Architecture + High Performance Technology

HypAS: HyperDensity Architecture

“There is much more to our current place in architectural history than symbol and iconography. Rather than symbol, the specifics of each environmental condition, culture, lifestyle and the tools and methods we use to build should be the basis for a new kind of high-rise building that would inherently ‘add value’ but also transform cities.”

Jeanne Gang, Studio Gang Architects, Chicago


Current trends in global population and urbanisation are widely known, but worth revisiting; by 2050, less than 35 years from now, the world’s urban population will stand at over six billion – almost double what it is today, with the United Nations suggesting such growth will result in 193,107 new people being added to world’s cities every day. If multiplied, this is the equivalent of a brand-new Sydney being needed every three weeks for decades to come! While much of this growth is occurring in the developing world, Sydney itself is not immune. Its own population is forecast to grow from 4.3m to 7.26m by 2050 leaving the city with the choice of either ‘growing up’ and building taller and denser buildings, or ‘growing out’ and continuing suburban spread. It is surely the former which is the more appealing and sustainable direction to follow.

But what kind of densities and typologies should we be building to accommodate this growth? While the low-rise, high-density of European cities such as Paris and Barcelona is lauded as walkable, humane and sustainable, the high-rise hyperdensity of Asia is derided as anti-environmental, congested, socially segregated and rapidly expanding at any cost. Bigger, and especially taller, has become synonymous with ‘worse’, both in terms of environmental and social performance. But does this have to be the case? Can bigger be okay, or even better?

Take a look at our current stock of high-rise architecture and it’s not hard to see why so many see the typology as unsustainable. Internationally, tall building design is dominated by two themes; weird and wonderful skyscraper shapes designed to ‘stand-out’ and be ‘iconic’, or mono-functional boxes the result of the repetition of an efficient floor-plate stacked vertically. Both are more often than not totally reliant on air-conditioning and clad in continuous curtain-walling, regardless of orientation or sunpath. The result is a generation of buildings that are failing to respond to the climate, culture and context of the city they are built within.

In Sydney, the current boom in tall building construction seems to be fuelled by single-function towers that too often offer little back to the city in terms of programme or civic value. Accommodating mostly one and two bedroom units, such towers also provide little opportunities for families. Thus, while young people move in, the migration to the suburban home becomes a formality when children arrive on the scene and this continuous flux provides little chance for communities to thrive.

But the tall building and hyperdense architecture in general can offer so much more than this demonstrates. The past couple of decades have seen increasing innovation, providing challenging new opportunities for live, work, play and even death in the hyperdense and high-rise realm; from the community parks, skygardens and running track linking seven towers at the 26th and 50th floor of the Pinnacle@Duxton in Singapore, to the Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica in Santos which houses 14,000 burial spaces in a 14 storey vertical cemetery (set to be extended vertically up to 40 storeys), the tall building is no longer limited by the air-conditioned glass box of the past (and too often present). Yet this is just the beginning; significant opportunities still exist for the exploration of what types of architecture should manifest in future high-rise and hyperdense environments, what programmes can be fulfilled, and lifestyles generated.