The Astute Architect

Construction jobs? Think bigger (and taller)

Construction jobs? Think bigger (and taller)

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On Wednesday, President Obama called for $100 billion in construction stimulus, almost all of which would be spent on transportation projects. The...

On Wednesday, President Obama called for $100 billion in construction stimulus, almost all of which would be spent on transportation projects. The funds would create 400,000 jobs, he says, mainly for those famous “shovel ready” projects -- fixing roads.

I have a better idea: Let’s set our sights higher than potholes. Let’s build more super-tall buildings in our cities. Now.

Shelved plans for American Commerce Center, would have created Philadelphia's tallest.

Spend the jobs-bill cash on skyscrapers, and you’ll produce more jobs, faster. Flash-track Philadelphia’s derailed American Commerce Center -- a 1,510-foot-tall scheme shelved in August after a change in ownership -- and you’d have construction workers digging holes and pounding piers while teams of engineers and architects fire up their computers.

Skyscrapers grab headlines

Road endure, but high-rise buildings prevail. They attract big corporate money, bank financing, and political will. Talk about a stimulus. Transamerica just put its logo on Baltimore’s former Legg Mason tower, and Coach announced yesterday they’ll anchor a new 51-story Hudson Yards tower in Manhattan. Promoters call it the Rockefeller Center of the 21st century. And in mid-October, Los Angeles-based CIM Group proposed a sleek, 1,300-foot Rafael Viñoly-designed residential tower on Park Avenue.

At these heights, there’s no recession.

But we can go higher still. The current exhibition "Supertall!" at New York City’s Skyscraper Museum confirms that lofty dreams beat long odds. The always spot-on James S. Russell wrote that while the “skyscraper curse” seems to bring on recessions, there are more mega-tall projects now (greater than 1,250 feet) than in 2007, despite real-estate markets collapsing all around.

Coach will headquarter at Hudson Yards

Of course, yes, most of them are in Asia. But if Trump can do it in Chicago, anyone can: his vulgar riverside residential whopper got built. Today the rental market is strong in the centers of San Francisco, Boston, Washington, Los Angeles, Milwaukee and more. Even Honolulu just announced its 650-foot-tall project, 690 Pohukaina: It will be one-third taller than the current standout, First Hawaiian Bank Center. What’s going inside? A zeitgeist mix of 200 affordable rentals, 300 affordable housing units and 500 market-priced apartments.

Skyscrapers: Affordable and cool. Office leasing may come back one day, but in the meantime watch for hordes of renters looking for green, modestly sized spaces in skyscrapers with drop-dead views.

Casinos in the sky

Need more money? Give our many casino developers the green light – if they build vertically. The triple-towered Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, with its crazy bridging roof garden, is sheer genius. Steve Wynn is eyeing Miami World Center, in part a response to Genting Group’s $4 billion resort gambit there.

Enough fun. Now eat your spinach: Sprawl is a dead-end. Density is the sustainable future. A buck we invest in roads disappears; a dollar in a super-tall tower creates magic.

Steve Wynn may buy into Miami World Center.

More than that, today we need good P.R., and there’s no better P.R. than plans for a huge new mega-scraper. That’s why developers love them. Forget the flat tax: Let’s hear the presidential candidates propose some really crazy tall building plans. The folks back home may be leery of greenlighting projects in this economy, but this economy is exactly the reason to do so.

Just one question: Is the new World Trade Center leased up? Yes, it is.

Yes, we can.

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C.C. Sullivan

Columnist (Architecture)

C.C. Sullivan is principal of a marketing and advertising agency by the same name focused on the shelter, construction and architectural markets. Formerly, he was chief editor of the magazines Architecture and Building Design & Construction, and launched the Home of the Year awards with Metropolitan Home. He holds a degree from Yale University and previously worked for the architects Tai Soo Kim, Emery Roth & Sons, and Angel Fernandez Alba (Madrid). Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure