Skyscrapers of the Future to Be More User Friendly

April 20, 2002

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - The world's fascination with skyscrapers will not end with September 11, but architects and designers are now thinking of more human-friendly buildings than setting records for size, industry experts say. Even before the New York World Trade Center's Twin Towers were destroyed by hijacked airliners, architects had been re-examining conventional ideas and approaches in putting up office buildings, said experts at an international seminar on architecture held in Malaysia.

But the attacks -- and the universal debate they sparked on the safety of skyscrapers -- have made designers more conscious of the need for buildings that are more comfortable to work in and also boast more safety and environmental features.

"If you're going to design tall buildings, I think there has to be a very much larger picture now, particularly for the environment," Hani Rashid, head of New York architect firm Asymptote, told Reuters on the fringes of the "Computer Aided Architectural Design Research in Asia" seminar that ended on Friday.

The seminar in Cyberjaya, Malaysia's budding technological zone, was some 25 miles south off capital Kuala Lumpur, where the world's tallest buildings, the 88-storey Petronas Twin Towers, currently stand.

Rashid said the World Trade Center disaster had brought a global sensitivity to the architecture business, with designers questioning the wisdom of building endless floors of office space boasting modern technology but ignoring simple things such as adequate windows.

"One thing the Trade Center lacked was public amenities," Rashid said. "People complained about the great distance between windows, and it was not terribly human -- it was more of a building and its technological texture than the spirit of dwelling."

"There's nothing stopping designers coming up with rational designs such as 'how many floors you should have before a break' and 'how do you evacuate a building of that size'," he said. "There is a notion now that people are more aware of all these."

Asymptote, one of 40 firms invited to submit a proposal for the reconstruction of the WTC, has suggested four towers to replace the original two and also a public park.

"I think tall buildings will always exist because up to a certain point they make economic sense as they justify density and the cost of real estate," said Lise-Anne Couture, Rashid's wife and partner at Asymptote.

Towers were also great symbols for a city or corporation, she said.

"But what we shouldn't see is the race to build one tall building over another. The fight over whether my tower is taller than yours, I think, has to stop," she said.

Peter Lawrence, chairman of the Boston-based Corporation Design Foundation, said tall buildings gave businesses the flexibility to stack staff over many floors but were not so good for interaction.

"When you're separating people on a series of layers above each other, it's much harder for them to communicate vertically than it would be horizontally," said Lawrence, a former program director at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

"After some time, we ask ourselves do all those buildings going up that high really make sense? You start losing space because of the amount of elevators you got to have, the amount of services you need to keep those things standing."

By Barani Krishnan

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