The Sky is the Limit?

Russell Gilchrist
Principal
Gensler, Chicago

Technological advances have taken tall buildings to new heights – quite literally. Advances in structural systems, high-strength concrete and steel, vertical transportation, and glass and steel façades have largely made it possible to reach far greater heights than ever imagined.

In spite of this ability to build increasingly taller buildings – usually fully glazed, often in extreme climates with increasingly smart technologies – it could be argued that we are not similarly “rising to the occasion” in terms of optimization. Designers are not optimizing the user experience, occupancy comfort, and energy reductions that taller structures inherently offer, because they do not have the best data to do that. Perhaps it is time to add another technological advance – drones – into the design process for the purpose of creating not just the tallest, but the most responsible tall buildings.

Wind forces and their impact on tall structures are well understood; however, air temperature and quality (pollution) are less so, simply because designers rely on meteorological data from the closest airport, not actual data specific to the site. The conditions at an airport, generally a low-rise area, are likely to be different from the urbanized environment of a tall building project; therefore, more precise methods of data recording are required.

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