The attractions of city centres, including their proximity to high-value jobs and a vibrant social culture, continue to draw people closer together. Simultaneously, our current climate emergency requires us to reduce emissions and waste.
Choosing to live in an apartment rather than a house can lessen our environmental impact by reducing loss of productive farmland and wilderness, and reducing the amount of energy required for heating and cooling. In addition, investment in mass transit decreases car use, and tree planting decreases urban heat and makes walking or cycling a more attractive alternative. The benefits of these investments increase with more people living closer together. Capital in the financing of building also encourages concentration and resists thinly spread development. In this context, the benefits of tall buildings seem clear.
However, unless well-designed and appropriately located, tall buildings can degrade rather than improve the urban environment. They can cause overshadowing and make streets and parks unpleasantly windy. Residents’ health can be affected by noise and air pollution. A lack of natural cross-ventilation and poor access to sunlight leads to a reliance on artificial heating and cooling, which is costly and causes more emissions. The need for lifts, the use of materials with high embodied energy and more energy-intensive construction can increase rather than decrease our contribution to climate change. Poor design can ultimately prejudice a vibrant social culture.Designing tall buildings is a difficult task but the potential social and environmental rewards are great. In central Sydney, Arc by Koichi Takada Architects is an example of a tall building that increases urban density in Australia’s most productive location, among highly valued cultural institutions, thriving night-time entertainment, governance, law and finance.