ArchiTravel Interviews Antony Wood – Executive Director of the CTBUH

ArchiTravel Interviews Antony Wood - Executive Director of the CTBUH
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ArchiTravel interviews the Executive Director of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, Antony Wood, on architecture, travel and the importance of highrise buildings.

Interview by : Alexios Vandoros


Alexios Vandoros: What is the importance of architectural tourism?

Antony Wood: Interestingly, the architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune newspaper Blain Kamin wrote a article on his blog about this. He explains that architectural tourism can create awareness for buildings who are underappreciated and deserve better protection than the law gives them.

A.V.: What is the importance of traveling, especially for architects and humans in general?

A.W.: To really understand the essence of a culture and the way it is being represented through its architecture you have to experience this context yourself. You cannot take this in by reading about it in a book or on the internet, as all the other senses need to be triggered as well. Anyone who understands this knows what I’m trying to say that you also have to be able to smell, hear and touch the architecture to make it really sink in.

A.V.: What is the role of architecture as a destination and the added value that it creates within a city?

A.W.: To be able to read the architecture allows you to understand the context and the culture in which it was shaped. Sometimes you look at a building and you might think one thing of it, but after you are being told the backgrounds, as to why the building looks the way it does, your opinion about the building might change radically. You might find yourself starting to appreciate buildings which you didn’t think much of before you know the backgrounds of it.

A.V.: What is the importance of architectural or cultural events worldwide?

A.W.: Basically, to celebrate architecture. Anything world celebrates is something worth appreciating. Another point is to educate great audiences about the meaning of architecture, as explained in the previous answer.

A.V.: What are the profits for a city holding such kind of major events?

A.W.: A city which takes architecture seriously is like a person who takes his or her appearance seriously. Basically, it tells you they take care of themselves. As much as it is being said you cannot always judge someone by the way they look, I think there is something to say about the way people, or cities in this case, present themselves. In all, it makes you more attractive.

A.V.: You are the Executive Director of CTUBH (Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat). What is the mission of CTUBH and what kind of services and actions does it make?

A.W.: Our mission is to study and report on all aspects of the planning, design, construction and operation of tall buildings. As such, we organize conferences and congresses, publish a quarterly magazine, maintain a terrific website and a buildings database, maintain a vast network of tall buildings developments, teach tall buildings studio’s and many other things.

A.V.: Highrise buildings play a major role in the shaping of a city’s skyline. How can a tall building or a group of tall buildings affect the icon and the daily life of city? Do tall buildings, as landmarks, contribute to the tourism of a city?

A.W.: Our home base Chicago is a perfect example of a city which sells itself as a City of Architecture. And it truly is. There are not that many cities in the world in which you can read many decades of architectural styles just by walking around a few blocks in the city centre. It has a very active Architecture Foundation, organizing many walking tours and even boat tours, which are often listed as the #1 thing to do while in town. Also, the skyline of Chicago is often being used as a backdrop on advertisements and even in logo’s of companies. As such, the skyline is a great selling point of the city of Chicago.

A.V.: Since Frank Lloyd Wright’s utopian design for the Mile High Skyscraper a lot of progress has been made. Before the world financial crisis and the completion of Burj Khalifa, there had been serious plans for a super-tall building more than 1km high. Do you think that a building in such great heights is financially efficient and morally right?

A.W.: Tall buildings represent a piece of the office and residential market which is willing to pay a premium for features like views, location, amenities and an iconic address. Developing supertall buildings presents a certain risk as often it is very difficult to assess the construction costs beforehand. However, most supertall projects create great indirect gains by representing the city or even the country as an icon. An example of indirect gains is the airtime that the opening of the Burj Khalifa created on the world stage. It represents Dubai as a whole as the ultimate luxury travel destination, both for pleasure and business.

A.V.: CTBUH is continuously expanding in Asia and India. Do you believe that these two rapidly growing markets can reverse the global financial economic crisis and in which way can this be done?

A.W.: Although the development of tall buildings is certainly tied into global economics, this topic is a bit out of the scope of what we are doing. I could only guess how Asian economic development will influence the global financial situation. For us, it is just fascinating to see that the economic development of certain Asian markets seems to go hand in hand with a growing urbanization, and a vast development of tall buildings in its wake.

A.V.: In recent years attention turns to green urban regeneration. Do you think that it is imperative for the city or it’s just a new fashion with economic outcomes and covertly interests;

A.W.: The green movement in (tall) buildings is about doing things more sensible than we have done in the past. It’s part of a growing awareness that resources are not inexhaustible and that as a whole, we’re using more resources than the earth can sustain in the long run as reflected by the ecological footprint. As tall buildings are very visible elements in the urban landscape and as such have the ability to set the example, we think the role and impact of tall buildings on the urban environment is a major concern. Tall buildings and sustainability can take shape on a very practical level, where you look at the building materials, or use smart technologies which bring down the usage of energy or even create it. But we also examine the level of creating urban densities and as such minimize on transport tall buildings have a role to play.

A.V.: At the end, can you please provide your personal proposal for 10 buildings which you think as the most important worldwide that someone must visit anyway?

A.W.: Just to make a bold statement, I sometimes like to say that 95% of all tall buildings in the world are not what they could have been.  Especially, when it comes to the cultural expression within the architecture, there is often much to be desired. The relation between culture and architecture is something I am teaching a seminar on at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Some good examples can be found in a poster that the CTBUH created, which shows the innovative 20 buildings which have been proposed and built in the past 10 years.  These were selected for various reasons, such as these existing examples:

  • Burj Dubai. The first building to surpass 600, 700 and 800 meter height thresholds, and exceed the previous world’s tallest building by +60% in height.
  • Bank of America Tower. The first tall building designed to attain the US Green Building Council’s LEED Platinum certification.
  • Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort. The first significant towers to be joined at roof level, with the creation of a one hectare ‘skypark’, positioned almost 200 meters in the sky.
  • 30 St Mary Axe. One of the first skyscrapers to adopt an amorphous form, whilst employing innovative structural (diagrid) and environmental strategies.
  • Post Tower. One of the first office towers to employ a double-skin façade in the quest for full natural ventilation, with eradication of centralized mechanical air-conditioning plant.
  • Linked Hybrid Building. A precursor to future ‘cities in the sky’? Contains a wide mix of functions (residential, hotel, kindergarten, art gallery, restaurants etc) in nine towers linked by skybridges.
  • CCTV Headquarters. Challenges the traditional form of the skyscraper, with a unique vertical and horizontal ‘looped’ building and innovative structural and constructional approaches.
  • I also very much like the Linked Hybrid in Beijing. This complex of buildings won our award for the best tall building in 2009 for creating a social cohesive community by adding skybridges in between the lower, and as such literally creating a linked community.
  • Another classic example of a tall sustainable building is the Commerzbank tower in Frankfurt. It’s design principles have been an inspiration for many towers which were designed after that.
  • And finally, my own personal favorite is the BEP Complex in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – a tall building inspired by its cultural and environmental context, with a modern interpretation of the Islamic Jali screen forming a sun shading skin to the curtain wall behind; a beautiful, as well as practical, 3-dimensional expression.

More on : Antony Wood

About this Author : Alexios Vandoros