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"No skyscraper is an island" - HSLU study investigates what makes building taller socially sustainable

Publiziert 03. Oktober 2022

"No skyscraper is an island" - HSLU study investigates what makes building taller socially sustainable

High-rise buildings catch the eye, they polarize, high-rise plans have to reckon with numerous objections - in short: high-rise buildings make people talk. Experts from the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts conducted a study on life in high-rise buildings. They wanted to know: How can social sustainability be promoted when building upwards?

Many people live together in residential high-rise buildings. So if we succeed in promoting the quality of life here with targeted measures, this will also affect many people. In a joint project funded by Innosuisse, experts from various departments at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts addressed the question of what makes a high-rise building socially sustainable. From the examination of architectural, social and economic aspects, they developed recommendations for planning and action for municipalities, investors and real estate companies. The project is funded by Innosuisse and the Interdisciplinary Thematic Cluster (ITC) "Space and Society", with which the HSLU bundles the specialist knowledge of researchers across departmental boundaries.

But what should one imagine by a socially sustainable high-rise building? Project initiator Alex Willener sums up the broad topic: "It offers both a high individual and collective quality of life and focuses on community life today and for future generations." In order for it to be able to fulfill this, the building must be of use to as many people as possible - not just the residents - over its entire lifespan, promote their social cohesion, provide social and architectural added value for the urban environment, be economically viable and also provide living space for future generations.

Location – a give and take

Real estate professionals like to explain that three factors are responsible for the quality of a building – and optionally also for its profitability: location, location and location. This also applies to a high-rise building. On the upper floors, one may feel far removed from the quarter below. But as soon as you forget the risotto rice for the invitation in the evening, you are glad to have a supermarket nearby. "A residential high-rise can only be socially sustainable if its location is easily accessible for residents in different circumstances - i.e. by public transport as well as in their own car, with a pram as well as with a walker," says Alexa Bodammer from an urban planning perspective. In the immediate vicinity, she emphasizes, the path connections should be geared towards non-motorised traffic.
However, the building – which is a distinctive feature of its surroundings – should not only benefit from the surrounding infrastructure, but also give something back to the surroundings. “These can either be rooms for services such as medical practices or crèches, but also shops or social structures such as a neighborhood meeting place. It is important that they meet the needs of the neighborhood,” adds sociologist and co-project manager Meike Müller.

find like-minded people or peace and quiet

Here a new family, there a senior citizens' flat share and in between a student with a strong nightlife - where many people live, different lifestyles, expectations and attitudes also meet. "We recommend that you think about living together during the planning stage and then encourage it in the company," says Müller. For example, the large number of people in the high-rise makes it more likely that like-minded people will find one another among the residents – but a platform may be needed so that they can meet at all. "Cooperatives have a lot of experience with this, and you can learn from them that the relevant forms of participation and settlement coaches or caretakers who not only take care of technical but also social issues can have a positive influence on living together," adds Meike Müller. It is important, however, that participation is voluntary: the survey also showed that there are people who appreciate the possibility of anonymity in the high-rise.

Planning for old (building) age

Building a high-rise is more expensive than building horizontally and also requires more resources in terms of resources. In order for the calculation to work out financially and ecologically, the high-rise must be designed for a long service life. If the various components are processed in such a way that they can be easily separated from one another, the more short-lived parts, such as the building technology, can be replaced with less effort. But the way it is used may also change significantly over the decades: "It's impossible to predict how a city and the structure of its residents will develop in thirty or even seventy years," emphasizes Alexa Bodammer. That is why it applies to high-rise buildings even more than to less complex buildings that they have to be able to adapt to different needs over time.
The fact that high-rise buildings represent a major investment has another consequence: the temptation to cut costs thoughtlessly with inexpensive materials is increasing. However, this significantly reduces longevity and quality of life. That is why the experts recommend opting instead for lower-cost measures such as modular construction with prefabricated parts and serial production, which also have a favorable effect on construction costs because they shorten the construction time.

These are just some of the themes of the study; the recommendations for action for planners are broken down into eight subject areas, ranging from accessibility to the structure of the residents to questions of identification. «Presumably no building can cover all aspects equally. However, it is important to think about what is important to you in the early planning phase," says Müller. The recommendations for action are intended to support planners in this

> Further informations & original article in german: HSLU