Each year, the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) hosts an international conference bringing together the brightest minds in the development, architecture and engineering world. After jumping around Asia the past few years, the CTBUH 2015 International Conference settled in New York, the first North American city to host the event since Chicago in 2009. Locations are chosen strategically, with CTBUH focusing their attention on cities experiencing high growth. With the recent recession crippling the American real estate market, cities had witnessed a slowdown in the number of new developments being built. Now, with the United States economy on the rebound, New York City especially is seeing a surge in massive futuristic towers that are defining Manhattan architecture trends. 

CTBUH International Conference, image by Edward Skira

Held at the Grand Hyatt from October 26 to 30, the conference theme was The Resurgence of the Skyscraper City. A series of case studies presented by the leading visionaries in the industry showcased building technologies, new landmark developments around the world, and where the capital to finance these developments is coming from. 

Statistics revealed the true impact and growth of skyscraper construction around the world. From 1930 to 2001, 282 buildings over 200 metres were completed. In the short span from 2002 to 2015, the number was 679. That represents a jump from 3.9 to 52.2 buildings per year. 

New York City from One World Trade Center, image by Edward Skira

An introduction to the projects shaping New York laid the groundwork for the rest of the conference. The recent increase in superslim skyscrapers like 432 Park Avenue111 West 57th Street and Central Park Tower are a result of the ultra-rich investing in politically stable markets. The recession has forced many of the global wealthy to swap credit with cash while setting their sights on the increasingly scarce and expensive Manhattan land. Building a supertall building on a small lot has proved to be a profitable venture so far, with penthouse units often selling in excess of $100 million.

432 Park Avenue scrapes the sky, image by Edward Skira

Though the affluent can certainly claim that many developments are being catered with them in mind, urban regeneration projects across the city are transforming spaces with all income classes in mind. Transit and pedestrian connections mingle with new public plazas, retail, a museum, and a massive amount of new office space below a public observation deck in the World Trade Center complex.

Harry Macklowe gives an overview of 432 Park Avenue, image by Edward Skira

Other projects like Hudson Yards are revitalizing former industrial lands into new mixed-use destinations. The High Line provides an essential elevated pedestrian connection to the neighbourhoods south of this gargantuan development. These projects are mixing private and public uses while pushing the architectural envelope.

New York's Hudson Yards, image courtesy of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates

A number of buildings, both new and old, are incorporating the latest smart technology. Di-BOSS, the world's first Digital Building Operating System, stores data related to the energy consumption, occupancy and temperature of a structure. Essentially acting as the brain of the building, Di-BOSS optimizes building performance and maximizes sustainability based on the weather conditions outside. In buildings like 110 Wall Street where the system has been implemented, cost savings average 12% year-over-year. With new projects often achieving LEED Gold or higher status — a sign that the environment is becoming a prime consideration in development practices — smart technology like Di-BOSS is expanding worldwide. 

Panelists discuss the Kingdom Tower and Middle Eastern development, image by Edward Skira

Skyscrapers are constantly pushing boundaries, making what had been thought to be impossible, possible. Several presentations by key delegates including the CEO of the Jeddah Economic Company Mounib Hammoud and Adrian Smith of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture highlighted the mammoth Kingdom Tower development. When completed in 2019, it will climb one kilometre into the sky to become the world's tallest building. Containing multiple 'population zones', the hotel uses, residential units, office spaces, retail and public observation levels will be separated. Each zone will have a dedicated set of high-speed elevators, totalling 58 throughout the complex. 

Kingdom Tower, image courtesy of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill

Bangkok's MahaNakhon drew praise for its carved edges. Architect Ole Scheeren recalls the pixelated form of Thailand's tallest building which contains the Ritz Carlton Residences and a 150-room hotel by Marriott International and hotelier Ian Schrager. The mixed-use project incorporates amenities for residents, guests and the broader public by offering over 100,000 square feet of restaurants, cafes and a 24-hour marketplace spread across multiple terraced floors. The terraces are wrapped in vegetation and the building topped with a sky bar. In his presentation, Scheeren explained that although the skyscraper originated in North America, its being embraced in ways never seen before in Asia. Bangkok, like dozens of other Asian cities, is realizing that skyscrapers stand as a tangible symbol of a nation's economic clout and success. 

Bangkok's MahaNakhon, image courtesy of Buro Ole Scheeren

Danish architect Bjarke Ingels noted that "architecture is always, at its core, an effort to make the existing environmental conditions more hospitable to human life." He gave numerous examples of his past and current landscape-altering projects, from VIA 57 West to Vancouver House. He believes most highrises being built in North America are fairly generic glass structures with a simple crown on top. He hopes to change the dynamic of building construction by attacking the traditional conventions that have typically comprised architectural design. New technology and ways of doing things, he says, opens up the opportunity to drastically alter the accepted form of a building. 

VIA 57 West by Bjarke Ingels, image by Edward Skira

The L Tower's Daniel Libeskind discussed his projects, from the original World Trade Center proposal to Milan's Il Curvo. He emphasized the need for architecture to balance the wishes of the client while also providing public spaces as a way of giving back to the community. He argued that buildings should be high density and dynamic, but also fit within their context and the human scale. Involving the public in the design process is key to creating a true sustainable city, not purely incorporating the latest innovative technologies. 

Il Curvo in Milan, image courtesy of Daniel Libeskind

Israeli-born architect Moshe Safdie made similar comments: a building's impact at the ground level must take into account the public realm. He argues that towers have become too privatized, ignoring the relationship with its surroundings. Safdie's designs are noted for their ample consideration of light, air and nature, elements widely visible in Montreal's Habitat 67. His Chongqing Chaotiamen project in China links eight towers with a conservatory bridge at their midpoint. This expands the public realm horizontally high above the busy streets of Chongqing. The stepped facades of Sky Habitat in Singapore create openings in the volume that give residents sweeping views of the city. The project is characterized by pools, vegetation and large balconies that reinforce the human connection with nature. Safdie is the visionary behind Monde, a new waterfront condominium now under construction in the East Bayfront. 

Chongqing Chaotiamen, image courtesy of Moshe Safdie and Associates

Toronto's own James Parakh, Urban Design Manager for Toronto-East York, spoke to 'The Network of Urban Spaces Surrounding Tall Buildings'. He explained how public spaces range in size from London's parkettes, to more traditional spaces like Battery Park, to Dubai's grand Lake Khalifa. A number of examples from Toronto were mentioned. 300 Front Street West's privately owned publicly-accessible space (POPS) was singled out as an example of a successful link between public and private spaces. Parakh recalled the CTBUH 7 Cities Winter Walking Tour in which the Allen Lambert Galleria in Brookfield Place was heralded as a welcoming connection between two downtown office buildings. He also showcased Toronto's more intimate spaces, including the pedestrian walkways adjacent to the Ritz Carlton Hotel that act as a northward extension of Simcoe Park. He explains that in cities like Toronto where the cold can scare people indoors, public spaces of various scales need to be animated year round.

Toronto's Allen Lambert Galleria, image by Marcus Mitanis

These all-star architects provided thought-provoking insights into the world of building design, construction and technology. Yet none of this would be possible without a huge influx of capital. Investment in Asian markets has skyrocketed over the last ten years, partly because of the U.S. recession. China's good fortunes have attracted developers and architects from around the world as disposable income in these countries surge. However, this disposable income is subject to restrictions on foreign investment by the Chinese government. That has driven Chinese nationals to invest in the local real estate market, leading to rapid growth in the sector. In response, the government has introduced new rules limiting each family to one investment property. 

Brickell City Centre in Miami, image courtesy of Swire Properties

With investment options dwindling in China, the Immigrant Investor Program in the United States is attracting Chinese money. More than 80% of program participants are from China, representing an influx of money that American developers are actively seeking. The largest private-sector project under construction in the United States, Brickell City Centre in Miami, is being developed by China-based Swire Properties

Australia 108 in Melbourne, image courtesy of Aspial Corporation

Australia is also seeing strong investment from Asia. Singapore's Aspial Corporation launched plans to build Australia 108 which would become the tallest residential tower in the southern hemisphere. The United States, Australia and other developed nations represent a relatively safe and stable environment in which to diversify the assets of Asian developers. Capital from the oil-rich Middle East also continues to flow across the globe. With this much money flowing between countries, globalization has certainly taken root in the development industry. An increasingly interconnected world of new ideas will continue to shape the architectural designs of the future. 

30 Park Place, image courtesy of Robert A.M. Stern Architects

The first two days of the conference were dominated by these panelist discussions and presentations. The event's latter days left the confines of the hotel and ventured out into the skies of Manhattan. Numerous building tours gave delegates the opportunity to view the interiors of some of the biggest skyscrapers now under construction and complete in New York, including Four World Trade Center30 Park Place and 50 West Street. Keep an eye on UrbanToronto.ca's sister site SkyriseCities.com for an exclusive look into these skyscrapers in the coming days, while a report on the CTBUH's Regional Tour of Toronto will appear soon too. 

Until then, visit the dataBase files linked below for the Toronto projects mentioned in this article. You can also post your photos and get involved in the discussion at SkyriseCities.com, or leave a comment at the bottom of this page. 

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