It seems like most of the architectural zeitgeist in the US is dominated by news of supertalls sprouting in Manhattan. But that has not been the case in many American cities. Even with widespread housing shortages and proof that density is better for residents, most American cities have had a fear of heights — until now.
Thanks to a stronger economy and better understanding about the benefits of tall buildings, many US cities, which have been historically short or architecturally stagnant are now looking up, with new towers rising high above their skylines. Over in DC, there’s even talk of repealing the 1910 Height of Buildings Act, which currently limits structures to a squat 40m (that’s like 12 storeys, which is really, really short).
The Iceberg, by Marie Hunnell, Azita Soltani Far and Nina Tatic, has unique angles that ensure the structure does not create excessive shadows on nearby landmarks
The exhibition TALL DC: New Monumentalism recently proposed some ideas for ways that the city could sensitively build skyward without dramatically altering the historic fabric of the city. These are just ideas, of course, but they’re provocative enough to move the conversation forward in a way that might help the city to eradicate this antiquated law.
As many cities literally have nowhere else to go but up, it seems that they’re finally getting the memo. Here’s how a few American cities are growing.
The city by the Bay has a few issues that have historically held it back from sky-piercing structures. An early fear of earthquakes (and the fires they produce) was well-founded when cities were built of wood, but thanks to better engineering methods, tall buildings can be seismically sound. Now San Francisco needs to battle crippling height restrictions which limit skyscrapers to a very small area of the city, as well as a culture that’s known for fighting against any new development.
Salesforce Tower | Pelli Clarke Pelli
The 326m supertall by Cesar Pelli is part of the massive Transbay Terminal development that will transform the city’s SoMa neighbourhood. This was the skyscraper that sparked a new wave of tall buildings, and created a new district that’s luring other new developments. The Salesforce Tower should be finished in 2017.
First and Mission Towers | Foster + Partners
Just adjacent to the Salesforce Tower are the First and Mission Towers, recently announced by Norman Foster’s office and Heller Manus Architects. Also part of the Transbay Plan, the project includes one 184m residential tower and one (rather wide) 260m tower with a hotel, residences and offices. You can see how they’d be situated next to the Salesforce Tower, which rises in the middle of this rendering.
Residential Tower | Studio Gang
Chicago architect Jeanne Gang made a splash in the city last month when she revealed a twisty-turny tower near the Embarcadero waterfront that’s meant to evoke the region’s signature bay windows. At 120m, it’s not exceptionally tall, but it will change the skyline: the tower is 30m taller than current restrictions allow in its neighbourhood, which means the building will have to get special approval to reach its full height.
Another city with similar challenges to San Francisco, Boston is a place where it’s notoriously difficult to get anything new built. Worries about protecting historic neighborhoods or shading famous structures will always be part of the city’s ethos. Still, there have been calls in recent years for a new, signature skyscraper for Boston. Maybe it will be one of these.
Four Seasons | Pei Cobb Freed
At 213m, a new hotel and residential combo (the shiny one in the center) announced for the Back Bay will be the tallest residential tower in Boston and third tallest overall. For comparison, the city’s tallest building is the 1976 Hancock Tower at 240m — also designed by Henry Cobb.
Millennium Tower | Handel Architects
Currently under construction in the city’s Downtown Crossing development, the 190m tower will offer residential and retail when it opens in 2016. This building will also give heft to the Downtown Crossing’s hope to become an innovation centre for the city.
Harbor Garage | Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates
This pair of towers proposed for the Boston waterfront (on the site of a parking garage) would rise 183m and 164m, respectively. The office and hotel-condo complex is currently being battled by the residents of a nearby 122m residential tower who say it’s too tall (of course).
Another history-heavy city that’s also been hit with real estate troubles recently, Philly is finally seeing a building boom. Although many mid-size skyscrapers are being built around town, one exciting development on the horizon is the city’s first supertall.
Comcast Innovation and Technology Center | Foster + Partners
Philly’s tallest building, Comcast Center, has proved too small for the cable giant’s needs, so they have decided to build an even taller building next door. At 342m, the building will not only be the tallest in Philadelphia, but also the tallest in the country that’s not in New York or Chicago.
No stranger to development, Miami has always been known for its flashy structures and luxury high-rises. But especially due to real estate woes, it has not necessarily been a place for skyscrapers, until now. With several buildings over 300m jostling for approval, the the city is embarking upon its own skyscraper race.
Panorama Tower | Moshe Cosicher
This tower has been in the works for over a decade: It was approved and then shelved due to economic problems. At 251m, it will definitely be the tallest in Miami when it’s completed in 2017, however, there are a few other proposed towers breathing down its neck…
One Bayfront Plaza | TERRA Architecture
…like this project, which is planned for the same Brickell neighbourhood, and would be a bonafide supertall at 306m. There are many buildings bidding to break Panorama’s record, but they all have to contend with a challenge: Due to the flight paths for Miami’s airport, downtown buildings have to be approved by the FAA. This one has been.
A similar story to San Francisco in some ways, LA has its own share of earthquake fears (which actually continue to plague developers, more on that below) and NIMBYs fighting against shade. But LA’s transit revolution is also making the city denser, and certain neighborhoods are sprouting with taller towers.
Wilshire Grand Tower | A.C. Martin
At 335m, the Wilshire Grand Tower will be the tallest building west of Chicago when it’s finished in 2017 (that’s just barely taller than SF’s Salesforce Tower). The downtown tower will also have a fancy observation deck and will be one of the only non-flat-topped towers in the city (due to new emergency regulations). This was also the site of the largest continuous concrete pour in the world.
Millennium Hollywood | Handel Architects and Roschen Van Cleve Architects
While this project is not one of LA’s tallest, it would be the tallest in Hollywood, and it’s definitely one of the most controversial. The towers have already been chopped down to about 122m due to outrage that the buildings would dwarf the circular tower of the Capitol Records building. Now a neighbourhood group is requiring the city to map a fault that runs near the property in another attempt to prevent the towers from going up.