You can’t assess the Sustainability of Tall Buildings on a per building basis

A lot of nonsnse on twitter about the sustinability of tall buildings, following this article in the Guardian by Rowan Moore

The engineer Tim Snelson, of the design consultancy Arup, has just blown a hole in any claim they might have had to be environmentally sustainable. Writing in this month’s issue of the architecture magazine Domus, he points out that a typical skyscraper will have at least double the carbon footprint of a 10-storey building of the same floor area.

He is talking about the resources that go into building it, what is called its “embodied” energy. Tall buildings are more structurally demanding than lower ones – it takes a lot of effort, for example, to stop them swaying – and so require more steel and concrete. 

Snelson is correct but that is not the way to solely assess energy use, because people working in a tall building have o travel to work, as do people living in them.

If you build a two storey building one apartment each floor that is one less one storey house elsewhere you have to build. The sustainability case for tall buildings is that they enable compact central city places of work or housing with high cpacity mass rapid transit serving them. The more of them you build the smaller and more compact the city can become and the less car dependent sprawl you have to build. Also it takes up less space which also has an opportunity cost. Consider if Canary Wharf was built at two storeys. It would take up the whole of the Isle of dogs and take up the space of what is now planned as 50,000 houses. Image those 50,000 houses werent planned, you would need another Harlow somewhere in the South East of England.

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