Philip Oldfield

University of Nottingham

Vertical Urbanisation: A Twenty-First Century Phenomenon
Urban design involves provisions of public realm spaces such as plazas, boulevards and avenues that respect the city’s unique cultural differences…It is [the] equivalent of these that we need to design into high rise.
Ken Yeang, Reinventing the Skyscraper (2002)

No sooner had we built the world’s first skyscraper in the late nineteenth century, then the first visions of ‘cities in the sky’ emerge – visions of parks, streets, schools and public squares at height, well above the ground level, interconnected by dramatic skybridges linking towers together. While such ideas remained fantasy for the next century or so, today we find them becoming a reality in the midst of a skyscraper boom, fuelled by population growth, urbanisation and the desire for global icons. The skyscraper, however, remains a divisive typology with many believing that living and playing at height is undesirable, especially for families with children. This is hardly surprising given that the alternative, low-rise suburban living, can offer the street, the protective front garden and the generously-sized back garden, whereas all high rise can seemingly offer is the corridor and lift lobby, often without access to natural light and view.

To overcome these challenges, architects are turning back to visions of cities in the sky, looking to incorporate social spaces – parks, gardens, streets – at height above the city. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Singapore, where an astonishing 85% of the population live in high-rise social housing, resulting in buildings such as the Pinnacle@Duxton, seven towers linked by skybridges at the 26th and 50th floors. The development includes a host of social spaces such as an outdoor gym for the elderly, children's play area, mini parks and seating areas and, most radically, an 800-metre running track linking together the seven towers. Beyond this, our lives (and deaths) are becoming increasingly vertical – with vertical universities, schools, farms and even vertical cemeteries becoming a reality.

Despite the architectural bravado of such proposals, do they actually work? Do people actively seek out social interactions in skygardens high above the ground, and how do such spaces impact our experience of the city? This presentation explores these ideas, and suggests that the rules governing current skygardens (e.g. no ball games), and the lack of specific functions can limit their success in place-making.

Dr. Philip Oldfield is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Nottingham, where he is Director of the Masters Course in Sustainable Tall Buildings – the world’s only course and qualification dedicated to high-rise architectural design. He has also taught tall building studio and lecture modules at universities in Chicago, Venice and Singapore.

Philip’s research focusses on tall building environmental design and social sustainability, themes which he has written about in both peer review journals and commercial publications, including the Architects’ Journal (UK), The Guardian (UK), STRUCTURE Magazine (USA), and BbICOTHbIE (Russia). He is an active member of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), is Co-Chair of the CTBUH Research, Academic and Postgraduate Working Group and sits on their Expert Peer Review Committee.
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High-rise residential towers linked by skygardens and streets in the sky. The Pinnacle@Duxton, Singapore © Philip Oldfield