Are vertical cities providing a glimpse into the future?

Gregory Kovacs

Contact Gregory Kovacs, 董事, 香港

Benoy Director Gregory Kovacs sees opportunity in our skies as our land continues to be home to a growing population. Here he examines how vertical cities can not only transform the way we live but very easily fit into our existing urban landscape.

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A Vertical City is an entire human habitat that can thrive in a skyscraper. 

Our population is constantly growing and an increasing percentage of this growing population is seeking urban living. Increasing the number of homes and neighborhoods more often than not results in the destruction of forests and other important natural habitats. How can we combat this in order to maintain the green space we have left? How can we create a more sustainable model for urban living? This is where Vertical Cities come in. 

The development of skyscrapers and vertical transportation has been inseparable. The inventor of the elevator Otis has paved the way for the proliferation of skyscrapers, making them a reality and now part of almost every city backdrop. Preparing for the near future of drones dropping you off at different levels or a tower, vertical transportation and connectivity among buildings needs to be reinvented. How will the latest evolution of vertical transportation rewrite formula of vertical cities? 

Neighbourhoods within a city

For a successful of vertical city, it is important that the towers and their circulation systems integrate with urban streetscapes. Our challenge is to avoid the dystopian vision of J G Ballard’s High-Rise, where the isolated nature of the tower created dysfunctional social structures completely separated from the outside world. We need to create self-sufficient, but interconnected developments, that can act as a neighborhood within a city. Cities are incredibly flexible when it comes to adapting to changing use. It is important that we try to understand how our vertical cities could adapt to changes of use throughout their life cycle. These developments need to succeed in making a place with its own, unique character, serving a multitude of functions, whilst at the same time integrate into their wider cultural context and the urban streetscape.

One key challenge in designing and building high-rise developments is creating something that is truly social, cultural, economic and environmentally sustainable through the full life cycle of the project.

Gregory Kovacs, Director, Hong Kong

Towers are now more self-sufficient than ever

A central conversation around vertical cities is how we can pursue sustainability in our quest to build human habitats upwards, maintaining the landscape and the environment in which they reside. Theories are being brought into reality with skyscrapers generating parts of energy used, capturing rain water and most importantly they have the ability to house a more diverse set of functions from workspace, to residential, to culture, recreation and greenery. One key challenge in designing and building high-rise developments is creating something that is truly social, cultural, economic and environmentally sustainable through the full life cycle of the project. In recent years, designers and stakeholders have shifted their priorities around the materials being used in their developments. CLT and other timber structures are potentially replacing steel and concrete in a bid to make projects more sustainable.

Vertical gardens point towards a greener future

Vertical cities also offer a unique opportunity to enhance and give back to their local environment. By implementing vertical gardens, skyscrapers can help nourish plant species whilst also considerably reducing the internal temperature of buildings. This can also help to expand the amount of green area being implemented into cities whilst also offering a chance to tackle air pollution.

Preparing for a digital future

Most of the applications of smart cities can be easily applied to high-rise mixed-use developments. Tech can be used in a multifaceted way including interacting with the building, improving transportation or managing sustainability. It is about identifying the various functions of the building and developing a tech assisted approach that will improve how the spaces are used. The new Alibaba HQ in Nanjing which has been designed by Benoy introduces the idea of robots delivering goods from one part of the development to residents in another part.

Cities are incredibly complex, large and diverse entities whilst also remaining highly interconnected. In reality until now high-rise mixed-use towers have been more like streets – or rather cul de sacs. You enter and leave at the bottom and can access various functions along the vertical axis of the tower. We need to take every opportunity to integrate these vertical streets into the horizontal network of streets in the wider city and in tandem to the wider urban transport infrastructure. Benoy was tasked with the graphic design and interior architecture of Hysan Place in Hong Kong. Planning 17 levels of retail required careful consideration of vertical movement in order to provide pedestrian irrigation across all levels. A complete re-evaluation of pedestrian access and transportation throughout the development was needed with the broad aim of engaging with and re-directing footfall into a vertical retail environment.