When it comes to tall building design, one element often seems to stand out among the rest of the structure's functionalities. In Amsterdam, the soon-to-be completed HAUT tower commands attention with its distinctive timber façade. 

In Sydney, where this year’s Australian Smart Skyscrapers Summit will be held this coming June, a new five-building development in Waterloo will be dominated by the ‘green’, planted exterior of its 19-storey tower, designed by Kengo Kuma and Koichi Takada.

Looking beyond the aesthetically quirky or pleasing elements of any tall building’s architecture and design, it becomes clear just how complex and all-encompassing the art of its design becomes, from inception all the way to delivery.

Especially today, each feature and element responsible for a commercial or residential building’s existence demands optimality. A tall building needs to be eco-friendly, in an effort to counter any harmful impact it has on the environment.

But it also needs to be immaculately presented, functional, and filled with open spaces that enhance wellness and encourage social interaction between tenants.

The plentiful innovations in technology, in part, propel us towards designing multifaceted and smart tall buildings. Australasia Research Leader of Arup Alexandra Sinickas, who is currently working on the HAUT project, says that in many cases, these innovations effectively co-mingle with elements such as environmental sustainability.

“Innovation is at its best when at the intersection of disciplines, especially when these disciplines constrain your design.”

She adds that “sustainability has matured in the last few decades into a design approach that provides social and economic benefit – people want to live, stay, work, play in beautiful, calm, sustainable buildings, within a vibrant precinct or city.”

Quantitative data variables play a significant role in designing human-friendly tall buildings. Such data is especially accessible as a result of today’s technical innovations, enabling building managers to understand, in real time, how the conditions of their building are affecting each and every tenant.

But Sinickas stresses that before data and technology can be utilised to solve potential problems, we must first define what kind of problems there are to solve.

“You first need to understand which elements of a building (or the journey to and through it) are unfriendly - we call these pain points,” she says.

“Once you had a set of these points, you’d then figure out which ones would have the most impact on improving the human experience and set that as your problem - every building will be different, because they have different people in them.”

The façade of a tall building is critical when creating these healthy, human-friendly indoor environments, and such outcomes are often aided by specific technological innovations.

When creating healthy, human-friendly indoor environments, it is important to consider the impact that a tall building’s façade has on its exterior. Utilising innovative technologies can often help lead to positive outcomes.

“The innovation is sometimes formal: technically advanced systems to control daylight, admit natural ventilation, or dynamically provide shading from the sun all require advanced technologies to both design and deliver,” states Paul Stoller, director at Atelier Ten.  

Inside the high-rise, its functionality can also be positively impacted with the aid of new and innovative technologies. Paul Walter, director of urban design practice Atlas Urban says that the advantage of new towers is that technology can be built in.

“A visitor to the PwC tower (in Barangaroo, Sydney) can use an app, so that the building knows that the visitor has arrived and will arrange the meeting space, lifts and doors are opened along the path to the meeting room,” he says.

These technological innovations are strongly tied to broader societal shifts in workplace and living culture, which in turn feed into the changing needs of tenants occupying high-rise buildings, be that of the residential or office variety.

Stoller says that across all buildings - commercial or residential, tenant expectations for the quality of the indoor environment have increased substantially, adding that “occupants increasingly appreciate the value of good daylight, rather than simply more daylight (which can lead to glare and eyestrain) - similarly, they are demanding more social space in workplaces, and a broader range of environmental conditions.”

Domino Risch, HASSELL principal, says that when it comes to tenant usage within high-rise office buildings, “the only constant we can rely on is that there will be change.”

She adds that “the idea of work/life balance has shifted dramatically and is no longer about work vs life, but that work is part of life – this is changing the nature of experiences and spaces that are offered as part of tower precincts, to attract the best tenants and the best talent for those tenants.”

Sinickas is currently working with HASSELL to determine how to meet changing expectations within high-rise workplace contexts. “We’re looking at how we might redesign workspaces to improve collaboration and productivity through architectural, acoustic, building physics and lighting design.”

The various needs related to designing an efficient and successful high-rise building are shifting in much the same way that society, technology, workplaces, and life is shifting. But ultimately, each facet of a tall building exists to help house its human tenants.

The Australian Smart Skyscrapers Summit provides a key platform to discuss these emerging intricacies and importantly, to explore how to address them in order to design high-quality tall buildings that help to shape our future skylines for years to come.