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DEBATE - High rise

DEBATE: The collapse of the World Trade Center towers has given new impetus to discussions over the merits of tall buildings. Urban designers and planners are already split over whether they enhance or destroy city landscapes. This week we ask: Should the

Yes - Gordon Masterton, director, engineering, Babtie Group.

Skyscrapers evolved from the economic imperative of maximising the return on prime building land in city centres.

But there are other benefits in building high: green spaces are preserved, public transport systems are more focused and efficient, urban sprawl is minimised, and the cost of the public utility network is reduced.

High rise Manhattan is more efficient, and arguably more sustainable, than the suburban sprawl of Los Angeles. The best tall buildings are also dramatic and inspiring structures to work in or simply to admire.

There is no denying that the events of 11 September in New York have shaken our confidence in tall buildings as safe places to live and work. Is this worth restoring?

Kenneth Clark wrote that civilisation, above all, is measured by confidence. A threat to confidence is a threat to civilisation.

We will learn from WTC and this will lead to greater awareness of how to design for intrinsic robustness, intrinsic safety, and rapid means of escape. But political resolution of the conflicts that nurture terrorism would be an even more effective contribution to the healing process.

Ultimately it will be confidence that determines the future of high rise: the confidence of developers, the confidence of prospective tenants and the confidence of insurers.

If engineers react responsibly and intelligently to WTC, we can do a huge service in restoring public confidence in tall buildings. They deserve it of us.

Tall buildings are the exuberant expressions of a vibrant civilisation, a wonderful part of our civic landscape and an efficient use of land.

The Victorian critic John Ruskin said: 'When we build, let us think that we build forever.'

Let's hold on to that belief. Now, more than ever.

Build high, and build well, but most of all, build intelligently. In time confidence, and with it one of the basic freedoms which constitute our civilisation, will return.

No - Robert Shaw, policy officer, Town & Country Planning Association.

In the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the high rise development debate in the UK has entered a new phase. Much of the argument so far has been a natural knee-jerk reaction.

But when things begin to get back to normal, the old issues will still be there: do people like them, are they socially harmful, do they fit with existing cityscapes? And there is no doubt that there will be new considerations too: in people's minds tall buildings are vulnerable to terrorist attack and it seems likely higher insurance premiums and enhanced safety will make them far more expensive to own and occupy.

These issues are likely to reduce the demand for tall buildings and could well push businesses in space-strapped cities to move into suburbs and smaller urban centres.

The events of 11 September may make a lot of people rethink the way they work. However, despite it being possible to carry out many jobs without needing to be in an office, this disregards the social aspects of work.

British cities are generally low rise and towering skyscrapers look out of place. More innovative solutions are required so that high densities can be achieved without high rise.

Planning for dispersal of jobs into suburbs and smaller urban centres would help to spread employment opportunities and, by limiting the need to travel, reduce the burden on central transport infrastructure. People would feel safer without tall buildings.

There is no real need to build huge skyscrapers. Europe has done fine without large numbers. Projecting prestige and power is the only real reason for putting them up, and that is no justification for society as a whole, for which a human scale is more important.

We should turn our backs on high rise development and concentrate instead on housing people in quality medium densities close to jobs and amenities.

Recent events may not only spell the end of high rise, but also of the distinction between urban and suburban.

The facts Steel frame construction was born in the US in the late 19th century, leading to a tall building rivalry between New York and Chicago. Early exponents included US architect Louis Sullivan and German emigre Mies van der Rohe.

Mid-20th century designers evolved the idea of tall buildings as 'cities in the sky', containing living, work, retail and leisure space under one roof.

In the run-up to the second world war German architects argued that tall buildings presented a smaller target to the new threat of aerial bombardment than sprawling low rise development.

The world's tallest building is the 452m Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur but the Shanghai World Financial Centre, now under construction, will reach 460m if completed.

Today there are more plans to build skyscrapers in London than at any time in the capital's history. These include a new tower on Bishopsgate, and a 305m high shard of glass for London Bridge.

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