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Are “landscrapers” the new skyscrapers? (qz.com)
43 points by prostoalex 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 63 comments

I think this is a silly use of real estate. The entire point of building an n-story building is you get to multiply your usable land area by n. Those who point to tall down-towns are right. A built up city has more land area than the map would suggest and can thus fit more people and more activity. Even better is the fact that a single utility link (electric, gas, sewage) to an n-floor building does the same work as n links to n 1-floor buildings. Its just more efficient.

I get the complaints about having to travel by elevator all the time and not having as much ground level community. Which is why I don't understand why sky-ways never became popular. There's no technological reason you couldn't have an interconnected upper level with shops and public/commercial space. Perhaps its just a problem on getting all the different developers and governments to agree on the standards for a modular interconnected second level.

One of the problems with tall buildings, especially super-tall ones, is the amount of interior that gets eaten up by non-usable infrastructure and support. For example, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai occupies about 17 acres (just under 7 hectares), while offering about 3.6 million square feet of interior floor space (about 83 acres or about 33.5 hectares) for a ratio of space:footprint that's < 5.

This means that if they simply occupied all the land and went up for 5 floors they'd have more floor space.

Example, the Pentagon in the U.S., with 5 floors and 6.5 million square feet has more usable square footage than the Burj, the tallest building in the world.

Burj Khalifa is not a utilitarian building, and clearly an outlier, so I don't really see why you would use it as an example except to mislead people. The Empire State Building which was mentioned in the article has 2.7 million square feet of office space built on 80k square feet of land.

It's an optimization problem. As buildings get taller and taller more and more of the interior space gets taken up by support framework, transportation and utility service bits. The Burj Khalifa is notable because it's also a case where in order to construct a building of its height, the shape of the supporting infrastructure of the building is also fundamentally compromised such that there's less usable interior per unit height.

The Pentagon is interesting as a building because it was put up very quickly and remains one of the largest buildings by usable square footage in the world. But of course it's not a raw optimization. There's a 5+ acre center courtyard that's non-structural and each part of the pentagon is composed of 5 concentric "rings" with space between them for natural light to get into the building. Despite this, it's still a more efficient use of land acreage vs. the Burj.

I tend to agree with the comments about height, but re: skyways - they're just kind of weird. They're not public spaces, so they can be exclusionary. And the vibe is just kind of weird. Downtown Atlanta below the skyways is already eerily quiet for a major city, but within them... I don't know, I have a constant feeling that I'm trespassing even though I'm not. Does anyone else get this feeling?

In downtown Minneapolis the feeling I get is, “It’s -20° out there I don’t care if I’m allowed to be up here or not.”

Edit: For anyone who hasn’t spent time in the twin cities, the skyways are public transit.

Skyways suck - tall building real estate is at a premium, and now there's a freeway through your cubicle.

And buildings have a height limit. With brick, it was the point where the bottom storey had walls so thick, it became a pedestal of brick. So making them taller than 20 stories or so got you no more space.

With steel construction, its elevators. The point where the bottom storey was entirely made up of elevator banks, and making it taller gets you no more interior space. The Twin Towers were there. The Sears (Willits) Tower is there.

Could make more sense when connecting already public spaces. Let's say vertically built shopping malls directly connected to some big metro/train station. From there you could reach your premium office spaces farther away from the station. There must be some sort of gateway/junction point which would be public but other than that office space could remain off limits. I doubt you'd have random people walking through your cubicle.

To connect a grid of buildings, multiple skyways. So there must be a 'freeway' through each building, for traffic passing through. Using up valuable floor space, chopping the floor into pieces, noise outside your office. Not good however you do it.

We have these in downtown Cedar Rapids. Its awful.

Matter of taste, I believe... For me this public floor wouldn't be a waste. You could have boutiques, newspapers stand, florist or cafe, you name it, similarly to ground floors. When you have 50 floors "wasting" one or two for the connection shouldn't be a big deal. Of course everything boils down to how well is it designed and implemented and how many people actually uses it. In my place there are skyways between big department stores. Only two and not that spectacular but it works nice, is convenient, doesn't spoil overall architecture. I'd gladly see more such solutions in future.

Hah, interesting. I'll make a detour through Cedar Rapids next time I'm in the area to check them out - the disadvantages are far from obvious.

Further you need a map to figure out where to go next. The locals all know, but to the uninitiated its a maze. So you get confused folks wandering into the wrong places all the time.

Skyscrapers are viable in only a few areas. Cost increases as you build up. Landscrapers make sense where real-estate prices aren't so high.

I'm not commenting about London in particular. Maybe a landscraper in London doesn't make sense. I don't know. But landscrapers do make sense in other places.

>Landscrapers make sense where real-estate prices aren't so high.

Except when real-estate prices aren't high, you're usually super far away from industry and population... the things that drive up real-estate prices.

If proximity to related companies wasn't important, why does Silicon Valley or Hollywood even exist instead of a peppering of low-cost buildings across the midwest? We already know the answer.

Companies like Amazon can afford to "create" new hotspots and ship engineers there. Literal tiny towns with a gigantic new data center that can attract "support" business like new restaurants. But for most companies, there's a benefit to being around other companies. (e.g. My software company buys hardware and services hard drive failures from an IT company across the street.) And what happens when you have lots of companies around? The competition for space drives prices up. And what happens when so many companies want that space? The buildings start moving upward into the sky.

It's simple economics. Land is valuable. Especially in tiny overpopulated places like England and many EU states. This should not be surprising or new knowledge.

You missed my point, which isn't that skyscrapers shouldn't exist but that they're not viable everywhere, and so saying "skyscrapers are a better use of real estate than landscrapers" is too simplistic.

It's like saying a metro carries more people faster, so they're better than roads. They're better only where the density justifies their construction. Likewise, skyscrapers are better only in some situations.

India is also overpopulated, with a population density of 382 people per sq km vs the world average of 51, but that doesn't mean it makes sense to build skyscrapers everywhere in India.

skyscrapers are mostly about making a statement....there are very few places in the world where land is truly so expensive that absolutely everyone, even the wealthiest corporations in the world, must build up.

Apple's new campus for example is basically a landscraper.

Lot size is a major factor. In many cities, the block sizes are just way too small to support sprawled campuses.

Apple's lot in Cupertino is approximately 2400 ft by 3400 ft (although it's trapezoidal, not rectangular). For comparison, that's roughly the entirety of downtown Providence. Or, superimposed on Manhattan's grid, 9 streets by 4 avenues. It's roughly the dimensions of the elevated loop tracks in Chicago.

The Empire State Building occupies 1 street by ½ avenue. Sears Tower is on a lot about 450 ft square (one slot in the Chicago grid system). You just simply can't acquire the land in cities that you would need to build landscrapers.

> You just simply can't acquire the land in cities that you would need to build landscrapers.

Except, the OP case is London, which has some of the most expensive real-estate prices on the planet.

Not that I disagree with your overall point, just this final statement doesn't ring true.


Let me check the bottom of my purse. Just a little bit short (measured in decimal places, about 8 of them).

TLDR: this landscraper is Google's way of storing/investing it's offshore cash, at it's heart it's a tax dodge (funny how it isn't mentioned in Mr. Khan's comments that a LOT of companies in London are in fact there purely as a tax dodge).

No offense, but this is clearly a marketing fluff peice.

It looks like every other mid-rise commercial building development.

Is it the future? Absolutely, if by future, you mean the 80's, but everything is shiny and labeled with the adjective "smart" for some reason.

Almost as innovative as Apple's relabelling of the suburban office/business park.

When the hell did everything become marketing...

Yep, this is a Google overseas investment/tax dodge. Everything else about the building is secondary at best, for both Google and frankly, for the rest us too.


The only reason this is a "landscraper" and not a 50 story building is because of land use regulations, namely, London's height limits.

Asia, unburdened by the West's ridiculous land policies, is skyscraper heaven.

Google's NYC building (111 8th Ave) is 790 ft long -- not as long as the new one's 1,082 ft, but still comparable. Few people realize it's NYC's fourth-largest building, since it's only 15 stories. [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/111_Eighth_Avenue

Google's 111 8th Ave NYC building completed in 1932, at 2.9 million square feet (270,000 m2), it is currently the city's fourth largest building in terms of floor area as of 2014. It was the largest building until 1963 when the 3.14-million-square-foot (292,000 m2) MetLife Building opened.

This doesn't seem a good idea. I don't think cities should sprawl even more. Even Silicon Valley would probably be better off if they had built up instead of all the one or two level office parks.

It would depend upon many factors. Height restrictions are one of them. There are social, environmental, and engineering considerations on that front. Current land use practices are another. It may be possible to gain tremendous boosts in density even with mid-rise buildings. Then there are the diminishing returns to land use while building up since you are talking about many independent structures that require a certain amount of separation.

These buildings are by no means sprawling office parks. They are simply the realization that horizontal may be better than vertical in some cases.

Monoliths are problematic. They're dull, they're poorly connected, they're in the way. It's worse when they're arranged horizontally because people tend to move horizontally. When you build up, the problems mostly develop for the people inside your building. When you build across, you obstruct everyone around you.

How are these "landscrapers" different from sprawling office parks? The key difference I notice is that the plan doesn't include an ocean of parking (which admittedly is a big part of why office parks are terrible).

This is really no different than existing low story construction except connect the building instead of leaving them unconnected. If anything it's worse since there is now now variety at all, and enormous multiple blocks of sameness.

Part of what makes old-school cities so pedestrian friendly was having a variety of small shops to stop in. A bakery, grocer, butcher, clothing store all only a few windows wide. This is like building an enormous Home Depot, Costco and Circuit City in the middle of downtown. This does not make a pedestrian friendly city.

Doesn't a good portion of London (where this is built) already have whole blocks of low rise terraced housing? The only difference seems to be more holes in the wall and less doors.

"Landscrapers" will (obviously) have fewer, but larger floors. For certain types of organizations (e.g. software development organizations) this can be a real advantage, since more of the people that each person needs to work with can be on the same floor. Being separated by even a single floor can make a remarkably big difference to communication.

Interesting point. Reminds me of one of the major arguments in Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steels as to why the Old World conquered the New and not vice-versa.

Eurasia is a "landscraper" (oriented longitudinally) allowing for easier trade and exchange of innovations (especially related to agriculture and animal domestication) along a broad expanse of land.

The Americas are a skyscraper (more latitudinal orientation) with greater diversity of climate and topology that impeded the spread of some innovations and technologies.

Jared Diamond's thesis (rather like I feel the skyscraper/landscraper thesis is) is quite overstated. The climatic zones running from Mesopotamia to China are quite varied, and there's rather little evidence for technology transfer between these two endpoints. By contrast, the climatic zone from the northern edge of the Valley of Mexico to the boreal forests in Canada is basically one smooth temperature gradient, and we do know of rather extensive trading and tech transfer in North America (particularly, the introduction of maize to the independently-developed agriculture quite revolutionized developments in eastern North America). Not to mention the fact that the Americas don't seem so far behind Eurasia the more we do the archaeology: Norte Chico is now dated to at least 3200-3500 BC, a date competitive with Ancient Egypt and not too far behind Sumeria in terms of developing civilization.

I definitely agree, our dev organization has been outgrowing our current space and one team move to an adjacent floor and I barely see them anymore. Even though I don't directly collaborate with them I miss the small chats about what they are doing.

Because people are obviously more willing to talk to people ¼ mile away, but on the same floor, than the person on the floor above them, right?

I think the floor argument is oversold: what matters is proximity, and particularly the aptitude to congregate in common areas (such as water fountains). Once you're talking about choosing between a 15-story 1 block building versus a 5-story 3 block building, you're already big enough that you've lost proximity and common area congregation, so it doesn't really matter that much either way.

Maybe one floor will be an open air office the as long as the empire State building is high.

I was imagining a giant hole in the ground, but low, very long buildings are no doubt more practical.

Why is it an era of landscapers when Google builds it but not even thought of when it is a regular shopping mall? Plenty of shopping malls with these sizes around the world. Also build as one long “landscraper”. I would say landscapers are already there for many years, just not by a fancy company.

You build skyscrapers in locations where ground is scarce and expensive, you build landscapers in locations where it is the opposite. In dense areas with high ground prices you accept the building cost overhead, in other areas you go for cheaper building costs and accept the increased price on land (as compared to a skyscraper at the same location).

I don't think the author is familiar with the Merchandise Mart in Chicago nor the Frank Gehry design of Facebook's new mega building (to cite 2 well known non US govt. examples).

It's a "campus". That sure sounds cooler than "commercial office space".

Reminds me of ibm’s old boca raton campus (where they invented the PC and did OS/2 with MS). You could walk for a few hours down those corridors, it was just one long 3 or 4 story building, or at least that’s how it felt.

No, because skyscrapers are tall. They allow you to get a lot of working space out of relatively little of Earth's surface area. This thing doesn't offer anywhere near that sort of surface-area economy. They could get away with putting it in London, because London. Elongated buildings are commonplace in London, apparently because of local laws. If Google wants to build in a place where land surface area is precious -- downtown Manhattan, say, or any city in Japan -- it'll be hard to beat the good old skyscraper.

I think the crucial technology which would make such cities practical in the future would be innovation in transportation, whether that be something like lateral elevators for short distances (of course "elevate" may be a misnomer here), or hyperloop for longer distances. Building vertically has the benefit of squeezing more utility out of land area, but has drawbacks which can make city life less comfortable.

I love it. We do not live on Coruscant, space is not at such a premium even in London or NYC that you must push higher and higher. Skyscrapers are sterile; nothing happens at street level. The entire purpose is to isolate. The landscrapers have a more humane elevation and will end up creating entire neighborhoods.

This style of architecture definitely allows for more sunlight and doesn't dirty the skyline with nasty highly reflective glass. Sometimes you're located in an area that is better without skyscrapers. Although I'm sure most of the posts here will be about "inefficiency".

All the amenities made possible with high density but also convenient to take the stairs... Its a wonderful thing after living on the 33rd floor for many years. Interesting to see how this works out.

> From some angles, it may resemble a landlocked cruise ship.

- Does not look anything like a cruise landlocked cruise ship.

This, Sea World in Shenzhen, [1] is a mall built to look like a landlocked cruise ship. Google's building is not.

The U.S. Government used to build office buildings a few stories high but huge in length. The Pentagon is the most notable example, but there were many others built in the 1940s through the 1960s. They were built sturdily and cheaply, like parking garages.

[1] https://youtu.be/NTcx0OHehdE?t=35

I wonder about the fire issues. I'd rather have two buildings with a gap to act as a fire break.

It’s just a normal looking building for that area, or am I missing something?

Does this "landscraper" have the horizontal equivalent of an elevator (i.e. something where you push a button and it moves you anywhere horizontally in ~20 seconds)?

It seems like that might knock you over, but maybe there's a fun workaround (or just seats I guess).

From the article:

"Future employees might move around landscrapers on elevators that zoom back and forth laterally, not only up and down, she notes. That technology already exists in Germany, where ThyssenKrupp has recently sold the first elevator that can move up, down, sideways and diagonally—controlled by magnetic levitation—to a residential building in Berlin."

Why would you do something so bizarre when we have perfectly good conveyor belts, as used in most major airports?

Conveyor belts are slow. They realized long ago that you can't accelerate a standing human too fast and that stepping on to a conveyor belt takes you to max speed nearly instantly. Any faster and people need a running start to jump on.

Solved problem. There are actually moving sidewalks that accelerate you as they go, see https://www.treehugger.com/urban-design/accel-moving-sidewal...

Somewhere I saw a prototype of a multi-belt system as well. You get on a shorter one at normal speed, and you can either transition to one moving twice as fast as the first, or you can step off completely. The speed difference from stationary to slow is the same as from slow to fast - you just accelerate by shifting belts.

The link shows the "fast" speed as being 2m/s, which is still just a brisk walk. You'd be better off with bicycles or segways.

You could have multiple conveyor belts in parallel, running at different speeds, so that the difference between them is not too much.

This is an old science-fiction idea, Robert Heinlein's _The Roads Must Roll_ was published in 1940. When I looked this up to get a date for the citation, I found that H. G. Wells used the idea in 1910 as well.


Elevators have better latency, but conveyor belts have much better bandwidth.

Could always use something like Multi. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdTsbFS4xmI

Strip malls, factories, and suburban office parks are all associated with dense, vibrant, walkable cities, so, yeah, this makes sense.

Please don't post unsubstantive comments here? I'm sure many of us share your sympathies. I probably do too, though it's hard to know for sure in the absence of any information. None of that matters, though, because this kind of comment just takes threads into internet brown.

We need better than this, especially early on, in order to have thoughtful conversation.


I'm beginning to sense that it wasn't my clearest comment.

> Please don't post unsubstantive comments here?

I don't understand your question.

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