Inside The World’s Best Tall Buildings

The best skyscrapers today don’t defy nature, they embrace it.

When skyscrapers first appeared in the U.S. in the late 1800s, they were the antithesis of the natural world–consummate manmade achievements. These days, they’re still monumental feats of engineering, but nature is beginning to creep back in.


Several of the winning buildings in this year’s “Best Tall Building Worldwide” contest have green elements, starting with One Central Park, in Sydney. The winning design incorporates 250 types of Australian flowers and plants, and vines and leaves spring out from every floor. Foliage is allowed to grow in several panels where windows would normally be, and there are balcony gardens at more than one level. Many of the plants are grown using soil-less hydroponics.

Jockey Club Innovation TowerVirgile Simon Bertrand

Most unusually, One Central Park, which was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, also has a large overhanging cantilever covered with motorized heliostat mirrors. When the building needs heat, they reflect inwards. Otherwise, they point outwards, distributing light to a nearby park and surroundings.

The awards are organized by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, which received 88 entries this year. Other winners include the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building, an 18-story office tower in Portland, Oregon, that picked up the Americas prize. Constructed in 1974, it was recently renovated with a completely new energy-saving facade.

The De Rotterdam in Holland won the European prize. Designed by Rem Koolhaas, the building looks like three towers made into six blocks, with the top sections shifted off-center. It powers itself with an enormous biofuel-based combined heat and power system, with cooling provided by the nearby River Maas.

DeRotterdamOMA/Richard John Seymour

Meanwhile, the Middle East prize went to the Cayan Tower, a Dubai tower that twists a total of 90 degrees along its 1,000-foot height.

With temperatures rising in many cities, several of the designs emphasize ways to keep cool. The most innovative is the NBF Osaki Building, in Tokyo, which is covered with a network of ceramic pipes called a bioskin. The building collects rainwater and pumps it throughout. The developers say the system reduces the heat inside by as much as 12 degrees Celsius.


In the future, skyscrapers will surely integrate more such sustainable features, so that natural and man-made worlds are more connected than ever.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.