Reaching new heights: What is Scandinavian High-Rise?

19 June 2018

Last year, more high-rise buildings were completed than ever before. But what part does Scandinavia play in this resurgence?

Shonn Mills. Ramboll

Shonn Mills

PE MASCE CEng MICE, Global Spearhead Director, High-Rise Buildings
T: +65 852 321 97

By Andrew Somerville

As cities become more urbanised, high-rise is being seen as one solution to the increasing density of cities. But can tall buildings be designed to take into account the sensibilities of Scandinavia’s traditionally low-rise cities? And does high-rise in Scandinavia have its own typology?

These were just some of the questions on the agenda at a Scandinavian high-rise event at Ramboll in Copenhagen last week. Exploring the increasing popularity of high-rise in Scandinavia and around the world, the event brought together leading architects and engineers from across the region – including speakers from world-renowned firms Zaha Hadid, Henning Larsen, 3XN and BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group).

Taller and denser

While Scandinavia is not traditionally known for its tall buildings, high-rise is becoming more prevalent. According to Marie Hesseldahl, Partner at 3XN, there is a case to made for more high-rise in the region. “As more people move into the cites, we need to make room for them,” she said.  “And if we don’t want to enlarge the area of cities, then high-rise is a good way to go.”

From a sustainable point of view this is also smart. “When we build tall, then we make the cities denser and people can take their bikes or commute shorter distances,” she argued. “And people will use more public transport.”

While there will never be the same demand for land in Scandinavian cities as in a city such as Hong Kong, Brian Yang from BIG pointed out that “there is definitely pressure in terms of the provision of housing and the growth of the cities in Scandinavia – so there is some argument to be made for high-rise as long a fair balance is maintained.”

The human element

Scandinavian expertise in high-rise is increasingly being exported, with 3XN and BIG involved in a number of prestigious projects abroad. But what makes Scandinavian high-rise unique?
Marie Hesseldahl contended that a chief characteristic of Scandinavian high-rise is the human factor. “In our projects we encourage social interaction. And we ask, how do we humanise the high-rise?”

3XN’s latest project, a 49 storey in downtown Sydney, attempts to humanise office space by creating a vertical village. “We’re using courtyards and open atriums high up to encourage people to meet and to provide daylight and views,” said Marie Hesseldahl. 

She sums up the Scandinavian approach as characterised by “designing from the bottom up, providing social synergy and giving buildings a human scale.”

Brian Yang agreed. “Scandinavia offers a great model in terms of the focus on community and the social public realm aspect of high-rises,” he said. 

“We find a lot of clients come to us looking to import that kind of thinking into the design and the experience of the building from the very beginning.”

High-rise has historically been driven by the search for efficiency and according to Brian Yang, “the Scandinavian way of living offers a counterpoint to that – whereby we can rethink the way high-rises are designed, organised and experienced.”

Freedom to experiment

While economic factors will always play a role in high-rise construction, the situation in Scandinavia is somewhat unique, according to Julian Chen, Senior Architect from Henning Larsen.

“We are not constrained by the same economic factors as cities where land is at a premium,” he said. “So, while we don’t have the same incentive to build tall, we are also free to create a different set of values and perhaps create a new type of typology.”

“In Copenhagen for example, residential property is experiencing a hike in prices, so perhaps it could be interesting to create a vertical vitality in a city like Copenhagen and move our urban living up from the ground.”

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