ‘box’ is the standard norm. In addition, tall buildings have become synonymous with the greatest excesses of energy expenditure – in both embodied construction and operation. In short, these tall buildings are often seen to be contributing to the degradation of both the local (cultural) and the global (through climate change).

It does not, however, need to be this way. In the need for denser, more concentrated sustainable cities which reduce the loss of green space and energy-intensive transport and infrastructure networks, tall buildings have an opportunity to reinvent themselves as the typology for a sustainable urban future – focused centers of live, work and play with innovative forms, technologies and environments to face the challenges of the future climate-changed world. This new typology needs be inspired also by the cultural and vernacular traditions of the location. This is especially important in maintaining the cultural integrity and continuity of any urban domain, but especially in developing countries where the embrace of western models is both enthusiastic and rapid. In short, tall buildings need to be inspired by place – both culturally and environmentally.


The Design

This design project seeks to explore the themes outlined above to find alternative design approaches for tall buildings; to create high-rise buildings that are inspired by the cultural, physical and environmental aspects of place. At the same time, the project should embrace the very latest technologies available (including future technologies) to allow advancement in steel structure, building form, skin, function, operation, systems and expression.

The Site

The highrise should be sited on a city lot to be chosen by the faculty sponsor and/or the student. The criteria for site selection include the following:

Size: the site should be no larger than a single city block

Context: the site should be located in an easily reached area of the city

Access: the site should have access to public transportation such as light rail, commuter rail, subway, or bus

It is vitally important that the site is studied and researched in detail, as this should be the springing point for the design. The eventual competition entry should clearly show how the building responds to its “site”, in the widest understanding of that word. It is important that the site study reaches far beyond the aspects of the individual site, in order to determine the context for design, the programmatic brief for the building, and to inform the design process to follow. Site studies thus need to embrace the ‘local’ (the direct site context of the building), the ‘intermediate’ (since a tall building has a physical relationship with places far and wide in a city) and the ‘global’ (the city and local culture as a whole). 

The Program

You are free to determine the size, height, function, accommodation and responsibilities of the building, according to your site studies & research. It is likely that the building will be mixed-use in nature. Possible influential factors on the detailed program (in no particular hierarchy) may be: site area, urban grain, neighboring buildings, city requirements, community requirements, the commercial market, social responsibility, sustainability, aesthetics, proportions, plot ratios etc. Students should devise the program to respond to the local physical, climatic, social, cultural and financial conditions. 

Project Aims & Objectives: 

  • An expressive understanding of steel utilized with maximum innovation.
  • To explore and resolve the issues associated with the placing of a tall building in a unique cultural-urban setting.
  • To explore how that tall building can be inspired by the cultural, physical and environmental aspects of site.
  • To determine the programmatic brief for that building, based on micro and macro site / urban studies.
  • To understand the issues involved with designing a multi-level building containing possibly differing functions.
  • To understand how considerations of steel structure, environment, servicing etc are as vital to the success of the building as form, materials, aesthetics etc.
  • To develop the design of the building in some detail in order to properly investigate and understand the relationship between the design and the making of spaces and places.
  • To develop the design of an aspect of the building in technical detail so as to portray at large scale the relationship between steel structure, space, skin etc.
  • To explore appropriate oral and graphic presentation skills through the duration of the project so as to communicate ideas to their maximum potential.

Download the full 15-16 Steel Competition Program (PDF)