The Optimal Height of Tall Buildings in the Future

Session: E: The Limits of Tall

Dario TrabuccoProject image

Dario Trabucco
Research Manager, Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat

When the Burj Khalifa opened for business, over 10 years ago, it took the title of “tallest building in the world” overtaking its predecessor by almost 50% in height. Despite this astonishing achievement, its title was challenged by other competitors that committed to surpass the Burj in a matter of a few years.

Now, 10 years later, not only is the Burj Khalifa still the tallest building in the world but it is expected to retain this title for a long, long time. Height limits are being imposed in many jurisdictions, and even where such limits don’t exist, other constraints will limit the optimum height of towers. Along with the usual limitations such as cost, airplane security, nimby movements, etc., other limitations are being created. This includes new focuses on sustainability from a life cycle perspective. The new framework on sustainability adopted by EU countries (and chances are very high that the framework will be adopted in many non-EU jurisdictions) is asking designers to assess the LCA impact of buildings not as a post assessment, but from the early stages of design. With the growing attention on sustainability, tall, “excessive”, design proposals will be automatically scrapped, even before compulsory limits on lifecycle GWP emissions are imposed.

Looking at the overview of the height restrictions adopted worldwide, what is the prescriptive value and who will be persuaded to act and set an optimum height on tall buildings in the future? Will the Burj Khalifa remain the tallest building ever built forever?