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Towering ambition for city; With Birmingham poised to get a new office tower in the Central Business District, Knight Frank's Ashley Hudson examines the appeal of skyscrapers to office occupiers.

ACCORDING to Knight Frank's recently published 'Skyscrapers 2015 Report', a supplement of their annual Global Cities report, the world's cities are in the midst of a skyscraper building boom.

Much of this development is overseas, particularly in the Far East and China. There, tall buildings are designed to demonstrate the success and ambition of their native cities. In Shanghai more than 90 buildings of more than 350ft high have been built since 2000, carving out a new skyline that has become synonymous with modern China.

As UK cities continue to absorb more people, they can either grow outwards or upwards. With our reluctance to build on green belt, it's likely we will see more and more tall buildings on home soil.

For commercial occupiers, creating five star work environments to help attract and retain staff has become a must. For private sector services firms - the mainstay of city centre office occupation - salaries now typically account for around half of operating expenses. Our report showed that the cost of paying a recruitment firm to replace a member of staff can often be more than the annual rent on their work station. But you may think twice about leaving the best office in town. Skyscrapers are exciting places to be - they give an office the "wow" factor, somewhere you can brag about at a dinner party.

Internally, tall towers can be comfortable places to work. They often have smaller floor plates, with an obvious advantage over conventional buildings in that no desks are remote from a window. Everyone gets natural light and, in the right location, the views can be spectacular.

For businesses themselves, the cachet of being in a district's tallest building can work wonders for their profile. So much so that it is not unknown for there to be a race to be the anchor tenant.

With their gravitas and ability to attract top companies, skyscrapers give confidence to other potential stakeholders, such as the local government, retail and leisure tenants and investors.

Skyscrapers can enliven a skyline with exciting architecture: it's no coincidence that they often become the poster boy for city marketing.

In the future, skyscrapers will allow crowded cities to address growth and deliver more business space.

Building high-rise has historically been expensive. However, new technologies have emerged that have made the process more cost effective.

The vogue among businesses for clustering can be facilitated in a tower.

The new wave of digital companies, for example, has shown a preference for clustering in dense urban areas. Going skywards helps to keep a cluster local.

As cities grow they tend to sprawl outwards, creating problems of extending transport networks, building on green fields and imposing longer commutes on staff. Skyscrapers reduce the need to sprawl. More concentrated, vertical cities allow transport networks to focus on maximising local capacity and efficiency at peak times, rather than extending lines further into surrounding suburbs and countryside. Reducing sprawl also increases eco-commuting, such as jogging or cycling to work.

While media attention often falls on the skyline, the ordinary citizen encounters the city at ground level.

Building offices skywards frees up the ground floor frontage, and indeed basements and first floors, for retail, leisure and other amenities. Once commercial space is extending upwards rather than laterally, public areas interspersed with art and sculptures can be created. These can be used for markets and cultural events, ensuring a business district does not become a ghost town when the workers go home.

There is no reason why tall towers need to be the exclusive domain of office occupiers. Many of the buildings going up around the world are residential blocks. Even in commercial buildings, space on the ground and top floors can be opened up to the public, with the creation of restaurants, bars and shopping facilities.

The Knight Frank Report shows that skyscrapers are not just popular with tenants: they are also in vogue with real estate investors. Sovereign wealth funds, national pension schemes and global private equity funds are all actively acquiring tower developments.

One of the reasons for this is the diversity of the tenant mix. Multiple tenants with leases expiring at different times increases exposure to the rental cycle, creating plenty of opportunity to asset manage a tower to exploit changes in the leasing market.

Birmingham is now tantalisingly close to getting a new skyscraper, in the shape of 103 Colmore Row. At 26 storeys, the 105.5m tall office building - which will replace the redundant NatWest Tower - will be the tallest in the city's central business district, with its apex 243m above sea level.

The city has, of course, been here before: the plans for the V Building, a 52-storey monolith at Arena Central, were scuppered by the recession and two lower rise buildings are now set to replace the proposed 56-storey Regal Tower on Broad Street.

But Sterling Property Ventures and Rockspring have confirmed that 103 Colmore Row will be built speculatively, making this tower a very different proposition indeed.

Plans for the new tower will be lodged later this month and work on site is set to commence this summer meaning Birmingham will be the proud recipient of a new Grade A office tower, the tallest to be built outside London, by the end of 2017. Put that on your poster, Marketing Birmingham.

Skyscrapers will allow crowded cities to address growth and deliver more business spaceAshley Hudson


Ashley Hudson of Knight Frank

The view of the <Bcity from 103 Colmore Row and, left, the Global Cities Skyscrapers 2015 Report from Knight Frank
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 14, 2015
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