Tall Buildings Week: Sustainability priority – Density or Energy Consumption

Tall Buildings Week consists a series of articles and blog posts focussed on the draft Tall Buildings Policy put forward by the City of Cape Town, which will “provide guidance during the early phases of the design and planning process for tall buildings in Cape Town”. The draft policy is available for perusal from 1 March 2012 at the City’s 24 Subcouncil offices, municipal libraries and Planning District Offices; as well as here.

by Gareth Pearson

In Urban Planning theory, density is generally considered as the more sustainable option, as opposed to urban sprawl. The argument being that density promotes sustainable ideals: such as walk-ability, healthy community living, and so forth. However, researchers at Columbia University in New York have designed an interactive map that shows the energy consumption of every building in New York (yes all five boroughs).

From the map it is easy to see that Manhattan has the highest energy consumption. The map is solely based on energy consumption per building and does not account for population figures. It is no surprise that skyscraper heaven has the highest energy consumption. Office buildings easily consume more energy than any other building type. However, with Manhattan also being the densest borough, does this research discredit density as a sustainable model for urban planning, or is it simply necessary to design low energy consumption buildings?