Aesthetically pleasing, multi-functional and environmentally friendly: towers are reinventing themselves to enhance cities

Skyscrapers help to limit urban sprawl, but their more modern versions also offer some new features. Multi-functional, and therefore more cost-effective, they are elegantly designed to better fit in with the urban landscape, and they respect the environment via the use of new materials. Find out how these buildings make cities simultaneously compact, more beautiful and more durable.


To expand, cities have two options: spread horizontally into the surrounding countryside, or vertically toward the sky. With increasing urbanization and the growing emergence of major metropolitan areas, property is becoming more of a rarity and more expensive, especially downtown. Urban towers are an effective solution to this phenomenon, as their vertical nature makes cities more dense and accessible, all the while respecting the environment.


Multi-functional towers for more compact cities

The time of skyscrapers that fill up in the morning and empty in the evening as offices close is gone. The trend is now for multi-functional towers that offer a balance between accommodations, offices, shops and leisure facilities, like The Shard in London, located on the banks of the Thames, which houses luxury apartments, winter gardens on each floor, a five-star hotel and offices employing 12,500 people. This mix of usages and services now guarantees the economic viability of such large-scale projects.

As well as providing residents with time- and comfort-related benefits, who have several services close at hand, modern high-rise buildings are also “a solution to the pressures present in the property market,” explains Elisabeth Perrot, an architect who carried out a prospective study for the Urban Community of Lyon (France). “They create the required space while using up very little land, and offer property options that are sought after by companies and investors.”


Increased beauty via modern concrete

Originally, the first American skyscrapers were symbols of power and modernity. While this is still partly the case today, modern towers have a new goal: strengthening city identity and gaining a foothold in a highly competitive international field featuring major metropolises attempting to attract tourists and investors. For this reason, certain towns have no hesitation in investing in their own image, calling on the services of high-profile architects known for their audacity and creativity. Norman Foster’s famous “gherkin” building at 30 St Mary Axe, which has become part of the London landscape, is one such example, as is Jean Nouvel’s Torre Agbar in Barcelona.


If today architects can indulge in the craziest of designs, it is due in no small part to increasingly innovative and effective building materials. From self-placing and self-leveling concrete with a perfectly smooth finish to decorative concrete of all colors and textures, and ultra-high-performance concrete with exceptional resistance and finesse, concrete has become a tool for creative architects. When combined with other materials, it can contribute to the most ingenious achievements, such as, for example, the Liquid wall, a futuristic curtain wall system made of steel and a fiber-reinforced ultra-high-performance matrix that enables spectacular shapes to be designed in an environmentally friendly manner (100% recyclable and offering excellent insulation). The American Institute of Architects of New York was so impressed that it bestowed a prize upon the innovation. 


Increasingly efficient towers for more durable cities

Another feature of modern high-rises is that they adhere to environmental constraints, something that is present throughout the construction chain.

  • Design: the location and positioning of towers in the city is analyzed in a strategic manner, according to the light or the wind.
  • Choice of materials and building systems: high-performance thermal concrete as well as building systems that combine cement, concrete and aggregate solutions with other components that provide maximum isolation for walls and facades.
  • Environmentally friendly features: solar panels, rainwater collection systems, etc. Ecological equipment helps to reduce buildings’ environmental footprint.


For example, the Hearst Tower in Manhattan (USA) is positioned so as to benefit from the natural light and heat of the sun, while the Pearl River Tower in Guangzhou (China) boasts a facade equipped with wind turbines that are turned towards the prevailing winds to produce electricity. The Willis Tower in Chicago, meanwhile, was refurbished in 2009 and provided with a green roof that collects and recycles rainwater, which is re-used inside the building and reheated via solar panels supported by the concrete matrix.


When a building can finally be described as eco-responsible, the benefits are threefold:

  • As far as the building’s occupants are concerned, living and working conditions are better due to a consistent temperature and maximum sunlight.
  • For property developers, the awarding of environmental certificates such as LEED, HQE and BREEAM helps to increase the value of the property.
  • For financers and owners, ecological innovation limits energy loss and encourages investment


Modern towers have become an example worth following in the sphere of sustainable construction!

The Torre Agbar, Barcelona, Spain
The Torre Agbar, Barcelona, Spain (©Dosfotos / Design Pics / Axiom Photographic Agency via Getty Images)
Willis Tower, Chicago, USA
Willis Tower, Chicago, USA (©Paul Velgos / E+ via Getty Images)