Megaprojects: sustainable skyscrapers will be the towering towns and villages of tomorrow

Clusters of high-rise buildings will form self-contained communities in grand vision for the future

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The skyscrapers of tomorrow will act as self-contained towns and villages to cope with rising urbanisation around the globe, a number of the world’s leading architects said.

An increase in remote working will also be a crucial factor, with high-rise buildings acting as "vertical communities".

There will be a clear focus on making the vast structures more sustainable, such as by producing electricity and water on site.

Now we need to find ways to bring nature to the inner cities, not the other way around
Carlo Ratti

The inclusion of green space, which can be used for food production, is also going to be a significant driver when designing the buildings that will adorn the skylines of the world’s most famous cities in the years to come.

“The future will see buildings acting as vertical hubs for communities to live in," said Luca Curci, an Italian architect who specialises in futuristic designs.

"They will essentially be the towns and villages of tomorrow. We’re going to see less single towers and there will be more vertical hubs of towers close together, acting as communities with everything you could want on it.”

The sky-high vertical city

The Link has been designed to provide a sustainable living space in the heart of existing cities. Courtesy: Luca Curci

Mr Curci said he has already drawn interest from the region for his vision of a 750-metre high vertical city, which can accommodate up to 200,000 people.

The Link was showcased at Dubai Knowledge Summit in 2019 and was described by many as the solution to the problem of finding enough space to cope with a rising demand for high-density living.

Companies needed to think twice about continuing to invest in the traditional model of “super lean and super tall” skyscrapers, because that is not a sustainable model for the future, said Mr Curci.

“Companies are continuing to make the same mistakes of making narrow buildings with as many floors as possible which can only hold offices, apartments and a few elevators,” he said.

“They will need green areas, restaurants and even shopping malls in their buildings in the future.

“People will want to live in communities and not feel like they are living in cages on the 100th floor with no pleasure or leisure services.”

Sustainability and efficiency are also going to be requirements when designing future megastructures, according to the man who played a critical role in designing a $1 billion, 53-floor skyscraper in Dubai.

Skyscrapers can be a sustainable solution

“All big cities have commitment to transfer to zero carbon and skyscrapers need to be a big part of that solution,” said Saeed Al Abbar, chief executive at specialist engineering consultancy AESG, who worked on the creation of ICD Brookfield Place, which opened last September in Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC).

“They [skyscrapers] offer a lot of advantages over low-rise alternatives in that you can create workspace density and density of residential space.”

Mr Al Abbar said it was inevitable skyscrapers would become multi-use buildings, in line with demand from younger generations.

“Traditionally, you had an office building that was just an office building," he said. "Now, the expectation, especially from millennials and younger generations coming into the workforce, is that the building has to offer more than just a place of work and provide places to interact and dine, play and entertain.

“Statistics also show there is a big divide in generations when it comes to owning a car. It used to be seen as a sign of status to own a car but younger generations, especially millennials, are less fussed.

“Living in villas or urban sprawls makes less sense in the future, as there’s a clear demand for high-density living close to public transport, which lends itself to skyscrapers.”

The success of remote-working models, introduced by many companies due to the restrictions on movement caused by the pandemic, has only accelerated the need for more high-density accommodation, he said.

“The lines between where you work and where you live are more blurred than ever before,” said Mr Al Abbar.

“There’s a need for more high-density living options and you can’t create that density with one or two storeys, it has to be done at height.”

Self-sufficiency will also be top of the list of requirements for anyone designing a skyscraper in years to come, said Mr Al Abbar.

“I think skyscrapers will become more self-sustainable with a requirement to produce their own electricity and water,” he said.

“In some cases they will even be producing their own food as society moves more towards self-sustainable communities.

“Renewable energy will become a big part of skyscrapers in the future with data being used to make sure the buildings are run much more efficiently.”

Another globally renowned architect said the challenge facing city planners of the future was finding sustainable ways to connect nature with urban dwellings.

“It used to be the case cities would expand to the outskirts to blend with nature but all that created was urban sprawl,” said Carlo Ratti, whose designs include the Italian pavilion at the coming Expo 2020 Dubai.

“We have to do the opposite of what we were doing in the 20th century with cities growing outwards, as it resulted in the destruction of nature and was ultimately unsustainable.

“Now, we need to find ways to bring nature to the inner cities, not the other way around. We have to combine nature with the artificial.”

The futuristic 'farmscraper'

The new Jian Mu tower which is set to open in China later this year has been described as a "farmscraper". Photo: Carlo Ratti Associati

With that in mind, Mr Ratti has designed a 218-metre high “farmscraper” that is due to open later this year in China’s Shenzhen region.

The 51-storey Jian Mu tower complex includes a vertical farm that is said to be able to produce crops that can feed 40,000 people a year, and also has offices, a supermarket and a food court.

Mr Ratti said more high-density living would naturally result in cities becoming more sustainable.

“The denser the city the less energy consumption you need,” he said.

“When everything is closer to you then you don’t have to travel by car all the time to get what you need.”

He gave the example of the 15-minute city model, developed by Prof Carlos Moreno at the Pantheon Sorbonne University in Paris, as a way to make urban areas more sustainable.

“This is a concept where most of our trips can be done in a 15-minute walk or bike ride,” he said.

“It will make life more sustainable when you don’t have to drive far to get what you need as well as foster better social connections with your neighbours.”

Updated: September 02, 2021, 10:42 AM