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Vertical Urban Sprawl

Trash, River Pines, Rubble, Pollution

Residents of the Western Hemisphere might not know it, but we live in the time of the”megatall” skyscraper.

But as of a bit more than a decade ago, construction began on the first megatall building, defined as one which stands 600 meters (1,969 feet) or more. The first megatall structure was Burj Khalifa in downtown Dubai. Since its completion in 2009, the Burj Khalifa has become the tallest artificial structure on earth.

But it won’t continue to this designation much longer.

Also referred to as the Kingdom Tower, the structure is planned to reach 3,281 feet upon completion, expected in 2020.

The Kingdom Tower will shoot beyond the Burj Khalifa and other present megatall structures, including the 2,073-foot Shanghai Tower, Saudi Arabia’s existing 1,971-foot Abraj Al-Bait and the 1,965-foot Ping An International Finance Centre in Shenzhen, China, largely complete and slated to be completed next year. New York’s supertall One World Trade Center, attaining a patriotic 1,776 feet, is the only building in the Western Hemisphere to make the top 10 list, and it may soon find itself pushed out completely.

Even the Jeddah Tower may not have long to enjoy its location at the top. While there is no definite site yet devoted to the project, it’s another indication of the desire to push architecture ever upward.

Some tall and supertall skyscrapers are purely residential, especially in america. Advances in technology and engineering, in addition to increased population pressure in metropolitan areas, make residing dozens of stories up a more appealing prospect than it once was. But one of the megatall structures that are cropping up around the world, dedicating an entire tower to purely residential use is rare.

Instead, many of these megatall buildings include residential and business portions, together with hotels, restaurants and a variety of in-house amenities. In effect, they’re the most prominent evidence that cities now are as apt to sprawl up as outward. In size and in function, they are effectively several skyscrapers in one.

Mixed-use towers offer a few economies of scale. The restaurant where workers grab lunch on Tuesday will happily serve brunch to residents and resort guests on Sunday. The stores, gardens and health services offered to residents will, in effect, make the tower a relatively self-contained community. The climate control system will have the ability to draw cooler, cleaner air from the tales far above street level, saving on cooling and filtration prices. And infrastructure such as a water mains and power will obviously be consolidated.

For some residents, too, there could be individual savings. Office workers may rent apartments in the tower where they work, reducing their commute to an elevator ride. Visitors seeing friends or family will be able to stay in hotel rooms just a few floors away.

Much as ocean liners have occasionally been described as”floating cities,” multiuse towers such as the one underway in Jeddah may represent”climbing cities.” Therefore, they will need redundancies and safeguards for electricity, sanitation and emergency services. Some of these will just be a matter of planning ahead; others may require innovative solutions.

For example, how can you fight a fire on the 70th floor of a building? In Dubai, the proposal is to groom firefighters with”jetpacks,” powered by helicopter blades as opposed to streams of gas, but still intended to permit individual first responders to rescue stranded civilians. While New Yorkers should not expect to see that the FDNY flying around One World Trade Center’s upper levels anytime soon, futuristic skyscrapers already require unconventional solutions to unique issues.

Modern design also allows these towers to be constructed with increasing efficiency of materials. Engineering techniques like a weight-bearing”exoskeleton” on the exterior of tall buildings and the availability of stronger steel and concrete mean that contractors can implement architects’ designs while keeping costs manageable and buildings safe for the people who will live, work and relax in them once they’re complete.

In North America and Europe, land use and zoning rules often prevent mixed-use buildings such as those gaining prominence elsewhere. Such structures are either prohibited outright or require zoning variances blocked by people who’d may not be directly affected in any way, but dislike the idea of such a job in their backyard on principle.

And by international standards, the United States is fairly adaptable where construction permissions are concerned. It’s more difficult to envision supertall, mixed-use skyscrapers gaining a foothold in Berlin or Milan, let alone Paris, where the statement of a 590-foot tall mix hotel and office building generated hand-wringing and outcry just months ago.

In some ways, supertowers may offer what urban living advocates have championed for ages. They reduce the need for cars and other transportation, allow communities to deploy resources more efficiently and provide enhanced amenities through economies of scale.

On the other hand, these towers stand in opposition to calls for “human scale” development. Some urban planners have argued that focusing too much on efficiency may cause isolating and even harmful results for individuals. To stay viable, mixed-use towers will probably need common spaces such as gardens, courtyards or gallerias, in addition to the proposed restaurants and shops that will make life social, not only efficient, for the people who live and work in these places.

While megatall skyscrapers pose a variety of challenges, more nations are tackling these problems all of the time. Towers like the one rising in Jeddah are just one vision of the future, and one which is coming first in the international East.

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