While the number of mega cities with 10 million people or more will double to 41 by 2030, at the same time, by then nearly three out of every four humans on the planet will live in an urban centre.
For Australia, the challenges may be far greater than first expected. By 2025, when the country is predicted to reach a population of 38 million, the current housing ‘crisis’ debate will seem almost quaint as Sydney and Melbourne will host an extra three million people each, while Brisbane and Perth will have another two million extra as well.
All the experts agree that the only way to alleviate any future housing issues is to go up it with denser, and more vertical structures.
Change, when it comes can also move quickly. Just a decade ago, tall buildings over 200 metres were not that common, but at the end of 2016 there were over 40 in Australia above that height.
According to consultants Arcadis, the challenges include that architects, developers, and planners ensure that tall buildings are commercially successful, linked to transport hubs, integrated with the urban habitat and a catalyst for dynamic, resilient cities of the future.
But firstly, there are the engineering challenges that need to be overcome. According to Derek Roy, commercial director and tall buildings expert for Arcadis, planning, recruiting, managing and completing the number of tall buildings could be a problem for mid-21st century Australia.
“Tall buildings are undoubtedly exciting and iconic, but they pose some of the toughest, most dynamic construction challenges in the world. Collaboration and knowledge-sharing by management teams is fundamental, but so too is the capacity to draw rapidly on global experience, skills and world-best practice no matter where you are building,” says Roy.
However, the question that also needs to be asked is ‘are Australian’s ready for the rise and verticality of its cities, and the demands that come with it?’
According to a survey last year by the Victorian government’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and the Office of the Victorian government architect, some of the top concerns regarding high rise living were as access to daylight, insufficient storage and noise.
Getting back to the technical aspects, building at height is a highly specialised business that demands a broader approach to the whole life cycle of a building, from the urban planning right through to the design, construction, procurement, supply chain, compliance and cost management issues to create value and an overall return on investment, says Arcadis.
“Planning, designing and creating a vertical community produces unique challenges for everyone involved, but this phase may only represent 5-10 percent of the asset’s total operating lifecycle,” says Gordon Baxendale, director of research and investment information company, Asset Performance.
“The role of the designer in creating attractive vertical commercial, residential and public spaces has often dominated discussions of tall buildings. However, while attracting tenants is largely the role of the designers, retaining them and realising the yields for the investor is the responsibility of the asset manager,” says Baxendale.
How cities respond to the demographic and urban challenges they are set to face will increasingly impact how they thrive in the coming century. For many Australians, the need for a collective cultural shift is just one of the many challenges that will need to be overcome.
If done well, tall buildings and vertical living are a crucial response to transform cities into globally competitive entities that will for be able to successfully vie for status, investment, business, skills and, most importantly, liveability.