September was the 10th Anniversary of the terrible events of 9/11. The memorial park at the World Trade Center site will be officially opened and the memorial fountains will start to flow. Overlooking the site, and the opening ceremony, is the World's newest supertall tower, One World Trade Center, which, on completion, will be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere at 1776 ft high. In the next few years, the other towers on the site by Foster and Partners, Fumihiko Maki and Rogers. Stirk and Harbour will begin construction and complete the masterplan. A stunning new place in a neighbourhood that has been changed fundamentally.
In the aftermath of 9/11 there were many predictions regarding the effect on the architecture, construction and commercial attractiveness of tall buildings. At the time, the tallest two buildings in the world were the twin Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur and the third was the Willis Building in Chicago. Taipei 101 was under-construction - but not on the world's radar.
I remember very clearly at the time people firstly assuming that companies would disaggregate, and stop housing their entire operations in one building - to avoid what had happened to Cantor Fitzgerald, when their entire US operation was lost in the attack on the twin towers, and that secondly, the days of the tall building were numbered - after all, who would want to work in one, let alone want to build something that could become a target for terrorists.
Neither of those predictions have come true - the urge to build tall, reflecting the demands of occupiers, outflanked calls for caution. The truth is that more tall buildings have been erected since 9/11 than in the 70 previous years (437 between 2001 and 2011, and 242 between 1930 and 2000 (1) ). Not only have we kept building tall, but we have kept building taller and taller. In 2001, the Petronas Towers were a mighty 452m high. In 2004 Taipei 101 managed to push up to a creditable half a kilometre in height; at the time the 828m of Burj Khalifa seemed an absurd pipe-dream. Now, Adrian Smith has designed a tower of 1 kilometer in Saudi Arabia and it doesn't seem that strange or unachievable.
2010 was a record year for towers with 66 structures completed around the world. This upward trend is set to continue in 2011, with 97 supertalls due to complete, although, this will slow in 2012, an inevitable consequence of the global recession. (1)
Another key trend is the increasing development of mixed-use towers. In 2009, 42% of supertall buildings were solely for commercial occupiers, and now the percentage has dropped to 20%, whereas the amount of residential space has increased from 34% to 45% (1). Not only has this change coincided with the growing popularity and prevalence of mixed-use developments generally, but it also suits the engineering constraints of the supertall. Space hungry offices suit the lower, bigger floors whereas hotels, which don't need or want open plan space, and can happily inhabit buildings with smaller core to glass measurements suit the middle, or sometimes the top. For the really stratospherically high towers, super-luxury residential will not only pay the most, but it requires the least servicing, floor loading and lifting capacity – and so fits into the slenderer topmost parts.
I have had the great good fortune to advise on the marketing and branding for Taipei 101, ICC in Hong Kong and The Shard in London and I am currently working on the marketing for One World Trade Center. I find that the enthusiasm and excitement about tall buildings is global and universal, and that their appeal goes far beyond the simple need for space. Although I have heard some New Yorkers declare that they would not wish to work in One World Trade Center because of its history, the overwhelming response is positive, as evidenced by Conde Nast's recent groundbreaking leasing of 1 million square feet in the tower. When one of the world's leading trendsetters makes such a definitive statement about the benefits of tall, in the same month that the Kingdom Tower in Saudi Arabia breaks ground, then it's clear that our love affair with tall is undiminished.
(1) source: The Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats