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High-rise post-grad course confronts challenging urban future

Words:
Stephen Cousins

Built-in cement plants and mycelium-inspired towers? SOM and Illinois Institute of Technology unite to produce Masters in tall buildings considering future cities in the context of density and climate change

Three senior colleagues at SOM instructed and gave guidance to students on the course this academic year.
Three senior colleagues at SOM instructed and gave guidance to students on the course this academic year. Credit: Dave Burk

A timber city mimicking the appearance and natural functions of fungi and a supertall skyscraper containing a vertical cement plant and high capacity thermal battery, are among the first student projects to emerge from a pioneering high-rise masters programme at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT).

The Master of Tall Buildings and Vertical Urbanism (M.TBVU) is the world’s first multi-disciplinary post-graduate degree focused specifically on skyscrapers and the role of urban density in future cities.

Open to international students, the one-year, full-time course is run by the Institute’s College of Architecture, in collaboration with the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), a leading authority on tall buildings, and Chicago-based architect Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM).

SOM is running the programme’s design studio for the 2023–24 academic year and was the brains behind Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, One World Trade Center in New York, and some of Chicago’s most iconic skyscrapers.

According to IIT, the Masters’ core philosophy is vertical urbanism, which encompasses both the architectural and structural aspects of tall buildings and their social, environmental, and economic impact on cities. A key focus is on designing high-performance, energy-efficient skyscrapers that ‘integrate seamlessly with the urban fabric, enhancing the livability, resilience and sustainability of metropolitan areas.’

  • The Mycelium Myriad proposal is a sustainable megacity able to accommodate 10 million inhabitants in a series of interconnected mushroom-like towers.
    The Mycelium Myriad proposal is a sustainable megacity able to accommodate 10 million inhabitants in a series of interconnected mushroom-like towers. Credit: Katarzyna Wodzisz and William Manzanilla
  • The Mycelium Myriad proposal is a sustainable megacity able to accommodate 10 million inhabitants in a series of interconnected mushroom-like towers.
    The Mycelium Myriad proposal is a sustainable megacity able to accommodate 10 million inhabitants in a series of interconnected mushroom-like towers. Credit: Katarzyna Wodzisz and William Manzanilla
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The SOM-led studio ran the project Nova Pro Forma, which challenged students to re-evaluate and promise alternative uses to the traditional tall building typology in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and shifting societal norms.

Joshua Krull’s submission, CemEnergy, proposes a 474m-tall skyscraper in Austin, Texas, comprising a vertical cement production plant and thermal battery on the lower levels, with offices and residential accommodation above.

Austin is projected to become the US’ fastest-growing city within five years and the tower would supply raw construction materials directly to local projects. The plant’s shifting shear wall structure revolves around a central, unmoving core. A kiln positioned at the top recycles heat used in cement production and stores it in a thermal battery. The stored heat is used to generate electricity via a turbine for distribution to the local area, with enough capacity to power the city for a week in the event of an emergency, such as a blackout due to a snowstorm.

A second project, Future Timber City, asked students to design a megacity, primarily using timber, able to accommodate 10 million inhabitants in the year 2070. Designs had to take into account the likely impacts of climate change, rapid urbanisation, and the need for sustainable development.

A supertall skyscraper integrating a vertical cement production plant and thermal battery form part of Joshua Krull’s submission CemEnergy
A supertall skyscraper integrating a vertical cement production plant and thermal battery form part of Joshua Krull’s submission CemEnergy Credit: Joshua Krull

Mycelium Myriad by Katarzyna Wodzisz and William Manzanilla comprises a network of 450m-600m-tall towers linked by a city-wide skybridge system and incorporating all the functions and amenities required by a city.

Located in Del Norte County, California, the sustainable buildings have elongated forms inspired by Black Elfin Saddle mushrooms and feature giant green roofs inspired by Wooly Milcap mushrooms.

The city is designed to have a lifecycle five times longer than a conventional city and use 75% less concrete. The hybrid steel mega frame with concrete cores would be supported by a secondary frame comprising an external timber diagrid facade system and gravity-load columns with cross-laminated timber floors. Openings in the sides of towers would act as an aeroelastic damper to reduce the impact of wind.

According to Antony Wood, president of CTBUH and director of the Masters course, in an era defined by unprecedented urban growth, ‘the significance of vertical urbanism cannot be overstated’.

‘Our collaboration with IIT is a critical step forward in preparing a new generation of architects and urban designers, instilling in them the importance of integrating sustainable, energy-efficient practices with innovative design to meet the challenges of future cities,’ said Wood.

The M.TBVU program is currently accepting applications for the autumn term; the deadline for international students is 15 May.

 

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