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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

28 in 28 #13: Best Highrises 2012/13

February is Book Month on A Daily Dose of Architecture. The "28 in 28" series features a different book every day of the month.

Best Highrises 2012/13: The International Highrise Award 2012 edited by Michaela Busenkell and Peter Cachola Schmal
Edition Detail, 2012
Paperback, 128 pages


How should a tall building be judged? Is it a matter of height, how much closer it gets us to scraping they sky? Or is it based on the form of a building in terms of aesthetics and performance? If the International Highrise Award 2012—administered by Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM) and DekaBank, both of Frankfurt—is any indication the second takes precedence over the first, but sustainability, public amenities, and usability are paramount. The winning tower at 1 Bligh Street in Sydney, Australia, is shorter than surrounding buildings, but one that stands out for its elliptical form and inviting public spaces on the tall ground floor. Inside is a stunning 30-story atrium space that draws hot air up through the building and provides plenty of sunlight for the offices lining it.


Ingenhoven Architects, with local firm Architectus, beat out four finalists whittled down from the 26 buildings nominated for the award; the map above shows the distribution of the finalists in red (a sixth is a special sustainable revitalization award) and the rest in blue. The towers are clustered in east Asia, Europe, and North America, so the odds were against 1 Bligh sitting all alone in Australia. Frank Gehry's 8 Spruce Street must have easily been a front-runner with its fabric-like metal skin and name attached to it; ARC Studio's seven interconnected Pinnacle@Duxton towers are impressive at the urban scale; Norman Foster cleverly uses tall shear-wall columns to frame views at The Troika; and MAD Architects' Absolute Towers (my initial pick to win and the winner of CTBUH's "Best Tall Buildings America" for 2012) have graceful undulations that cut a striking figure on the skyline.

So given the competition, immediately the award seems questionable. But the more I read about 1 Bligh in this book documenting the winner, the finalists, and the rest of the nominated buildings, the more I like it. The main reason is that it is a building that is genuinely concerned with being a part of the city beyond its profile on the skyline. Its elliptical shape responds to the parcel it sits on at the intersection of two street grids and the desire to give occupants quality views of the harbor. A17-meter-high (55-feet) ground-floor space invites people into the public spaces of the building, especially when the glass walls retract to aid in the atrium's stack effect; this is one aspect that has garnered 1 Bligh a 6 (highest) Green Star rating. But most impressive is the level of attention given to every aspect of the building's experience, from the plaza and lobby to the elevator ride and even the rooftop. Instead of focusing their energies on one or two aspects of the design (skin and form being the norm), they crafted a thoughtful building that happens to be tall enough to win this award.

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