Creating Land within Cities: Past, Present and Future

Fred Durie
Nshama, Dubai

With more than fifty percent of the human population living in cities, the demand for space has been increasing exponentially. Going vertical and avoiding large sprawling cities provides one of the most sustainable solutions to rapid urbanization. Compact cities improve the standard of living for their inhabitants by reducing travel times and increasing access to public transportation. But very often, these essential transportation infrastructures occupy large tracts of land in the heart of urban centers which would otherwise be prime for development. Considering this, Building Departments worldwide have allowed construction using the air-rights above infrastructure to maximize valuable real estate. “Creating Land” is what we call this process and the success lies in innovating and developing efficient structural systems that respond to challenging site conditions and mitigates complicated interface with foundations while simultaneously being simple enough to be constructible and meeting developers’ financial goals.

Over the years, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill has pioneered conceptualizing projects which utilizes these air-rights and reinvigorates the zones that would otherwise have been abandoned from the city’s social fabric. From the Broadgate Development that revitalized the zone around Liverpool Station in London to the Mercantile Exchange in Chicago that spanned over the Union Station tracks. New additions to this legacy are the recently completed and ongoing projects in New York City: Manhattan West and Hudson Yards developments that have extended the vibrant Midtown Manhattan right up to the Hudson river. In the coming years, this trend will dominate more and more cities as land becomes a scarce commodity in the densifying urban landscape.

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