ST Scroll Back: Would you feel safe living in a 70-storey wooden skyscraper?

The 337m-high Dubai residential block called The Torch was the scene of two separate fires.
The 337m-high Dubai residential block called The Torch was the scene of two separate fires.PHOTO:TWITTER/@WHATSONDUBAI

We take a closer look at high-rises as the Rochor demolition made some of us sad, a Singapore hotel named Best Tall Building Worldwide made us proud, and a 57-storey building erected in weeks made some feel wobbly.

They literally stick out - not quite by a mile, but at heights of 500m to 800m, we’re getting there.

So when skyscrapers go up in a couple of weeks, or go up in flames, or when a raccoon goes up to the rooftop using just its claws, it’s awfully dramatic.

Ditto for when tall buildings (or parts of them, like decorative features) come down.

It was a dramatically dark and stormy morning when the demolition of the colourful Rochor Centre public housing estate here began on June 26.

While it’s a sad day for some Singapore residents, it’s not unusual for us to see buildings regularly getting demolished as they get sold en bloc, or as areas are redeveloped. In fact, Singapore skyscrapers appear quite a number of times on a global list of 100 Tallest Demolished Buildings.

But as concrete comes tumbling down, will we see more wooden high-rise buildings go up in the future? “The future is certainly wood”, said a building expert. It’s in the works or already up in countries like London, Sweden and Canada.

In Singapore, though, what’s going up is more of a “rethink of the tropical skyscraper”.

Oasia Hotel Downtown, designed by local architecture firm Woha, was named 2018’s Best Tall Building Worldwide in May by the Council On Tall Buildings And Urban Habitat, a global authority on tall buildings and future cities.

Read on to find out more about a 70-storey wooden skyscraper in Japan, and see how wobbly we feel about living in such a place.

CRUSHING IT


The Rochor Centre blocks will be demolished floor by floor, with works expected to finish in April 2019. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Rochor Centre is not the first building we’ve said goodbye to and, of course, won’t be the last.

Singapore is not quite up there with New York in terms of the number of tallest buildings demolished in the world, but we've had quite a few.

Size them up in the graphics below. 


ST DIGITAL GRAPHICS 


Office buildings in Manhattan, New York. The term “skyscraper” first came into use during the 1880s, shortly after the first ones were built in the United States.  PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

By some accounts, Japan is crushing it when it comes to demolition works that appear as polite as the people there.

When Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka was being demolished in 2013, bemused passers-by saw the 140m-high tower quietly growing shorter.

There was no blowing it up, or slamming it with a wrecking ball.

Instead of using cranes to take the building apart from the outside, through Taisei Corporation’s Ecological Reproduction System (Tecorep), they start from the inside, taking the structure apart floor by floor from the top down, reported Popular Science

Wired said: “Floors being worked on from the top down are taken apart, bit by bit. This means starting with the floor itself, removing beams and concrete, which are then transported to the ground using a crane inside the building that actually generates electricity from this motion (this is then used to run other equipment used in the demolition). 

“With the interior salvaged and clean energy used to dismantle it, Taisei Corporation’s head of construction technology development Hideki Ichihara said carbon emissions are reduced.”

85 per cent
Amount by which carbon emissions was reduced by Tecorep. 

Between 17 and 23 decibels
Amount by which noise was reduced by Tecorep.

90 per cent
Amount by which dust levels were reduced by Tecorep.

‘RUSHING’ IT

In 2015, a construction company erected a 57-storey skyscraper over 19 working days in China.

Broad Sustainable Building, a prefab construction firm, put up the rectangular, glass and steel Mini Sky City in the Hunan provincial capital of Changsha, assembling three floors a day using a modular method, the vice-president, Mr Xiao Changgeng, said to The Guardian.

The structure is safe and can withstand earthquakes, according to Mr Xiao.

But could our nerves withstand the anxiety of living in high-rise erected in less time than it would take for some home renovations?

19 
Number of atriums in Mini Sky City.

800 
Number of apartments in Mini Sky City.

4,000
Number of people Mini Sky City had planned the office space for. 

WOOD WE LIVE IN THIS?


An artist’s impression of the planned wooden high-rise - dubbed the W350. The structure will be a hybrid of mostly wood as well as steel. PHOTO: SUMITOMO FORESTRY

The Japanese aren’t just ambitious about taking down buildings with eco-elegance. 

They’re also ambitious about putting up the world’s tallest wooden skyscraper with 90 per cent of the building made of wood.

 

Sumitomo Forestry says its wooden high-rise - dubbed the W350 - will be 350m tall, and the planned structure will be a hybrid of mostly wood as well as steel.

The 70-storey building, expected to be built in Tokyo, will be made up of stores, offices, hotels and private homes, the company noted in plans released in February 2018.

NBC reported that the high-rise would dwarf the University of British Columbia’s 18-storey Brock Commons building in Vancouver, which is the world’s tallest wooden building.

The Canadian residence was erected in just 70 days after the wood components arrived on site. 

It’s made of cross-laminated timber (CLT) and features some concrete and steel as well.

“The future is certainly wood… There has been long-standing issues around combustibility with current building regulations to make everyone feel comfortable and safe.” - Mr Shane Williamson, a principal at the architecture firm Williamson Williamson in Toronto, told The Globe And Mail. He added that CLT in some ways could be considered a replacement for concrete.

WOULD WE DIE IN SKYSCRAPER FIRES?

Panicked residents fled one of the tallest towers in the glitzy Gulf city state of Dubai in 2017 after a fire ripped through it. 

Called, well, The Torch, the 337m-high residential block was the scene of two blazes.

The authorities said no casualties were reported.

Once the tallest residential development in the world with 86 storeys, the tower was the scene of an inferno in 2015 that caused extensive damage to its luxury apartments and triggered an evacuation of nearby blocks.


The Pinnacle@Duxton is the first 50-storey public housing project in Singapore. ST FILE PHOTO

Back in Singapore, a fire broke out in the bedroom of a 48th floor unit at The Pinnacle@Duxton in May 2018, with a man and a woman taken to hospital for smoke inhalation.

It is the first 50-storey public housing project in Singapore.

If it were left to moviemakers, we would face high risks of dying while in, on or falling off skyscrapers as film characters.

Tall buildings have long been their target for dramatic action shots.

Skyscraper - starring Dwayne Johnson, set to be released this month (July) - is the latest in the long line of high-rises being wrecked to entertain us. Here are more:

  • Furious 7, 2015: Car jumps from one Abu Dhabi skyscraper into another. Vroom! And does it one more time.
  • Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, 2011: Star Tom Cruise climbs Dubai's Burj Khalifa. A window or two - and maybe bones - are broken. Someone is knocked out of said window.
  • The Torch… I mean, The Towering Inferno, 1974: Building on fire.
  • King Kong, 1933, 2005: King Kong scales the Empire State Building. Roar! And does it one more time.

WOULD THE SKYSCRAPER RACCOON LIVE OR DIE?


A raccoon on a Minnesota skyscraper, worrying lots of humans who followed the action online. PHOTO: REUTERS

We wouldn’t call it entertaining, since a little life was at stake. But it was riveting and very worrying.

A raccoon captured the attention of people on social media and seemed to raise the prospect of a collective national heart attack in the United States.

The masked animal did so by scaling a Minnesota skyscraper like it was Spider-Man, terrifying loads of worried humans who followed the action online.

Watch the clip for a happy, warm and fuzzy ending.