Raising the height of buildings : an inevitable trend ?




Roger Baltus's column #1

Raising the height of buildings : an inevitable trend ?

Raising the height of buildings, consisting of creating additional surfaces on top of existing constructions, is gaining renewed interest in major urban areas all over the world and particularly in Europe.

This option is a concrete alternative to densifying urban areas, probably because it is genuinely feasible, and has been applied repetitively throughout the ages. For example, in Geneva, building heights were raised as a traditional method, initiated when the population grew suddenly by about 30% after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. It was recently developed with determination in the early 2000s to face the lack of housing space. In other circumstances, Vienna was always able to rebuild on its own land area. A nonchalant stroll from Meidling to Mariahilfstrasse attests to these bold architectural choices. From the Middle Age to the 1960’s, Paris also grew vertically to gain space that was not available at ground level. The famous « Mansard » roof is no more than a light wooden frame covered with zinc and laid on the solid structure of the typical buildings made of natural dressed stone. Recent studies has shown that between the two world wars, more than a fifth of the building authorizations in Paris concerned adding height to existing constructions.

For the last few years, zinc has been used significantly in these vertical extensions to existing buildings. The repetition and the precise application of our material in this type of project has convinced us that we are indirectly and modestly contributing to the answer to a wider question: that of urban densification which is today at the heart of the thoughts and actions of urbanists and politicians.

Beyond the debates which are currently affecting Paris, (I will revert to this subject in a future post), raising the heights of buildings appears as a credible solution, less expensive than any others, to the endemic housing crisis, to the shortage of available land, and to transport and environmental issues.

In order for cities to find a real social, ecological and architectural advantage, we believe that none of the stakeholders could any longer afford to rethink their methods, practices or simply the existing regulations. Today, urban planning constraints, the reluctance of co-owners or the technical issues related to the capability of the existing building to support additional loads, not to mention the noise pollution created by installation work on occupied sites, discourage a lot of potential builders. Innovation and creativity are therefore needed to get those projects approved considering the many advantages in these new types of apartments: unobstructed views, guaranteed privacy, green spaces on open terraces, price /sqm above the average in the district.

Throughout this year, I will devote several posts to the fascinating theme of raising the height of buildings. I will question architects about their experiences and will seek out the point of view of installers, experts or politicians.

Our sensitivity to the issue and our expertise as an industrial company in this field will contribute to feed the debate that we invite you now to fuel with your experiences

Roger Baltus
Engineer- Architect
VMZINC Communication Director


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