Friday, March 9, 2012

The Impact of Tall Buildings on Urban Habitat

The Impact of Tall Buildings on Urban Habitat
By: Dr. Yasser Mahgoub, Department of Architecture and Urban Planning, College of Engineering, Qatar University

Tall Buildings: A love-hate relationship!
Tall Buildings, in name and social function, is a modern expression of the age-old symbol of a pillar that connects earth to heaven and the four compass directions to one another. Aside from satisfying functional and economic needs, tall buildings are becoming symbols of modernization, development, and globalization. They are sources of national pride and cultural identity expressing globalization and economic prosperity. In the Gulf region, they pose several challenges to integrate them with the urban fabric of emerging cities of the Gulf region. They became iconic landmarks that captured public and international attention, regardless of their function and use. There is a “love-hate” relationship with tall buildings that cannot be ignored. Are they build for “function” or “fashion”, “use” or “u-see”, “feasibility” or “visibility”, regardless of cost and impact on the city. Changes made by tall buildings are permanent and lasting. There is increasing concern among professional of the impact of tall buildings on urban habitat.

Tall buildings in the Middle East
According to the CTBUH, one quarter of the world's future tallest building projects will be based within the Middle East region, specifically Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Tall buildings in the Middle East often carry a connotation of pride and achievement. They are sources of national pride and cultural identity expressing globalization and economic prosperity. They pose several challenges to integrate them with the urban fabric of emerging cities. Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are racing in competition to construct tall buildings to meet growing demands for office spaces. The rapid development of tall buildings in Doha due to the rapid urbanization and development has been going through since the middle of the 20th century. With large number of towers being constructed in Al Dafna and West Bay areas of Doha, these buildings affect different aspects of the built and urban environment, i.e. city image, traffic, urban spaces and physical conform.

Sustainability and Tall Buildings
At the outset, tall buildings cannot be considered green or sustainable buildings because of their consumption of large amounts of building materials during construction and energy resource during operation and demolition. They consume energy due to transportation of materials and services. Tall buildings require greater material content to construct their structural system to withstand the higher bending moments caused by wind forces at the upper levels. Additional energy is consumed for the mechanized movement of people up and down its elevators, and other aspects arising from its excessive verticality. It is indispensable to develop urban planning legislations for designing eco-tall buildings. On the other hand, tall buildings will continue to meet the demands of urban and city growth and concentration of services and resources. As a result, designers should seek to mitigate its negative environmental impacts and to make it habitable as possible. The presentation suggested principles that government should include in building legislations and regulations for building a skyscraper in order to achieve ecological and sustainable urban environment.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Tall Buildings:
Advantages of tall buildings include:
-           Intensive land use
-           Efficient development
-           Economic boom
-           Mixed use variety
-           Promote development of science and technology
Disadvantages include:
-           High energy consumption
-           Heat island effect
-           High material consumption
-           High carbon emission
-           Wind recirculation and secondary wind environment

Impact on Urban Habitat
Tall buildings create a hostile urban canyon that prevents visual and functional continuity between different parts of the city. Also, an important connection between tall buildings and the city is how they prohibit or allow for spatial continuity between different buildings. Tall buildings can help create awareness of our lifestyles and patterns of consumption negative impacts on the environment.
Tall buildings make big, visible public statements of sustainability. With 800 tower projects expected to be completed over the next decade in the Middle East, it is important to retain a sense of cultural identity and heritage. This can be achieved by developing projects with a sense of community, based on modern urban living concepts where traditional Arabic architecture is combined with sophisticated technologies that enable a sustainable outcome. Future generations might judge our tall building strategies as fashion and branding.
The trend to construct tall buildings may be driven both by pragmatism and desire for distinction. The practice to construct tall buildings adjacent to each in one area of the city should be reviewed. Tall buildings areas create hostile and repelling urban environment especially after working hours. Tall buildings should be used as focal points for mixed developments and satellite urbanism. This strategy will disperse traffic congestions and create a

Tall buildings and the City
When it comes to building tall structures, the physical construction of the building is not particularly difficult. We could keep building floor after floor until we reach the moon. Whilst technology may enable us to build tall, the fundamental question is should we continue to build tall, if yes then how!
The famous quote by Winston Churchill, "We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us" should be changed to "We shape our CITIES and thereafter they shape us." I think cities and the surrounding environment, urban or non-urban, are more important as the context in which these buildings are located. They impact our daily experience more than individual buildings.