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July 22, 2020  

Down to Earth: Time to Re-examine the Hype around Skyscrapers

July 22, 2020

"If no one ever built a skyscraper ever again, anywhere, who would truly miss them?”


That’s how architecture critic Rowan Moore begins his recent article in The Guardian, on his way to calling skyscrapers outmoded, damaging, and wasteful. Skyscrapers, he says, aren’t necessary to achieve the kind of density city advocates want for their urban core. Moore also punctures one of the longstanding arguments in favor of skyscrapers: that they are friendlier to the environment. Speaking about embodied energy, he writes: “Tall buildings are more structurally demanding than lower ones—it takes a lot of effort, for example, to stop them swaying—and so require more steel and concrete.”


Each week on Upzoned, we take a look at one big story in the news that touches on then Strong Towns conversation and we “upzone” it — examining it in light of the Strong Towns approach to building more financially resilient cities. This week, host Abby Kinney, an urban planner in Kansas City, is joined by cohost Chuck Marohn, the founder and president of Strong Towns. They discuss Moore’s article and explore the question:


A skyline full of skyscrapers makes for a nice postcard…but do skyscrapers actually make our cities stronger?


Abby and Chuck compare the “vertical sprawl” of skyscrapers to the density found in iconic cities like Paris. They discuss the problems of building all-at-once to a finished state, why skyscrapers are ultimately a pass/fail test, and the power and beauty of incremental ownership. 


Then in the Downzone, Chuck recommends a novel about Pearl Harbor by Jeff Shaara and the TV series Yellowstone, and he gives an update on his recovery from a boating accident. Then, Abby talks about Drawing the Landscape, a book she’s using to prepare to begin painting again this winter.

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