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Fenestration Forum: October 2014

Climbing the urban Everest


October 16, 2014
By Brian Burton

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I adopted the term “Urban Everest” after reading about the distinct
trend in some very large cities around the globe, including some in
Canada, to build tall – very tall.

I adopted the term “Urban Everest” after reading about the distinct trend in some very large cities around the globe, including some in Canada, to build tall – very tall. Some enterprising developers are building residential high-rise towers that are over 80 storeys high. We see it in Toronto, but this vertical living trend is also becoming more and more common in cities like Hong Kong, Mexico City, and many major U.S. cities.

Normally, buildings of this height are towering symbols of corporate presence. Elaborate and grand edifices like the Empire State Building, for example, rising over 100 storeys above New York’s street level. To build residences on this scale represents a very different view of architecture and civic planning, and possibly even society. At street level, large cities tend to be crowded and noisy with air quality that leaves something to be desired. However, if you can afford it, you can reside 50 storeys above street level where it is a totally different environment. In other words, you can get out of the city without actually leaving it. As you move up, developers add one or two percent to the asking price for each floor you increase up in height. For example, a penthouse condominium in a new 84-storey tower being constructed in New York commands a price of $95 million, with a monthly charge for common element maintenance of $17,805. That’s $8,255 per square foot. Of course, that also buys you six bedrooms and eight bathrooms. Even a tiny, 351-square-foot studio unit comes in at $1.5 million in that building. Penthouse purchasers are offered private wine cellars on lower floors for a mere $400,000 and separate condominiums for maids and servants on the 28th and 29th floor ranging in price from $1.5 million to $4 million. Some buildings also offer residents in indoor/outdoor event space for over 300 guests. Luxury amenities in the sky – for the right price. Is it worth it? When you get up to this height, it is amazingly quiet and the views can be breathtaking. On some days you are above the clouds and helicopters fly by below you.

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Another distinct trend I have noticed in some recent buildings and designs is adding commercial space near ground level. Several years ago I noticed condominium construction in Toronto that included three floors of commercial occupancy at street-level. Now I’m seeing designs, or renderings at least, for buildings that boast six to eight storeys of commercial occupancy. This includes three levels of retail space above the lobby as well as four to six additional storeys of office space. This adds to the total height of the building, along with two or three exclusive penthouse floors at the top. Some buildings also require four floors to house the mechanical equipment used for heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, again adding to the overall building height.

The windows in these buildings are huge, and in fact it is the glass that makes these buildings truly special. The developers appear to take the benefits of glass entirely for granted. Without the glass there’s no view and, in most cases, that’s what their customers are paying a premium for. Even the silence has been built into the performance of the sealed glass units.

Another motivation to build tall is the scarcity of urban land readily available for development. Real estate experts tell me it is becoming increasingly harder to find and takes longer to develop. When it is available, it can be expensive. Obtaining building permits and dealing with the required municipal approvals can also add to overall construction costs, especially in major metropolises. This has generally encouraged developers to focus their efforts and concentrate their attention on buildings with a special appeal – namely, those that can offer outstanding and unobstructed views – all of which contributes to the ongoing growth of the urban Everest.


Brian is now involved with an innovative multidisciplinary firm that specializes in technical business writing: Award Bid Management Services http://award-bid-management-services.com /. The firm assists companies interested in selling goods and services to governments and institutions. He can be reached at Burton@award-bid-management.com


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