CTBUH: Infrastructure Improvements and Tall Buildings Construction Must Go Hand In Hand

David Malott Chairman of CTBUH
"Many of the problems India has had with tall buildings are due to the poor state of infrastructure supporting those structures. It's clear that many more high-rise buildings will be needed to accommodate rural migration to urban areas, but that has to come with improvement in infrastructure. In terms of construction, the infrastructure has to come first. But in terms of planning and financing, government and developers need to come together well in advance of designing and construction of buildings, to devise integrated and modern infrastructure plans that will allow tall buildings to help finance the infrastructure improvements they require to be more sustainable," mentions Chairman, CTBUH, Mr. David Malott, in an interview with S.A.Faridi & Maria R.

How does your experience of working as a senior designer at KPF help you to represent the vision of the CTBUH? What are your plans for the next two years as Chairman of the council?
Working across multiple continents, cities, and urban conditions has prepared me well to represent the interests of the many disciplines under the umbrella of CTBUH. In some ways, executing a tall building project and CTBUH initiatives require a lot of the same skills and activities. It really comes down to being willing to do a lot of travelling, a lot of listening to different constituencies, and working with all of the stakeholders to see a complicated project through from beginning to the end. Whether you're putting together a big tower project or a CTBUH Conference, you have to be patient, systematic and keep the long-term view.

As far as plans go, I've said it before and I really can't repeat it enough – I really want CTBUH to play a strong role as the voice of an industry that has an enormous responsibility to curtail the environmental damage that buildings impose and preserve the habitability of our planet. I think if, at the end of my term and going forward, people look at CTBUH and see not only the statistics and the great data that we produce on tall buildings, but really think about its "urban habitat" mission with an equal emphasis, we will have done something right.

Shanghai World Financial Center

Being specialized in the design and execution of supertall buildings and complex projects, you have been responsible for the design and project direction of some of the world's most notable tall buildings including Shanghai World Financial Center, International Commerce Center in Hong Kong, and 660-meter Ping An Finance Center in Shenzhen, China and so forth. How do you see the trend of going vertical in terms of planning, construction and technology implementation?
I think there will always be a few deep-pocketed parties who will push the limits of the typology and produce taller and more spectacular buildings. These will continue to get the headlines, and it is important that they are well designed and speak to us as icons of our cities. But there are thousands of "average" tall buildings being built all the time, and, just as importantly, thousands more that were built decades ago, whose physical envelope and technologies no longer reflect current occupant needs or contemporary performance standards. I see it as important that some of the groundbreaking technology that goes into the headline-grabbing supertalls becomes widely available and is applied to the kinds of 20-50-story towers that more of us will live and work in every day. It is part of the mission of CTBUH to spread knowledge about cutting-edge technologies that have people excited right now – integrated building information modeling (BIM), ropeless elevators, new materials, energy-producing facades, etc. – so that these technologies become affordable and implementable in all kinds of projects, new-build and refurbished, at all levels of scales.

With over 16 years of experience as an architectural designer and a leading contributor to KPF's strong presence in Asia; how have your experiences been of working on high-rise buildings in developing countries?
For many developing countries, constructing a new skyline is seen as a way to represent the emergent economic or cultural influence of a city or country to the world. As such, there tends to be a higher appetite for risk-taking and ambitious design than in more established markets. In developing nations, the government often has a heavy hand in the project from both financing and design-direction standpoint. This often means that the architect can, on the one hand, expect more design freedom than in the developed world, where the design briefs are mostly driven by specific economic models; on the other, there is more risk for the design team, because political or financial instability can mean drastic changes to the project – sometimes while it is already being built – or its delay or abandonment. Also, the quality and skill of construction labor is not always up to international standards, so insistence on heavy involvement of the design team in the whole lifecycle of the project is often necessary to ensure a high level of quality, something that requires patience and persistence in the initial negotiation and then in the execution. Again, a lot of frequent flyer miles!

How challenging and different do you find India from other developing countries in terms of policies and practices?
Our experience in India is somewhat limited compared to other developing countries. But what it appears to share with many developing nations is global ambitions, many of which are being realized in pockets of the private sector, combined with some very complex political, financial and social situations that can make construction progress erratic.

What do you think is the right approach for Indian cities which are densely populated and have significant strain on existing urban services and infrastructure?
Many of the problems India has had with tall buildings have to do with the poor state of infrastructure supporting those buildings. It's clear that many more tall buildings will be needed to accommodate urban migration, but that has to come with improvement in infrastructure. In terms of construction, the infrastructure has to come first. But in terms of planning and financing, government and developers need to come together well in advance of designing and constructing buildings, to devise integrated, forward-thinking infrastructure plans that will allow tall buildings to help finance the infrastructure improvements they will require in order to be sustainable. In the end, the big decisions are largely political ones, but that doesn't mean that the industry can't contribute to and push for those decisions to be made prudently but with a sense of urgency.

As the country is catching up with the high-rise construction trend, what guidelines and standards according to you should be followed for the development of super tall construction? What are the vital elements needed for the creation of sustainable, functional, and iconic tall buildings?
Standards are important, and the good news is that a lot of very smart people – many of whom are CTBUH members – are working on improvements to fire safety, construction practices, seismic reinforcement, etc., many of which have wide applicability around the world due to the basic laws of physics. But beyond the structure of the building itself, it is probably not practical or desirable to have "standardization" be the dominant guideline behind tall building design.

In fact, as an example, the façade is a critical point of differentiation that tall buildings should always deploy to reflect the specific cultural and environmental conditions where that building is built. If anything, the "guideline" should be the application of global standards of quality of construction, but local variations for almost everything else. My esteemed colleague Dr Antony Wood, who is the Council's Executive Director as well as a university architecture professor, has given a great deal of thought to this, and the paper he has written, which has been reproduced in this issue, "Rethinking the skyscraper in the ecological age: Design principles for a new high-rise vernacular", articulates this idea further.

International Commerce Centre

CTBUH is the world's leading body in the field of tall buildings with global presence in over 40 countries including India. Would you please tell us about CTBUH's presence in India and its approach of disseminating best practices information on planning and constructing sustainable high-rise buildings in the country?
Given the size of its population and rate of urbanization, the presence of CTBUH in India currently does not reflect the massive potential impact the nation will have on tall buildings worldwide. The same could have been said of China, now our second-biggest country of membership, and where we just established an office this year, only a few years ago.

It takes a lot of work by dedicated people, both volunteer members and staff, to make chapter events, research, and other regional initiatives happen with routine frequency. Having said that, I'm proud to point out that in April 2015, CTBUH India organized a half-day technical discussion in Mumbai on the draft code for the seismic reinforcement of concrete, which involved 21 prominent structural engineers from around the country. These engineers rarely had met face-to-face before, yet they got charged with implementing this code in their various jurisdictions. This is the kind of knowledge building that CTBUH can and will do a lot more of, on a national and global scale. We did stage our International Conference in Mumbai in 2010. I could certainly foresee a return to India before long, but beyond an annual international conference, we anticipate doing many more events like the engineering discussion I referred to. As a membership organization, we do depend on the volunteer activities of our members, so the more members we have, the better our regional presence becomes. Hopefully an article like this will make more practitioners aware of us.

Emerging economies like India need low-cost housing whereas skyscrapers are quite expensive. Is CTBUH working with product/material manufacturers and others in the direction to come up with innovative materials, techniques/technologies, which can bring the construction cost down in order to make it more affordable?
The short answer is "yes." Some of the world's leading materials suppliers, cost consultants and construction companies are in our membership, and a big part of my travels, and that of our trustees and management, is to bring in more such members, so that the dialogue is enriched further.

In the coming years, you can expect to see some guidance in the form of technical guides and papers from our working groups, on subjects such as using wood – an abundant, renewable resource that sequesters carbon and is less labor-intensive and energy-consuming than steel or concrete – in tall buildings. All kinds of technologies, from software, to building information systems, to pre-fabricated modules, even drones, are all on the horizon and will soon be manifested in the skyline, creating more efficient and more affordable tall buildings.

Our Research Roadmap, published in 2014, shows several hundred paths that research could take over the next decades. The more that emerging economies are represented in our membership, the more likely it is that research and solutions for their tall building needs will be realized.
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