hi-rise residential building

Is a bluff higher or less dense
hi-rise residential building

The last decades have seen an 'obligatory' connection between hi-rise building and densification, as a means of preserving the open spaces. This article proposes to re-examine the subject, as the policy of hi-rise residential building actually disperses the urban fabric, does not improve densification, and is cynically exploited by the market forces.

Haussmann’s renovation plan of Paris from 1852 to 1870 is still considered one of the most successful urban models worldwide. Initiated by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (nephew of the known Napoléon), the plan is based on a five- to seven-storey peripheral block with façades reaching the street line, thus serving as its walls. Offering 35 living units on a dunam, the block forms an inner courtyard for the use of its inhabitants.

Despite its homogeneity, which stems from the relatively short period of accomplishment (20-30 years) - the city is rich in variations resulting from preservation of the historical star-shaped fabric, proper proportion of the built/upbuilt, and sensible deployment of public buildings serving as cultural anchors.

Moreover, Paris - a modern western city - encompasses a population density similar to eastern cities such as Cairo, New Delhi and Mumbai, and doubled that of tower-endowed American cities like Chicago and New York.

The relation between density and building requires clarification: first, both ‘density’ and ‘hi-rise building’ are relative notions, and as such can have no direct correlation. Second, when speaking of density, one should consider that it is merely a numerical value derived from the division of the population size by the overall area at their disposal. This area may include parks, lakes, commerce space and roads - none of which are used for permanent inhabitation.

However, as there is a close correlation between quality of life and areas available for living, the term ‘density’ may indicate some aspects of the place’s quality.

The relation between the built and open spaces within and around was already studied at the end of the 19th century by the eminent geographer Mark Jefferson, who related density to transportation arteries, and later on by scientist Meuriot, who pointed to the danger of overpopulation threatening Europe’s cities. Meuriot’s main claim was that density tends to balance itself, so that higher density in the city center will lead to lower density in the periphery. Within that, suburbanization is accelerated, since the city gradually spreads towards the green areas surrounding it. In other words - any attempt to raise density in order to protect the open areas might yield the opposite results.

Moreover, contrary to the common opinion as if hi-rise building is a tested means for density increase, research conducted at MIT in the 1970s clearly indicates that saturated fabric - such as that of Paris or Berlin - is definitely much more efficient.

Ironically, this fictive realm stems from the justified need to maintain a balanced proportion between population rate, open areas, schools, welfare institutes, shopping centers, industrial zones, administration, and transportation arteries that must be greatly broadened with density increase.

It is widely agreed that a precondition for density increase is an available, efficient and convenient public transportation. However, residential towers - usually populated by the well-off, actually serve as a catalyst for the use of private vehicles.

It is quite clear that the amount of vehicles owned by a well-off family is double or even triple that of the average or low-income ones. This factor is highly significant when a public alternative to private vehicles is in question. The chances of one meeting the Dankners, Arisons, Strausses or Leviyevs on the light train on the way to work are nil.

Moreover, examination of the density rates negates any correlation between life style, density and building characteristics.

So, for instance, the density in modern cities laden in prestigious towers, such as Dubai, Shanghai, Beijing, and the US, resembles that of Tel Aviv, characterized by its low building. And not less surprising - the density rate of Tel Aviv is half that of Bat-Yam or Givatayim - two satellite towns competing for years over the highest density rate in the country - about 16,000 inhabitants for every square km, as opposed to 7,000 in Tel Aviv. And to complete the interesting statistics: the density rate of Holon is 9,000; 6,300 in Jerusalem, Natanya and the Arab village Furadis; 6,000 in Kfar Sava; 4,500 in Or Akiva; 4,200 in Haifa; and the rest of the Israeli towns (except for Bnei Brak which even exceeds Tel Aviv) - less then 2,000 inhabitants per sq.km.

The important factor is that density data do not at all indicate the district’s building nature within the city. As gleaned from the statistics tables of the Central Bureau of Statistics, the density of old neighborhoods like Kerem Hateimanim, with its buildings averaging a storey and a half, is three times higher that of the Modernistic White City of Tel Aviv (the Geddes Plan), with a similar density rate of the Nahla’ot neighborhood in Jerusalem, as opposed to the city’s newer areas. (Kerem Hateimanim was established in 1881 as the first Tel Aviv settlement, and the Nahla’ot are 32 old neighborhoods built from the mid 19th century on, in west Jerusalem).

Another important factor in this calculation is that statistically speaking the density rate of the upper class residents is extremely lower than that of the lower classes. In other words, the number of people sharing a room is significantly higher among the low income inhabitants.

This factor completely dwarfs any significance of the supposedly achieved density by hi-rise building.

What then may create high, balanced and stable urban density?

If we return to the successful Paris model and the more humble ones of Kerem Hateimanim and the Nahla’ot, the key factors are: zero building line, small and modest gardens well-serving the residents, and a reasonable saturation population that makes use of existing facilities without requiring their increase.

One of the intelligent proposals put forth a decade ago by a think tank of the Nature Preservation Society (Yoav Sagi, 1995) was to exploit neglected areas within the city to build additional residential units for the needy population. The problem is that when such an area is made vacant and can provide a housing solution for young couples and others who get to see the urban scenery from above only on TV, it is immediately exploited by entrepreneurs for building prestigious towers, examples of which are abundant ahead.

Truthfully, not everyone dreams of a four room apartment in a typical H building, or even a house with a garden in a build-it- yourself neighborhood. The aspiration to live or work in the skies - even when led by the upper crust - is natural and legitimate.

The question, then, is: what is the right way to go about doing this?

A debate recently organized by AI for examining this issue included the architects: Prof. Saadia Mandel, Yossi Sivan, Dr. Alex Krupitsky, Ami Shinar, Kika Baraz and the writer of this article, Dr. Ami Ran.

Architect Yossi Sivan of M-Y-S Architects, which planned some of the most prestigious towers in Tel Aviv, holds that a new city does not necessarily have to look like an historical one, since patterns of life have changed. As an architect he aspires to afford the client the maximum building area possible from the plot, while as a tourist he still loves to wander nostalgically in traditional towns.

Architect Ami Shinar of Mann-Shinar Architects, which planned the densification of the Jerusalem town center, suggests that since it is likely that prestigious towers will continue be built everywhere, we should learn from the rich experience of the cities of the world, and refrain from planting towers in historical districts.

Architect Alex Krupitsky who specializes in the design of urban ensembles, sees towers as a visual entity, suggesting a design connection between several of them, rather than the building of single ones.

Architect Saadia Mandel, who was involved in the rehabilitation of old Jaffa and the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem, would prefer to refrain totally from building residential towers in cities. However, if the fashion continues, a better connection should be strengthened between the tower and the street, via an active side in the manner of the Paris block, with its shops, cafes and restaurants.

Architect Kika Baraz, who recently planned the prestigious Gindi towers in Ramat Gan, holds that the stereotype towers lack the advantages of the common apartment building, which provides the inhabitants with service areas, and a lifted ground floor that better connects to the street.
Five points may sum up the discussion:

1. Due to man’s desire for reaching height since the Tower of Babylon, hi-rise building is here to stay.

2. There is no proven correlation between density and residential towers.

3. A preferable solution for increased saturation can be gained either by adding 2-3 storeys, or by populating open spaces within the city - provided that no addition of supporting buildings or infrastructure is required.

4. There is a significant difference between residential towers and that of offices or commerce. While the former is detrimental to the urban fabric without improving the density, the latter enriches the city with outsiders, without impinging on the density of the integral population.

5. In any case, the central problem of hi-rise building is the interface with the street, and this may be partially solved by an active side verging on it.

One of the most popular solutions nowadays for saturation of the urban fabric is ‘mix-use’ - an ancient topic that is on the current agenda (almost as a fashion) after a hundred years of addiction to the zoning system.

In this context, hi-rise commercial towers can be regarded as the right solution, as proven successful in Manhattan, Los Angeles, and even in the Tel Aviv Azrieli Towers, which well exploit the proximity to the Ayalon highway and the train station.

The density/hi-rise equation is not of quantity but rather of quality. Although it is numerically possible to place a greater amount of residential units on a certain plot, it will ultimately be at the expense of the environment. The larger spaces needed between the high buildings break up the continuum of the city with its variety of urban activities.

This conundrum cannot be resolved until one finds out what still motivates the planning bodies, headed by the National Authority of Planning and Building, to wave the hi-rise flag, while the entire western world has quietly folded it and put it in a closet.

Ami Ran

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