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Do Modern Skyscrapers hurt Street Life?

Do Modern Skyscrapers hurt Street Life?   46 members have voted

  1. 1. Do Modern Skyscrapers hurt Street Life?

    • No - they bring people to cities
      15
    • Yes - typically they do
      24
    • I don't know
      7

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Has anyone noticed that in cities with skyscrapers, especially skyscrapers built in the last 30 years, the areas around them are almost void of any people outside of working hours. It seems to me that many skyscrapers, while looking stunning from a distance, are disasters in terms of good people places around their base. Typically you see a broad concrete plaza, a elaborately decorated lobby containing nothing but elevators, and some kind of art or water feature.

I've seen very few skyscapers in the USA where the designers have taken the time to design something that integrates with the existing urban fabric, and creates an intimate place that people want to be in. Get group of these together, and you end up with a dead area in the city. Often the most popular places in cities are around low rise buildings that were built decades ago.

Do skyscrapers destroy the liveability of cities? What do you think?

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Has anyone noticed that in cities with skyscrapers, especially skyscrapers built in the last 30 years, the areas around them are almost void of any people outside of working hours. It seems to me that many skyscrapers, while looking stunning from a distance, are disasters in terms of good people places around their base. Typically you see a broad concrete plaza, a elaborately decorated lobby containing nothing but elevators, and some kind of art or water feature.

I've seen very few skyscapers in the USA where the designers have taken the time to design something that integrates with the existing urban fabric, and creates an intimate place that people want to be in. Get group of these together, and you end up with a dead area in the city. Often the most popular places in cities are around low rise buildings that were built decades ago.

Do skyscrapers destroy the liveability of cities? What do you think?

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This is probably true for some cities, but not for all. The IDS Tower in Minneapolis has the Crystal Court area which has an urban park and shopping. There are also plenty of towers along Nicollet Mall that have people places.

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Skyscrapers that interact with the street poorly hurt city street life. It is up to the city to eliminate empty plazas through zoning. In Providence our proposed towers feature street level activity through retail programming and are being built to the street.

The GTECH Center which is a midrise which had it's ribbon cutting last week is an office building with retail and restaurants on the ground level. Two sides of it front Waterplace park and will feature park level resturants with outdoor seating. It sits across Francis Street from Providence Place Mall. The mall has very heavy pedestrian traffic and having GTECH now will bring that pedestrian activity to the other side of the street.

Most of the other highrise activity happening in Providence now is residential or hotel.

The Residences at the Westin will feature additional hotel rooms for the existing Westin and luxury condos. Again, the ground floor will feature restaurant and retail spaces. The tower is built to the street and will bring life to Emmett Square which was formerly fronted by a lilttle used park that sat where the new tower is being built. The new Westin tower is also diagonally across the street from the GTECH Center and connected to the mall by a skybridge. The Westin serves as the main pedestrian entrance to the mall from Downcity.

The condos at Waterplace sit across Waterplace Park from GTECH Center. Again, the building fronts the street and the riverwalk with retail and restuarant in the ground floors. The driveway/plaza for the condos sit inside the project set back from the street.

The W Providence Hotel & Residences will be Rhode Island's new tallest building, again all sides fronting the street with no plaza set backs. The Westminster side will likely be dominated by lobbies for the residents and hotel, though the hotel lobby should be very busy with foot traffic. The other side of the block will feature a restuarant at the street. The whole project sits fast against the Arcade which is the oldest indoor shopping mall in America and should see a boost from the neighboring residents and hotel guests.

The Empire at Broadway should be breaking ground next year. It will be a highrise office building that may feature a residential or hotel component. Again, it will be built to the street with retail and restaurant programmed at the ground level. This project should bring new life to LaSalle Square and inject new energy into the neighboring theatre district and feed off events at the Civic Center which sits across LaSalle Square. It will also serve as a stepping stone between Downcity and the city's Little Italy, Federal Hill.

As long as city planners and the zoning board ensure that skyscrapers are built to engage the street, they shouldn't present a problem to street life.

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I would agree that many of the new skyscrapers do not add vibrancy to the street.

Many newer office buildings have broad wind-swept plazas and are connected to parking structures via skywalks = no or little street level vibrancy

Many newer proposed mixed-use high-rises, which are supposed to feature ground floor retail, are dumping the retail portion for lack of high-profile tenants, or the developer doesn't want to deal with the more complex financing and association structure that has to be created for multiple users = no or little street level vibrancy

Many cities continue to have archaic parking requirements, or condo developments must provide 2 parking spaces/condo, and since underground parking is so expensive to build, the first 2 - 10 floors become a parking garage = no or little street level vibrancy

If you have a city with a bunch of tall glassy skyscrapers and condos, yet has a bunch of concrete bunker walls at the ground level, the people living in these buildings are not going to walk the streets. Why would they? They'll hop in their cars and go to the neighborhood centers for fun and amenities.

Take a look at different areas of your city. Vibrancy can be designed in. You'll notice the streets that are full of life have wider sidewalks, a lot of glass storefronts that create points of interest, greenery, doorways near the sidewalk, places to sit and people watch, trees, outdoor dining. And were probably built before WWII.

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It can be done with modern buildings. They just have to be designed with ground-floor transparency or ground floor retail requirements.

I've also read that buildings that truly fit "human scale" have a height about 2 1/2 times the width of the street, which would relegate most buildings to 5 or 6 stories. And when I think of the most vibrant areas in GR, it's in the areas where buildings are less than 5 or 6 stories tall. The Europeans did do a few things right.

No one's advocating setting building height limits, but density and vibrancy can be achieved with properly designed mid-rises better than poorly designed high-rises.

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DC, which has a prohibition on skyscrapers, would certainly prove this theory true.

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The livliest streets in Seattle are the old-time "downtown" strips that somehow survived 1960s urban renewal.

As with other central business districts throughout the States, parts of downtown Seattle fail where tall gleaming skyscrapers negate people-friendly shoppes on the street level.

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if you look at the pictures GRDad posted, there's no reason those buildings couldn't have set-back 50-story towers on top. the problem isn't with skyscrapers themselves. The problem is that from the 1950s through the 1980s, when the majority of extant skyscrapers were built, the fashion was for monolithic towers rising directly out of stark plazas with little opportunity for human activity. Early skyscrapers were built to the street and usually featured storefronts on the ground floor. They weren't damaging to street life at all. When skyscrapers started to get really tall in the 1920s, the introduction of setbacks helped to maintain the "human scale" of the streetscape. High-rise architects are only recently relearning these techniques for protecting the urban fabric at the bases of their towers.

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I think it all depends on the building. While some of the office buildings in downtown Baton Rouge have no interaction with street life, I think one built in the mid 60's has a subway at the base. Also a new skyscaper for downtown B.R. is planning some retail space along the base.

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This is the new skyscraper that's going to be built in Baltimore that will help the night time street life in many ways.

414lightstreet_2_lrg.jpg

This 1.3-million SF, $360-million mixed-use development on Baltimore's famed Inner Harbor represents one of the last development opportunities on the waterfront. 10 Inner Harbor will be ARCWheeler's second "10" brand project where mixed-use elements located on significant parks or waterfronts include luxury condominiums, high-end retail, celebrity restaurants, destination spa and a boutique hotel. This 715' contemporary building not only will be Baltimore's tallest structure but it will also be recognized for its state-of-the-art design by world-famous Robert A.M. Stern Architects.

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From the description, it seems to make all of the "mistakes" that I alluded to that plague modern skyscrapers.

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While we know that skyscrapers can be designed to facilitate pedestrian activity, the question is do the modern ones accomplish this task. I myself have been thinking about this lately, I think I have to say no. Aside from a few exceptions, I think I would have to say that the liveliest areas of many cities are those that have very few (if any) towers in the area. This doesn't mean that towers don't have their place, because first and foremost they aren't designed to generate street-level activity, but I must admit that I've slowly but surely become more of a fan of density than height. I just think that large-scale, superblock projects typically involving a single massive structure tend to minimize street-level activity, whether you're talking about a tower or some other structure (convention center, arena, etc.). It doesn't have to be this way and there are some noticeable exceptions (largely because smaller structures built more to a human scale surround them or are somehow incorporated into the structure itself), but I definitely think it's a trend.

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Are planning requirements in American cities, at least recently, requiring a street level retail presence in tall buildings? I can imagine there is no universal movement here, or that having the first level be retail completely solves the street life issue, but it seems to me from reading about the numerous projects discussed on this site that that is the case. Obviously this doesn't do much good in older cities, but the upcoming ones that are just now filling in their downtowns would seem to be tackling this issue. Is this impression misguided?

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Nowensone, Grand Rapids has a >50% transparency requirement at ground level, meaning either retail, 50% glass wall or openings in the building at street level, and I believe cities like Portland and Seattle have stricter ground-floor retail requirements on all new projects. These were instituted because studies have shown that people feel "safer" when they have a feeling that others can see them, and when they can see "into" the building they are passing. Notice how you feel when you approach a 100 yard long concrete or flat brick wall in an urban environment, especially at night. It feels cold, foreboding, and certainly not inviting. That however doesn't stop developers from seeking variances on this, and cities like GR granting them because they see the $$ of increased tax revenue. <_<

I don't think you necessarily need to have retail on every street and every corner of a downtown (it probably wouldn't all survive), but it seems lately that high-rise developers are providing the bare minimum for the pedestrian environment, under the guise that "all these new people will increase viability". And that it's just homeless people, poor people and crime at the pedestrian level anyway, so who cares.

Certainly in answer to someone's previous post, you can have high-rises above those pictures shown. But then again, a 500,000 - 1M square foot tower requires a lot of parking if there is not a good transit system. Where do all those cars go? Do you knock down 1/3 of those great old buildings to provide parking structures?

That Baltimore tower is a great example. What does the ground-floor look like? I probably already know the answer. Show em height and they'll forgive the base.

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if you look at the pictures GRDad posted, there's no reason those buildings couldn't have set-back 50-story towers on top. the problem isn't with skyscrapers themselves. The problem is that from the 1950s through the 1980s, when the majority of extant skyscrapers were built, the fashion was for monolithic towers rising directly out of stark plazas with little opportunity for human activity. Early skyscrapers were built to the street and usually featured storefronts on the ground floor.

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The W Providence Hotel & Residences will also feature parking above the first floor. The lobby and restaurant will sit below the parking structure, with the hotel and residential units above.

110a.jpg110Weybosset.jpg

The Weybosset side (2nd image) preserves and incorporates a historic facade. This is where the restaurant will go, behind the upper levels of the facade will be parking.

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One thing about parking on the lower floors.

When you look at high rise residence sales, the ground floors are the hardest to move. Unless you can actually get the first floor, that means you have to deal with getting into an elevator, etc. Once you are at that point, you want to just go as high as possible. So I have no problem with parking at the lower levels.

This was one of the problems faced by the people building the W hotel which was originally only going to be residences. The lower units were getting little to no interest even at far more attractive prices than the larger units.

This same "ego validated by height" phenomenon applies to businesses looking to lease space also.

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From a kind of amateur point of view, I do notice that at street level, not much attention is paid to enhancing the "street life". Oftentimes the first or ground floor is completely taken up by the lobby of the building, with no retail or restaurant space that could attract people after-hours, or if it is there it has the feeling of an afterthought. It does make things kind of drab.

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To address the initial question:

There is quite a difference between the John Hancock Tower in Boston's historic, mixed-use Back Bay and a similar tower amid a 9-5 downtown patchwork of surface lots inside a highway loop. I think it depends a lot more on the neighborhood itself than on the building which is just one block or narrower. But the most annoying thing about these modern buildings is that they all have a parking entrance and probably also a loading entrance. This means that pedestrians aren't just crossing busy city streets, but also navigating through these high traffic entrances. Buildings seem to be designed to minimize the impact of these by placing them off the main drag, but they still are annoying since nicer cities have high pedestrian traffic on side streets too. And a lot of the nicest skyscrapers have a less nice base. The Hancock Tower's base is larger and more awkward than its upper parts. But every new high rise is an opportunity to add something at the street level that improves a neighborhood. Providence seems to know how to do this.

A landmark tower might attract people all the time who just want to look at it. Even better if it has an observatory or restaurant at the top that is open beyond business hours.

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I think Modern Skyscrapers are disjointed from pedestrian street life by their large plazas and parking structures. Street level retail and interaction is the design of a successful building that fits into the community. I think plaza and courtyards are fine, but not in front of every building, more centrally located where it makes sense for pedestrians to congregate.

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Virginia's newest tallest, The Westin Inn with residences in Va Beach, will be a 38 story building with a restaurant (McCormick & Schmicks) on the ground floor. It appears in the rendering that the the restaurant will offer outdoor seating which will add some ambience and street life to the building.

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I think people kind of have to re-define "modern"

Is what is being built now "modern" or are we strictly talking about the 70's and 80's behemoths that reflect a time when most city planners seemed to be resigned to the fact that the city core was going to be for office workers only?

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I think I'm echoing what a lot of folks have said here, but many modern skyscrapers do indeed harm the urban fabric. It's the skyscrapers whose ground floors look just like the shorter buildings that positively contribute to the street-level activity.

Many modern skyscrapers in areas I'm familiar with have grand entrances, are surrounded by lawns and fountains, or sit atop parking decks. These certainly aren't contributing much.

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in this country it's hard to get the street-level experience right, or at least to reconcile it with the greater mass of the building above. it's not that it can't be done right; it's that it commonly isn't done right. one shell in new orleans is an example - that area of town, like most areas of NO, is plenty alive, but people aren't hanging out in the plaza at one shell square; they're a few blocks away on canal, in the quarter, warehouse district, etc. - places that have older, low-rise buildings. european cities have been slower to embrace rampant skyscraper density building (with exceptions), and yet they're still envied for their street life. new orleans has much in common with its european forebears in this respect.

i haven't been able to think through a one-size-fits-all answer for the american problem, but i've noticed that the most successful cases are often the ones that don't seem bound to carry the theme of tall buldings' distinctive styles (when viewed from a distance) all the way to ground level. in manhattan and baltimore, i've been surprised to look up and see the actual buldings that hovered over the outdoor spaces their lower floors comprise. walking past the lobbies, it's hard to tell that the tall building you see from miles away is this building you're standing in front of. it's usually a good thing in those cities - street life carries on as if the height of the building didn't matter.

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I've often wondered why small street level stores can't be built lining the existing behemouth plazas that sit underneath skyscrapers.

Of course it would be an afterthought architecturally, but better than nothing.

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