Planning for Tall Buildings by Michael J. Short
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Planning for Tall Buildings by Michael J. Short

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Tall Buildings Contents

  • The tall building typology
  • The potential impacts of tall buildings 
  • The emergence of planning frameworks for tall buildings
  • The conservation challenge of tall buildings 
  • Tall buildings in Liverpool: balancing conservation and change in the maritime mercantile city 
  • Tall buildings in Manchester: while Liverpool thinks, Manchester constructs
  • Tall buildings in Birmingham: the new image of the city? 
  • “The blue, the green and the city in-between”: tensions between conservation and tall building development in Oslo 
  • Tall buildings in Dublin: property-led regeneration within an evolving conservation planning framework 
  • Tall buildings in Newcastle-upon-Tyne: reconciling the past with the present? 
  • Tall buildings in Vancouver: celebrating the “cult of the view” 
  • Conclusions

Introduction to Planning for Tall Buildings PDF

In recent years there has been increasing concern amongst built environment professionals internationally about development proposals for tall buildings and their potential impact on the fabric of our cities.

Booming cities in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have witnessed significant numbers of tall buildings being proposed, in part fuelled by cities’ inter-urban competition (Pløger, 2010; Sklair, 2006).

In many instances, planners have had to respond to these proposals using out-of-date or inadequate planning frameworks and have often worked under pressure from politicians to approve tangible symbols of economic growth.

At the heart of the debate about the appropriateness of specific tall building proposals is their impact and effect on existing townscapes in general, and more specifically, protected buildings and areas

Should planning frameworks encourage the siting of towers in appropriate locations, and if so, how do we decide where these locations should be? Should proposals be actively discouraged through such frameworks where they might harm the character, or distinctiveness, of a specific place, area or monument?

Cities are responding to the tall building challenge on a spectrum that ranges from outright opposition to wholehearted embrace with planning as the basis for negotiation over specific proposals.

This book attempts to reflect on planning approaches to tall buildings in this time of recession, drawing on a number of cases to outline how cities are responding to this challenge.

In essence, it is a book about good planning: how to develop planning frameworks that encourage both a deep understanding of the character of the place and how, if at all, this might be improved through the construction of tall buildings.

Planning is a multi-dimensional, multi-objective forum for the management of change in the built and natural environment that is both regulatory, in the sense that it is enshrined within a statutory system, and visionary, in the sense that future visions are promoted and implemented through it (Carmona et al., 2003).

Additionally, this book reflects on instances where cities have sought to attract tall buildings with little or no attempt at good planning.

It shows the broad spectrum of approaches to planning for tall buildings from outright laissez-faire un-regulated cities, to those that positively attract tall buildings as part of a coherent planning strategy.

New tall buildings assert the vision of a city that is modern, prestigious, forward-looking, and open to business. They are powerful advertising tools for tourism and economic regeneration and can project an image of the building’s occupiers to the world (Abel, 2003; Strelitz, 2005; Namier, 1931).

Tall buildings are being proposed and built across a wide range of cities; from Tallinn to Taipei, Santiago to St Petersburg, Bahrain to Budapest, Cairo to Chicago, Dubai to Dallas, and Manchester to Melbourne.

They have been defining twenty-first-century urban growth by their sheer size and numbers: “. . . no other building type incorporates so many forces of the modern world or has been so expressive of changing belief systems and so responsive to changing tastes and practices” (Huxtable, 1992: 11).

The central contention of this book is that tall buildings can “give cities identity through ‘skyline’, an identifiable array of icons that provide orientation” (McNeill, 2005: 46), but only if they are planned as part of a coherent strategy involving the full breadth of stakeholders and resulting from consensus.

The converse, of course, is that if tall buildings are approved and built in a planning policy vacuum, their location and design is decided by the market alone, we can witness illegible, incoherent townscapes of decreasing aesthetic, physical and cultural value which show little consideration for effects on that townscape or on the people who experience it.

Huxtable (1984) explains the tall building eloquently: “. . . its role in the life of the city and the individual is vexing, and its impact shattering . . .” (p. 11).

A key theme of the book is, therefore, to investigate the role and function of emerging planning frameworks and tools in dealing with the challenges of tall buildings in particular places.

What can planning practice tell us about how to deal with tall buildings and their impacts? Should cities proactively plan for tall buildings and if so, how? Upon what sorts of plans should these strategies be based and how can planning authorities make effective and relevant decisions about tall buildings?

Finally, what can this analysis of tall building developments and planning strategies tell us about the wider practice of planning? Using a range of case studies, including individual cities and in some instances, particular buildings, this book will seek to address these questions.

In particular, the book focuses on the problems of managing proposals for tall buildings in cities where the built form reflects a palimpsest of development over time: what can be termed hybrid heritage (While and Short, 2006).

In these cities, the outcomes of planning decision-making processes reflect that there is little consensus over the type and value of the built heritage.

The notion of hybridity can be used to explain the fluidity and multiplicity of “space-times generated in/by the movements and rhythms of heterogeneous associations” (Whatmore, 2002: 6).

Many cities can be described as hybrid heritage cities; different ages in the evolution of those cities are reflected in their character yet there are competing values attached to those elements. This value is reflected in, amongst other things, the protection of, particularly built heritages.

In “historic” cities with a clear and identifiable heritage York, Amsterdam, Bruges, and Krakow, for example, the character and skyline of the city often reflect a consensus about the significance of that heritage amongst a wide range of interest groups and thereby remains relatively intact through established planning frameworks.

Cohen (1999) argues that the regulation of building height is critical for the conservation of the built heritage of such cities.

In those cities where there is more willingness to trade conservation off against change in Manchester, Berlin, Tokyo, and Moscow, for example, judgment about the impact of tall building proposals on the built environment is less clear, especially as tall buildings might be said to improve the urban fabric.

The determination of tall building proposals within such hybrid heritage contexts reflects the values attributed to different elements of the townscape, to political struggles over the future of the built heritage, its economic value, and the importance of new development to cities eager to regenerate and re-image.

It is necessary to define what is meant by “tall buildings”. Tall buildings are defined most readily by their height. Höweler (2003) suggests that a tall building can be one in which there is a proportional relationship of height to width.

A tall building can, however, be defined by “. . . some aspects of ‘tallness’ . . . It is a building whose height creates different conditions in the design, construction, and operation from those that exist in ‘common’ buildings of a certain region and period” (Beedle, 1986: 3).

In other words, what may constitute tall is relational and depends upon the urban, cultural, and societal context. Something tall is either “of more than average height” or “higher than surrounding objects”1.

The dictionary definition of “tall” reflects this relational view, but it is also helpful to define what “tall” is not: “big” meaning “large in size” is unhelpful as it omits that relational view; “large” meaning “relatively great in size” reflects a relational perspective, but omits the proportional element suggested by Höweler.

Height can be measured in a variety of ways. It may be expressed as height in meters (or feet), or by a number of stories. For the purposes of this book, the relational view will be adopted, and the measurement of height in either meters or stories will depend on individual context.

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