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Tuesday
Oct142014

The ROI of Human Experience

Image © Ben Tranel

Air quality in China has been the subject of much press over the past few years, much of it negative. In addition to concerns impacting health and wellbeing, as cities go vertical, our ability to see out and across them from newly-constructed tall buildings is a key component of the urban experience.

During a recent visit to Shanghai, where I attended and presented at the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) Shanghai Conference 2014, I found myself pleasantly surprised: the air quality was exceptional, offering pristine views of clear blue skies. When visibility is that good in Shanghai, I am always surprised at how close things actually are. The view of Puxi, Shanghai’s historic center, from the top of Shanghai Tower shows the proximity of the various buildings, a fact that is typically obscured by the low visibility created by the air pollution that commonly plagues the city.

Given the topic of the conference, Sustainable Vertical Urbanism and the air quality of cities in emerging economies, I can’t help but notice that the “urban habitat” part of the CTBUH acronym is often overlooked. Even the logo focuses attention on a single metric: building height.

Image © Ben Tranel

Shanghai Tower and The Tower at PNC Plaza in Pittsburgh, both currently under construction and slated to be complete in 2015, take building height and the importance of supporting an urban habitat into account. The buildings posit a unique hypothesis in the world of double facades and tall buildings: By incorporating interior open spaces that incorporate landscaping or even fresh air into the design of high rise buildings , we are able to create unique experiences that add to the overall value of the building.

Both Shanghai Tower and The Tower at PNC Plaza use a double façade as a key design strategy to bring urban habitat into a tall building, at a variety of scales across both projects. While the double façade creates energy efficiency and saves operating costs, the most significant value is in the ROI, the return on investment, of the user experience.

Expanding the ROI equation to factor in human capital —those factors which ensure a building responds to the needs of inhabitants and creates a welcoming environment for all—as well as which is the most significant investment many companies make, significantly changes the result.

Image © Ben Tranel

Ben is a Firmwide Technical Director based in Gensler’s San Francisco office where he explores how user behavior can inform building technology. Since joining Gensler in 2006, Ben has developed innovative architectural technologies for projects all over the world. He currently leads the technical design of The Tower at PNC Plaza in Pittsburgh, a project that pushes building performance to new limits and aims to be the world’s greenest high-rise. Such projects combine critical conceptual thinking with expertise in materials and systems, two of Ben's primary interests. Contact him at benedict_tranel@gensler.com.

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