Whether it's the Middle East or China, cities that are turning into major urban centers feel a need to be recognized.
Supertall buildings are one vehicle that helps them to do that. If done well, they can lift the spirit of the nation. The developer makes money from a supertall building, and it has political significance for the country's leadership.
Every time an architect does a supertall building, you are actually advancing that entire knowledge base by about 10 percent. There are few supertall buildings that are actually built, and very few architects have that accumulation of knowledge. At current calculations, it's possible to design a building up to one mile (around 1,600 meters) in height.
Right now, express elevators can go up to about 575 meters. In a one mile-high building, you need to change elevators twice. The higher you go in the building, the broader the base of the building needs to be, and the more area it takes up. Even if it's structurally possible, once you go over a certain height, how high you can build is decided by sheer economics.
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I think constructing supertall buildings is part of mankind's nature to try to do things that have not been done before. For architects, they have an irresistible appeal. It has a tremendous value to the person doing that building in terms of publicity. The general populace also feels that they have achieved something as a people.
For example, after the Jin Mao Tower (421 meters) that I designed was built in Shanghai, I heard many, many times from the Chinese I know that they take a great deal of pride in it. They see it as part of their culture. It's the same as the pride I had in my childhood, when I was poor, as an American thinking about the Empire State Building.
I was born in Chicago, then my parents moved to California. I remember when I returned to Chicago and I drove in from the city's South Side, I saw this mountain of buildings. It felt so powerful and wonderful, and I wanted to be a part of it. So I started working at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. At that time they were designing the John Hancock Center in Chicago, a 100-story building. I thought it was great. I was working on the basement areas though (laughs).
(This article was compiled from an interview by Eri Goto of the Asahi Shimbun GLOBE)
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Born in 1944 in Chicago. Spent 40 years with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), a major architectural agency based in Chicago with an established track record in skyscraper construction, and designed buildings including the Jin Mao Tower and the Burj Khalifa. Went freelance in 2006. Among his current design projects are the Kingdom Tower (Saudi Arabia) and the Masdar Headquarters building (United Arab Emirates).
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