The Impact of Height Limitation Ordinances on Tall Buildings: Chicago and Dubai

Amjad Alkoud
Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago

In 1892, the first American height limitation ordinance was released in Chicago to regulate the heights and bulks of buildings in the downtown district as a principal instrument to minimize the "negative" impact of tall buildings on public health and safety. Although the basic structure of zoning has largely remained unchanged since the first US Zoning Resolution (New York, 1916), an extended battle over the proper building heights has followed and is still in place, resulting in continuous adjustments to building height ordinances. Conferences & public hearings have been conducted to discuss the height limitation question and the possible equilibrium between developers' desire to reap all possible profits from holdings, and the city’s advocacy of public interest (public health and safety, traffic and transit, welfare, and street-life quality). This continuous struggle has ultimately shaped the Chicago skyline, and the same dynamics have similarly molded other highly-congested cities around the world. Dubai is no exception.

The manifestation of height limitations and zoning ordinances were realized and compared across two main foci; the socioeconomic environment and the physical urban framework. Both of these have dictated the dispersion of high-rises to take eccentric shapes and concentrative in distinctive urban forms, form Chicago to Dubai. As new problems are identified (structural advantages, the “on-demand culture, changes in transportation technology and workforce culture), a timely approach to reconceiving tall buildings within a more flexible regulatory framework in response to emerging needs is presented.