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Best Tall Buildings 2016

Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, 276 pages

Via 57

Via 57 West in Manhattan

By Carter B. Horsley

Every year since 2007, the 40-year-old Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat based in Chicago publishes a book on the year's best buildings in four major regions: the Americas. Asia and Australasia, Europe, and the Middle East & Africa.

In each region, it declares one "winner," but also adds finalists and nominees, in varying numbers.  In total, the 2016 edition discusses in good detail 119 tall buildings in eight categories as compared to 54 in five catagories in 2009.

The stunning, asymmetrical, 467-foot-high tower has a striking stainless-steel facade and is known as Via 57 West was developed by The Durst Organization and designed by Bjarke Ingalls Group (BIG).

Its architect described it as a "courtscraper," and the council's book declared that "it has the compactness, density, and intimacy of a classic courtyard building with the grandeur, airiness and expansive views of a skyscraper."  "...While resembling a tetrahedron from the western waterfront, it turns into a dramatic glass spires along West 58th Street," tbe book continued.

The sculpted, off-center pyramid sports a large rectangular courtyard with lush landscaping and a serpentine, paved walk.  Its north and east wings are serrated and many of its residential units have balconies.

As seen from the Hudson River and New Jersey, it is the most prominent building on the Manhattan riverfront between the World Trade Center and Riverside Church.

Macklowe's Park Avenue tower

432 Park Avenue

The 1,396-foot-high tower was developed by Macklowe Properties and the CIM Group and designed by Rafael Vinoly Architects.

The jury statement provided the following commentary:

"432 Park Avenue distinguishes itself not through extravagance or ornamentation but through its astonishing  slenderness and simplicity of design."

With its flat top and sheer walls with large, square windows, the very prominent tower initially appeared to be a boring monolith, but as it neared completion it unveiled six, double-story "voids" that would be illuminated at night and have circular innards for the passage of wind.  For a while, it was the tallest building without a spire in the city  but its Park Avenue site has enable it to retain its very high visibility as it is quite separated from the other SuperTalls that followed it to the west on 57th Street.  The tower has a large, mid-block plaza on 56th Street where also has a low-rise building that provides considerable gallery space, both above- and under-ground for the Phillips auction house.

Torre Reforma in Mexico
Torre Reforma in Mexico

This 804-foot-high tower, which is known as Torre Reforma, was developed by Fondo Hexa S.A. de C.V., and designed by LBSRA Architects.

With its stark, brutalist, unfinished look, this tower exudes mystery and boldness. In her lengthy essay on the building in the 2017 Issue 1 of the CTBUH Journal, Juliete Roy, the project manager of LBSRA Architects, provides the following commentary:

"Torre Reforma is not only the tallest building in Mexico City, but is also representative of innovation and leadership in the high-rise building industry, which has begun a shift away from a generation of all-glass facades.  Here, high seismic conditions and the presence of a historic building on the site resulted in a highly distinctive hybrid 'open-book'  form, comprising two exposed concrete shear walls and floor plates enclosed in a dramatically cantilevered steel diagrid....Diverging from the standoffish-icon model for skyscrapers, Torre Reforma embraces its surroundings.  The existing historic house on the site was integrated, becoming part of the main lobby....The commercial areas of the ground floor and the first basement allow for street activity to flow into the building.

Third facade of Torre Reforma

Torre Reforma is partly cantilevered over historic building that was moved during construction

"Reflecting an understanding that a skyscraper is a vertical continuation of the city, the building has an array of services that includes sporting facilities, open spaces and terraces, bars and restaurants, gardens, an auditorium, and common meeting rooms...."

Facade details    Facade detail 2

Facade details

"On Level 3, the glass facade systems opens up to a dramatic outdoor sky lobby space.  The triple-height sky lobby offers unobstructed views of the surrounding city and nearby Chapultepec Park....The building has an eight-level underground parking ramp for 600 cars, accompanied by two robotic parking buildings for 400 cars in the back of the main tower...."

The council's book notes that "openings in the shear walls - designed to allow the walls to bend under seismic activity - also provide natural light for the garden and office spaces within."

White Walls in Nicosia

White Walls in Nicosia, Cyprus

This 228-foot-high tower was developed by Nice Day Developments Ltd., and designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel.  It has 10 floors of apartments, six floors of offices and two floors of retail. 

Rear facade of White Walls in Nicosia

Rear Facade of White Walls in Nicosia

The council's book provides the following commentary:

"Punctuated by a seemingly random array of openings - sometimes glazed, sometimes left open - the massiveness of the tower's walls is negated by numerous square perforations.  Interesting shadow play determines how exterior and interior spaces are perceived in relation to varying sun positions throughout the day.  At night, the 0.4-meter by 0.4-meter...voids and windows are randomly illuminated, as determined by interior lighting conditions....Every unit in the building features an indoor/outdoor loggia that extends the living space outside to take advantage of Nicosia's temperate climate and acknowledge the importance within the local culture of spending time outside."

The building was declared the "winner" of Best Tall Building Europe.


Jiangxi Nanchang Greenland Central Plaza in China

The 994-foot-high Jiangxi Nanchang Greenland Central Plaza complex was developed by the Greenland Group and designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP. The twin towers are located blocks from the Ganjiang River and as the towers rise the floor plate is rotated 45 degrees and the rounded corners become more pronounced.  The crowns were sculpted and clad with operable glass louvers, opening to allow prevailing winds to pass through.


Shanghai Tower, right, and the Jin Mao Tower, left

The 2,073-foot-tall Shanghai Tower was developed by Shanghai Tower & Development Corporation and designed by Gensler.  At the time of its completion, it was the second tallest building in the world.  Like its shorter but nearby SuperTall, the very handsome, pagodaesque Jin Mao Tower, it has numerous divisions as it ascends.  "Twisting toward the sky in a smooth yet pronounced gesture, the tower is organized into nine vertical zones," the council's book declared, adding that "the tower meets the ground with a six-level retail podium that also offers a large meeting space" and the podium is "sheathed in reflective gold paneling that signals its presence as the main entrance into the tower."  Oddly, the podium is rather garish and does not relate contextually to the tower's glossy green sheen.

Tube tuned

Tuned Mass Damper of Shanghai Tower

The tower's most apectacular feature is its tuned mass damper at its top that looks like a second-generation "Bladerunner" alien egg dispensary whose rhythmic striations are rather sexual

South Beach

South Beach

Designed by Foster & Partners, the two towers of the South Beach complex in Singapore were developed by City Developments Limited and South Beach Consortium.  One tower is 45 stories high and the other is 35 stories and they face in opposite directions. 
"The south tower is divided between a hotel and apartments," the council's book notes, "while the north tower contains offices.  The exterior of both towers is defined by an environmental screen surging from the lower canopy to mitigate the harsh Singaporan sun....The slanted forms of the buildings are efficient in utilizing the prevailing winds to direct air flow downwards....Evocative of a waterfall, the towers' gently curving facades act as a continuation of the undulating marquee of the podium."


Hongkou SOHO in Shanghai

This 438-foot-high tower was developed by Shanghai Xusheng  Property Co., and designed by Kengo Juma and Associates.  The book states that the design team took an ordinary office tower and sheathed it "in a veil that distorts the building's outer edges, appearing as a furrowed shroud cast atop its mass," adding that "the tower is covered wwith unique shading and 18-millimeter...white aluminum strips knitted as a kind of 'lace net,' providing various facade expressions that change with the sun angle."

Pleats entrance

Hongkou SOHO in Shanghai entrance

"In contrast to the hard and cold image of conventional tall buildings, the curved shading system, shaped as a triangule joint in plan and gradually changing shape as it gains altitude, forms a constructed element with rhythm and a facade with a topographical surface," the book's commentary continued.

Alliance Tower in Milan

Alliance Tower in Milan

The striking, 679-foot-high Allianz Tower in Milan was developed by CityLife Sp.A. and designed by Andrea Maffei Architects and Arata Isozaki Associates.

The book provides the following commentary:

"Also known as Il Ditto - 'The Straight One' in English - the tower design lies in opposition to its high-rise neighbors, referred to as Lo Storto - 'The Twisted One' - and Il Corvo - 'The Curved One.'  The nickname alludes to its neat, linear appearance more than 200 meters high..., the structure lies within a 24-meter by 60 meter...footprint, vertically extruded to produce a thin, rectangular tower that emphasizes verticality.  Modular in design, the building is composed of eight, six-story segments.  Each segment is apparent on the building's exterior, defined by a convex, gently curving glass facade...Three layers of glass provide good thermal insulation and reduction of solar radiation....The stability of the whole system is augmented with four steel buttresses located a quarter of the way up the building....A viscous damper anchors each buttress to the ground in order to reduce wind-induced horizontal accelerations...."


European Central Bank in Frankfurt

The very handsome, 603-foot-tall European Central Bank in Frankfurt was developed by the bank and designed by COOP Himmelblau.  It combines its glass tower with a 1928, low-rise market hall building and a very striking angled and cantileverede connector building.

The council's book provides the following commentary:

"The defining feature of the tower is its large central atria, which are formed through the sculptural fusion of two distinct tower volumes.

Frankfurt atria

European Central Park atria

"This complex geometry was derived by vertically dividing a monolithic block through a hyberboloid cut, wedging two volumes apart, and twisting them around to create interstitial atria space....Within each atrium, interchange platforms and pedestrian bridges recall urban streets and squares, while hanging gardens regulate interior temperature to create a pleasant climate, inviting communal activity."

Skyville @ Dawson

Skyville @ Dawson

A "finalist" for the council's Urban Habitat Award, SkyVille@Dawson was developed by the Housing & Development Board in Singapore and designed by WOHA Architects.  The handsome project has 960 apartments and has three towers angled on its site and each connected by four skybridges.

Dr. Cheong Koon Hean, the head of Singapore's Housing & Development Boared, was named the winner of the council's Lynn S. Beedle Lifetime Achievement Award.  She was the first woman to head the Urban Redevelopment Authority...,and "played a key role in the development of major growth areas...In particular, she led the planning the new city extension at Marina Bay, creating a signature skyline for Singapore and a vibrant live-work-play destination."  The book also stated that "to raise design standards, she guided the development of many landmark projects that have redefined Singapore's public housing from modest construction to award-winning creations.  These projects include the 50-story Pinnacle@Duxton, SkyTerrace and SkyVille@Dawson.

A new "Performance" award was introduced this year by the council and awarded to the 1999 Taipei 101 which is 1,667 feet tall and its design C.Y. Lee & Partners is even more pagodaesque than the Jin Mao Tower shown above.
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