Reach for the sky

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Property developers in Vietnam are locked in a race to build the biggest and best skyscrapers as a stronger economy allows them to pursue expensive projects with modern construction technology.

Deputy Chairman of the Vietnam Construction Federation, Pham Sy Liem, sat down with Thanh Nien Weekly to explore the bigger picture.

Thanh Nien Weekly: Can you explain the current trend of building skyscrapers?

Pham Sy Liem: Rising prices of urban land have encouraged the construction of high-rise buildings. And, with recent scientific and technological developments, it is easier to construct such buildings.

The fact that buildings are getting higher reflects the wishes of the people. Skyscrapers act as major landmarks and define and highlight urban space.

This is the general theory, but the situation varies in different countries.

In Western countries, high-rise buildings are in central areas only. Even in the US, people live in buildings a few stories high in the suburbs.

Asian countries have very high population densities. High-rise buildings are more common, even in countries with unfavorable geographic conditions. For example, in Japan, where earthquakes occur, they build high-rise buildings instead of low wooden houses like before.

In Vietnam, high-rise buildings spring up because people want to make full use of the land in the context of high land prices.

What are some of the advantages and disadvantages associated with the construction of skyscrapers?

High-rise buildings have caused some problems. They get more sunshine, so the temperature is one or two degrees higher than in surrounding areas.

But, they also have advantages. They increase the population density, which leads to more contacts and reduced traveling costs. Many banks, financial agencies, and big firms open in high-rise buildings.

Will high population density put more pressure on the urban transport infrastructure, which is already facing problems?

Obviously, it will cause a strain on the infrastructure. But it will also spur people to improve urban transport, for example an underground transport system.

Central urban areas suffer from air and noise pollution. This has led many rich people, who used to live in the center, to relocate to the suburbs to escape the pollution and traffic congestion.

In short, the fact that high-rise buildings have sprung up like mushrooms in the central urban areas is a natural development trend, which has both advantages and disadvantages.

In Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, high-rise buildings have emerged, making the cities' already high population densities even higher. The congestion which was already bad is getting worse.

The construction of high-rise buildings is a natural development. The issue is how to regulate it.

It is difficult to stop the construction of skyscrapers, so we need to regulate how high they are, where they should be built, and which areas to protect.

For example, around Hoan Kiem Lake (in Hanoi), the more skyscrapers are built, the smaller the lake appears. Society is now opposed to the construction of skyscrapers there.

It is necessary to really research the issue to prevent the unbridled development of skyscrapers.

Is it necessary to have an overall design for urban development?

We need a plan for urban development. But, it is difficult for an urban area to develop under our design and our imagination.

Paris, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, still has an area called La Defense, which is surrounded by groups of high-rise buildings. Meanwhile, other parts of the city still remain untouched with old houses.

So, the only thing we should do is to keep new buildings in line with those that were constructed earlier.

We should only make short-term urban development designs, as it is very difficult to say how cities will develop in the long-term.

What is the future for skyscrapers in Vietnam?

I think the trend of building skyscrapers in Hanoi and HCMC will continue. The issue is where we allow the high-rise buildings, and how tall they are.

Now, people are trying to build record-breaking skyscrapers. Take Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Towers as an example. They were built to create a national trademark, which is necessary to improve competitiveness in the context of globalization.

Scientific and technological developments mean that people can build skyscrapers as tall as they want. Such buildings can even be built in areas that are vulnerable to flooding and earthquakes. Look at the Taipei 101 Tower as an example of a high-rise in a city where earthquakes occur.

What should the authorities look out for when licensing the construction of skyscrapers?

We should not build skyscrapers in areas where the urban character should be preserved. For example, we should not damage the old quarter in Hanoi to construct high-rise buildings, even if they are five to seven stories high. All cities, like people, have a history. So, planners should take this into consideration. That is not to say that all low buildings are good, and all skyscrapers are bad.

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