Tall Buildings

I live in London where we have very few tall buildings. What can the US teach us about doing ten or twenty floors well, to keep views and privacy and clean air and light and so on?

While many US cities have more tall buildings than London they can still be quite controversial. While major US cities do have many tall buildings they also have a lot of urban sprawl and low density urban and suburban areas. People frequently resist taller buildings in their neighborhoods. Sometimes this can be a form of veiled racism, as residents believe taller (and more affordable) buildings will result in black and brown people moving in. However there are some valid concerns regarding how taller building will affect things like sunlight and privacy.

Tall building do have many advantages. They allow more people to use the same amount of land. This means you can have more things close together and that more people can live close to their work and cultural centers, thus reducing the need for trips which take time and use fossil fuels. Building up not out also allows more land to be used for farm land or nature reserves instead of housing.

This doesn’t deal with the physical problems of tall buildings but one thing that US cities are doing that London should consider is Inclusive zoning. This is where building are allowed to be built taller if they include affordable housing units, where the rents are artificially kept below market rate. Like several US cities, London has a housing affordability problem and something along these lines would could help address that. New York is currently trying inclusive zoning at a very large scale and that’s definitely something to watch.

Let’s talk about the physical form of buildings and what can be done to make tall buildings more pleasant to live in and around. One thing that New York City is well know for is building setbacks. These are when the upper floors of a tall building are smaller and further back from the street than the levels bellow, giving the buildings something of the appearance of a wedding cake. This is done to reduce the shadow of the top of the building on other buildings and the ground. Today we can also use software to predict the shadows of new buildings before they are built and therefore mitigate the worst effects. Thus buildings don’t necessarily have to have that characteristic shape but can still be built to maximize sunlight.

Another thing that can make taller buildings more pleasant to live around involves paying attention to rooftops. Rooftop gardens are a great amenity for those who live in a building allowing them more contact with nature. Rooftops can also house other communal outdoor space, like tennis courts or space to BBQ. Plus any such amenity can add visual interests for people in nearby buildings.

So to sum up: Taller buildings can be a good way to for cities to be more resource efficient. They can also help increase the supply of housing and help keep housing prices down. To help make tall buildings nice to live around it’s important to pay attention to shadows. Tall buildings also create opportunities for rooftop spaces. I hope this helps!

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