In defense of skyscrapers

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I am glad Glaeser wrote this chapter (“What’s so Great About Skyscrapers” The Triumph of the CIty). Skyscrapers are why I first wanted to be an architect. Growing up in the Bay Area, I loved driving into San Francisco and seeing the magical skyline and the Transamerica Pyramid, approaching closer and closer. I love the height and energy of Chicago, New York, Hong Kong and Shanghai. I wish Seattle had more tall buildings.

Skyscrapers can be full of life and every bit as vibrant as older, shorter developments. http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/high-rise/your-stories/ Hong Kong is the most living city I have visited, and it is the tallest and the most dense. The skyscrapers allow for city and nature to exist together, each benefiting from the other. And the density skyscrapers allow cultivates the unique culture of Hong Kong. I saw many more traditional, small-scale spaces and stores in Hong Kong than in less dense and lower Beijing. In Hong Kong, the HSBC Bank, a very futuristic looking building, had become an integral part of the public urban fabric.

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Unfortunately, in my opinion, most of the western world is, in the words of Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, “towerphobic.” His firm, BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), proposed an new skyscraper for downtown Copenhagen, http://www.big.dk/#projects-sca knowing that it would raise the ire of “a new Copenhagen community: ‘the society against misplaced high-rises.’” In Copenhagen, a skyscraper would be a radical change; Ingels noted that the “only additions we’ve made to the skyline in the last 100 years are the chimneys of two power plants and the garden tower of Tivoli.” Addressing these concerns, BIG’s proposal is a tower whose base “merges with all the urban volumes and spaces around it.” The central concept in this design was creating a skyscraper form that invites the public into its base, creating a “Danish version of the Spanish steps in Rome.”

Maybe if people see more examples like this, we can get over our collective “towerphobia.”

(BIG quotes taken from the book Yes is More: An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution by Bjarke Ingels Group)

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