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Competition: CTBUH Tall Buildings

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) is accepting entries to its annual student ideas contest (Deadline: 16 July)

Open to students as individuals or in multidisciplinary teams of up to five members, the anonymous call for ideas seeks innovative proposals for new site-specific towers which redefine high-rise development.

The 7th International Student Tall Building Design Competition aims to promote debate over the future of skyscraper development which is seen as one solution to the planet’s sustainability crisis. Concepts may occupy any site and be of any scale but must thoughtfully respond to their context.

The 2016 winner: Hydro-City MXDF by Lisa Marie Martinez of the University of Arizona and Gonzalo Casado of Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca

The 2016 winner: Hydro-City MXDF by Lisa Marie Martinez of the University of Arizona and Gonzalo Casado of Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca

The 2016 winner: Hydro-City MXDF by Lisa Marie Martinez of the University of Arizona and Gonzalo Casado of Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca

According to the brief: ‘The age of the tall building as a single iconic piece of sculpture, standing in isolation from its surroundings, is coming to an end. Designers have a responsibility to ensure that these permanent urban structures engender a future-oriented urban response to the greatest challenges of our time: unprecedented population growth; mass urbanisation; climate change; environmental degradation; social, political and economic change; and the rapid advance of myriad technical innovations.

‘Participants should engage with the exploration and resolution of the synergistic relationship of placing a tall building in a unique existing urban setting; how that tall building can be inspired by the cultural, physical, and environmental aspects of its site; and how the program of the building is influenced by the micro and macro site/urban conditions; and how the building responds to global issues.’

Tall buildings are increasingly seen as a sustainable way to increase urban density amid a rapidly growing global population while reducing land and energy consumption.

Recent decades have seen significant growth in the number of buildings above 200 metres in height going up around the world – with 650 completed between 2005 and 2015 according to the CTBUH.

Along with this growth in tall buildings, debates over the form and function of new towers have intensified. The CTBUH’s annual competition aims to promote sustainable and innovative design while also introducing radical new concepts into the debate.

Previous winners have included The City of Dual Perception by Dagmar Zvonickova of the University of Westminster in 2017 and Hydro-City MXDF (pictured) by Lisa Marie Martinez of the University of Arizona and Gonzalo Casado of Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca in 2016.

The 2016 winner: Hydro-City MXDF by Lisa Marie Martinez of the University of Arizona and Gonzalo Casado of Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca

The 2016 winner: Hydro-City MXDF by Lisa Marie Martinez of the University of Arizona and Gonzalo Casado of Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca

The 2016 winner: Hydro-City MXDF by Lisa Marie Martinez of the University of Arizona and Gonzalo Casado of Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca

Digital submissions to the latest contest must include a single A1-sized board no larger than 20MB along with a single side of A4 featuring a 500-word written description of the project.

Applications will be judged on their creative approach, response to site, sustainability and functionality. Concepts must allow for at least 50 per cent of the building’s height to be occupied by usable floor area.

The competition language is English and the project is open to all students registered on university-level courses along with recent graduates. Five finalist teams will be invited to present their schemes at the CTBUH 2018 Conference which will be held in Dubai in August.

The overall winner will receive a $6,000 prize while a second prize of $5,000, third prize of $4,000 and fourth prize of $3,000 and fifth prize of $3,000 will also be awarded along with several honourable mentions.

How to apply


The registration deadline is 16 July and submissions must be completed by 23 July.

Contact details


Visit the competition website for more information

The Shard case study: Q&A with William Matthews

The director of William Matthews Architects discusses lessons learned working at Renzo Piano Building Workshop as project architect on London’s Shard

William Matthews

William Matthews

William Matthews

How did The Shard respond to its unique site and create a new vertical city within London?

One of the challenges when designing a skyscraper is not only the local context and how the building responds in plan and elevation to surrounding buildings, but also the wider context and skyline. In New York, Hong Kong or even Canary Wharf, the context is a cluster of tall buildings, a forest in which you are painting another tree. For the Shard we didn’t have an existing cluster of significance around us, so our context was the sky – the building would always be seen against the sky and from all points of the compass. It was essential that the form of the tower responded to this in a dynamic and interesting way.

Which architectural, material, visual and other methods did you harness in your design?

The use of clear glass and ideas of openness, lightness and transparency were at the heart of the project from the beginning. We wanted the life of the building, as it changes from day to night, to be visible. We also wanted the facades to reflect the climatic conditions, like a large weathervane. Anyone familiar with London knows the weather can change five times in a day, and this manifests itself in wonderful skies that are constantly changing. With such a large building using essentially one material it was critical we got choice right – we tested over 30 glass combinations on a mock-up rig before making the final selection.

The Shard, London

The Shard, London

Source: Jason Hawkes

The Shard, London

What advice would you have to contest participants on designing a site-specific tower which encapsulates the functions of a city?

For real-life projects, designing, refining and coordinating the core is by far the largest task. Like the trunk of a tree, it is the backbone of the tower, delivering people, goods, power and air to each floor and often providing a key structural role as well. For a mixed-use tower, this is often more complex and critical. Getting the circulation routes to work efficiently is actually great fun and a fascinating 3D challenge, but they also need to be considered from the outset for the project to really work.

Q&A with Peng Du

The CTBUH academic coordinator and China office director discusses his ambitions for the contest

Peng Du

Peng Du

Peng Du

Why are your holding a student ideas contest for site-specific towers which represent a vertical city?

This will be our seventh Annual International Student Tall Building Design Competition. It was conceived with the goal of shedding new light on the meaning and value of tall buildings in modern society. As the global authority on tall buildings, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) is well positioned to leverage its expertise to organise the foremost competition on the tall building typology for students, helping to foster the next generation of thought leaders in the field. It’s also part of our non-profit mission to distribute significant funding to further the pedagogy of tall buildings and architecture.

Of course, there are many ways to promote new architectural talent, but it’s critical that today’s architecture students are challenged to think in unconventional ways and learn to question the architectural orthodoxy of the present. As an international organisation, it’s also important that our mission is inclusive of all regions and representative of the areas that are seeing the greatest impacts of mass urbanisation.

Through the competition, CTBUH aims to promote and amplify best practices in tall building design and sustainable urbanism. Architectural innovation and quality will naturally be very important to the judges, but this is not just an architectural competition – it’s a future-oriented exercise where the contestants are asked to explore the synergistic relationships between a building and a unique, existing urban setting. Participants are free to choose any real-world setting as well as the size, height, and function of the proposed building. One of the most important aspects of the brief is for students to consider how the building positively responds to global issues such as climate change and rapid population growth.

This again circles back to and reinforces the idea that skyscrapers are extensions of the city, and can potentially offer significant benefits both to people and the environment through increased density. Skyscrapers are also laboratories for innovation, as the very best examples incorporate features that promote urban green spaces while reducing energy consumption and physical waste. By challenging students to consider next-generation technologies in their approach to solving today’s urban problems, CTBUH hopes to inspire future industry leaders to focus not just on the commercial aspects of tall buildings, but on the human experience as well.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

We’re hoping to receive submissions from architecture and engineering students of all levels from around the globe, as we have in past years. Contestants receive numerous benefits from participating, including monetary prizes worth thousands of dollars awarded to the top five finalists. These finalists are also provided a stipend to attend the annual CTBUH Conference, where they get the opportunity to present their project in front of the jury in order to determine the first through fifth place awards. This may be the most valuable aspect of the competition for students, as it allows their work to be presented to the most prominent leaders in the tall building industry and gives the contestants an opportunity to network with an audience of global professionals.