High-rise living is not for everyone. One could argue that it needn’t be, but like it or not, the intense urbanisation occurring in our lifetime means more of us than ever will be living off the ground. Shifting expectations around what those living conditions should look like is not easy in a culture at its own crossroads between Anglo origins and the Asian context.
In developing this issue of AR, we found an old typology in rapid transition, as it must be, to meet the challenges ahead. Architects are bringing social agendas to the development arena. As interpreters of the built environment, we have had many discussions with architects over the years, and especially for this issue, about the challenges and directions of high-rise and city-making.
Four key pillars recur in those conversations: liveability (how a building feels for the people who live, work or visit there), sustainability (its environmental cost to build and operate), civic presence (how a building presents itself to the city and the street) and, by no means least, amenity (the communal and public areas beyond ubiquitous lifts and lobbies, to the links a building offers to transport, community and services).
These four pillars became our lens for project selection, features and interviews in this issue. Acknowledging that high-rise developments are a political act as much as an architectural one, Ray Edgar’s interview with Kate Shaw, University of Melbourne researcher and author of Whose Urban Renaissance?, pulls no punches. Shaw urges a root-and-branch rethink of the system to deliver affordable housing, social diversity and community benefit, not just more “real estate product”.
Broadcaster Fenella Kernebone explores the power and politics of public art, with its humanising influence on the high-rise. Her article begs the question: would people visit Sydney’s Barangaroo if it had the equivalent of Chicago’s Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor? Given that this commercial precinct in one of Sydney’s most controversial redevelopments will boast the largest public art commission in Australia’s history, let’s hope so.
Graham Crist (Antarctica Architects) looks at architecture’s role in greening the city, referencing Vietnamese cities where huge-footprint high-rise towers are “extinguishing the jungle” – that tapestry of incidental planting wedged into tiny streets, roof terraces and slivers of building façades – and what architects are doing to bring back opportunities for personal gardening.
In interviewing WOHA director, Richard Hassell, we learned of a new set of indices that the practice is using to help shift the conversation with government and developers, giving more priority to social and environmental benefit. The Civic Generosity Index, for instance, measures a building’s ‘kindness’ to its neighbours. Much of this thinking is distilled into WOHA’s latest public housing project in Singapore, SkyVille @ Dawson.
SkyVille is one of the six projects, either new or underway, featured in the issue. Along with the super-tall Shanghai Tower by Gensler, both point to the Asian-led future of urban density, delivered at different scales, but reaching similar objectives of human-centric design. Also included, from Melbourne are Australia 108 by Fender Katsalidis Architects and Abode318 by Elenberg Fraser with Disegno. And from Sydney, Koichi Takada Architects’ Infinity by Crown Group and Quay Quarter Tower by 3XN and BVN. We’ve captured the logic and thinking of each in project texts and Q&As with the principal architects. Each makes a contribution to the streetscape, the skyline and their occupants in a considered way. Each brings innovation to the evolving ambitions of the high-rise.
- Penny Craswell and Peter Salhani, guest editors
AR 144 – Sky High is available now on newsstands and through Zinio.