Timothy Johnson
"With a population of 1 billion and growing, I don't think India has a choice but to go vertical. Having said that it is imperative that the government began massive infrastructure projects that will allow a highrise city to thrive. Expanding horizontal which means more road construction, more electrical grid extension, more cars, and eating up valuable land that could and should be used for agriculture is not the way forward for India," says, Timothy Johnson, Chairman CTBUH & NBBJ Partner in an interview with S.A.Faridi and Maria R.

Could you please tell us about the evolution of CTBUH, its organizational arrangement, and global presence? What were the aims and the objectives behind the formation of this body?
The CTBUH was started in 1969 by Dr. Lynn Beedle a professor of structural engineering at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He believed that as the field of tall buildings was quickly growing around the world that established a collegial group to discuss and debate the field of tall building design could be a positive force in advancing the profession and creating further innovation. The key role of the Council then and still today is to collect and disseminate best practice information from a mulit-discplinary membership including architects, engineers, building owners, developers, contractors, specialty consultants, suppliers & manufacturers.


Today, the Council has presence in over 40 countries with a membership network of over 400,000 people working in 5000 offices.

Today, the CTBUH is the world's leading body in the field of tall buildings, and the recognized source of information on tall buildings internationally. It is the arbiter of tall building height and determiner of the title of "The World's Tallest Building.”

How does the CTBUH working group sets out define and investigate the myriad aspects of the oft-used word sustainability, as well as seismic design, building height, foundation, Fire safety, facades etc. in the context of tall buildings?
Tall Buildings
One important aspect of the CTBUH is the formation of 'working groups' established around pertinent topics related to tall buildings. Sustainability, seismic design, building height, foundation, fire safety, and facades are all examples of groups that are established. The intent of the working groups is to bring a small group of our esteemed members together to work on creating best practices content around a focused subject. Topics come from multiple locations - the Chair, Board of Trustees, and also our membership. In fact, just recently a member suggested a working group around security and the Council supported the efforts to clarify its thesis and helped suggest members that may also contribute. This is a fantastic example of the dynamic and entrepreneurial nature of the Council - our members drive the organization and the working groups are a crucial engine that drives that forward.

Can you please describe the criteria of a building on which it is defined world's tallest?
CTBUH is the world's leading organization in defining and determining the tallest building on the earth. In fact, we have a standing committee called the Height Committee which has an ongoing role to consider buildings upon completion and determining their ultimate height. We categorize building height in three ways: 1) Architectural height (including spires and excluding antennas), 2) height of highest occupied floor, and 3) total height. The world's tallest building uses the architectural height as the rule of measurement. Our website www.ctbuh.org has very clear parameters defined for measuring building height and I would invite you to go through this information.

What are the important issues determined by the body for the wellbeing, progress and development of the highrise construction globally?
CTBUH Tall Buildings
Tall buildings are frankly still in their infancy in terms of innovation and ultimately what they can contribute to society and the human condition. Granted we are building taller than ever and often mixing uses to create a rich and vibrant experience within our cities. However, there is tremendous opportunity for further exploration. Can these tall buildings be energy generators due to their height and surface area? Can we use new materials economically to make building lighter and stronger? Can these buildings provide even more opportunity for 'mixing' people and functions to become micro cities within cities, go beyond office and residential uses, and host uses such as schools, hospitals, and agriculture land? Can super tall buildings become better integrators of urban environment? These are just a few areas that can further be explored. In addition, we need to consider tall buildings as a sustainable strategy for the next billion people that will inhabit the planet in the next 14 years. This population growth is happening in countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Brazil which could benefit from urban densification through tall buildings, have less sophisticated means of construction, and need to house the masses at a lower income scale. Tall buildings, done in a thoughtful and human way, can be a solution to a better more productive and satisfying life.

Professional Affiliations
Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat Chair 2011-13

American Institute of Architects (AIA)

The Architectural League of New York
Urban Land Institute, Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat - Board of Trustees

Awards Chairman 2006, 2007, 2008

Asia Design Forum - Board of Directors

Master of Science, Advanced Architectural Design, 1992, Columbia University

Bachelor of Architecture, 1990, University of Minnesota

Registered Architect: CT, MA, MI, NJ, NY, OH, PA, SC, GA, DC, FL, ME

National Council of Architectural Registration Board (NCARB)

LEED Accredited Professional
Timothy Johnson is a Design Partner for NBBJ where he leads the firm’s international commercial design practice. His award-winning work spans the globe and includes commercial mixed-use projects, high- rise office, multi-family residential, healthcare facilities, transportation facilities, and corporate workplace interiors.

Tim is committed to creating vital urban environments as a prime sustainable strategy. His work engages with local communities and cultures to inform the design process in order to deliver outcomes that will redefine the urban experience and improve quality of life. Interviewed recently by the Wall Street Journal and Fox Business News Channel, Tim is recognized for his expertise in designing within challenging urban environments around the world and is known in the industry for using design as a core ingredient for a client’s successful business strategy. His approach to every project integrates design with business performance to develop buildings and environments that are performance-driven, humanistic, and sustainable.

Tim begins each project by discovering his client’s goals and desires. By knowing the surrounding culture and what drives his clients, he is better able to understand and balance many priorities and objectives that define each project, therefore integrating all elements from politics, economics to cultural placement. His recent work includes the award winning Sail @ Marina Bay, in Singapore—one of the world’s tallest residential buildings—and the highly-complex Massachusetts General Hospital’s Lunder Building in Boston, which was officially opened in May 2011.

How does your vast experience of working as a design partner for NBBJ help you to represent the vision of the CTBUH? What are your other plans for development of the council in your tenure as Chairman?
NBBJ is a firm where partners in the firm are hands-on with our projects. I have also been very fortunate to have clients who have tremendous confidence in NBBJ and our creativity. Great clients and a hands-on culture allow me to be deeply involved in everything from the conceptual basis for the project through full realization of the final product. This full spectrum keeps me close to the opportunities and challenges presented by doing tall buildings in urban environment. I personally strive for high performance results across the board - building, economics, and contribution to the city - when designing tall buildings. This is an area that is so important now and will become even more so in the future. I am bringing this focus to the Council during my tenure as well as being clear about the Council's areas of focus. As we have grown significantly in membership numbers and geography over the last decade, there are many avenues the Council could follow and many opportunities presented to us to grow and be more deeply involved in the discourse of tall buildings. It has been great, however at the same time we want to be sure that we are being strategic and extraordinarily responsible to our members. Having a clear strategic direction, has been crucial for the past 6 months to assist us in how we should deploy our resources.

Tell us about the newly launched 'The Skyscraper Center,' an online resource for data and information on tall buildings.
Highrise Construction
For a number of years, the council has had an online database that contains a vast trove of data on tall buildings around the world. We recently redesigned its look and functionality and also branded it as the Skyscraper Center. This also included detaching it from our website to make it more identifiable in the marketplace as opposed to being buried in our website.

We are proactively updating it daily with new projects, new information on existing projects, and acquiring deeper information on the most significant tall buildings in the world. The data is layered to show basic things at the top, and more elaborate information like drawings, photos, and white papers the deep our go. We encourage anyone with a tall building - 200 meters or more - to contact the Council to discuss methods of submitting information to us.

A word about CTBUH Innovation and Performance Annual Awards and Student Tall building Design Competition.
The Skyscraper Center
As I mentioned in a previous question, the Council has sharpened its focus around building performance. To celebrate this and to make it more visible, we have added these two new categories to our famous AWARDS PROGRAM. The Innovation Award was an idea that I had to seek out as a specific aspect of a tall building that was breaking new ground that we could all learn from. It could originate from anywhere such as structure, enclosure, elevatoring, etc.

The Performance Award is really meant to drive our members to illustrate and prove aspects of tall building performance. This could be in areas such as environmental, mechanical, human performance, etc.

We were pleasantly surprised with the number of submissions we received and the level of creativity and innovation that we were presented to jury. I believe this section of the Annual Awards publicity and at the Ceremony held every fall in Chicago will be a great platform to encourage our members to dig deeper and harder to advance tall building performance. This dove tails perfectly with our new research initiative that was launched a few years ago and is gaining significant traction.

In the last few years, emerging economy countries have been the center of focus of CTBUH; what have been your experiences so far in terms of quality, sustainability, organized and planned development of highrise building in developing countries?
infrastructure projects
As we know that more than 50% of the 50+ super tall buildings in the world are built in Asia - the fastest growing geography in the world. For a number of years, we have focused on growing our membership and profile in the Asia region - China, India, Southeast Asia, and Korea. This is going very well with our World Conference 2011 in Seoul and with our upcoming World Congress 2012 located in Shanghai, China on September 19 - 21st. We have a terrific program in place and it will undoubtedly be our most successful Congress in the history of the CTBUH.

It is essential for the CTBUH to continue to expand globally. Tall buildings are critical to a sustainable environment that allows cities to grow denser while simultaneously keeping infrastructure to a minimum. The past 10 years have seen a tremendous boom in tall buildings in China and the Middle East with the quality and innovation increasing substantially. However, there is still much progress and blue sky ahead and the CTBUH is leading that charge by inspiring our members to push harder and giving them a forum to discuss and learn from their peers in the industry.

Do you think that India should go long way in developing its cities to world standard and there is a dire need to look into building by laws, civic facilities, and effective urban transport, keeping the growing urban needs in view?
CTBUH has been honored to host two recent conferences in India over the last two years. In 2010, we were in Mumbai and early 2012 we were in New Delhi. Both conferences were effective and had diverse speakers from architects, engineers, and city planners. It has always seemed the challenges in India deal with two issues - density and policy. Density is a big issue and both conferences discussed quite extensively the issue of substandard living conditions for the general population. At the same time, it is clear that the way policy is created and affected through the political process is very slow and often times not very imaginative.

I think the political system also needs to buy into the need for massive infrastructure projects. I know this is difficult with the land ownership system in India and the lack of a financial backing, however there are solutions to these problems that other cities around the world have had to grapple with. China, Singapore, Denmark are a few countries that have successfully dealt with expansion through public / private development process that were successful in both realizing strong infrastructure upgrades as well as financing the construction.

There are two different views (favor & against) on moving vertical and both have strong arguments; what is your perception particularly in a situation like India where horizontal space is a concern?
With a population of 1 billion and growing, I don't think India has a choice but to go vertical. Having said that, it is imperative that the government began massive infrastructure projects that will allow a highrise city to thrive. Highrise construction for the elite that is accessible by a two lane street is not a solution. This is largely what I see happening in Mumbai. For every luxury development in the dense cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, etc. the government needs to impose an 'infrastructure tax' that will go toward substantial mass transit projects.

Expanding horizontal which means more road construction, more electrical grid extension, more cars, and eating up valuable land that could and should be used for agriculture is NOT the way forward for India. Again I think it is imperative that the national government engage international experts to consider creating a master plan vision for its major cities. Having at least a diagram or a road map for the future could inspire policy decisions that are based on long-term vision and not just short-term challenges.
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