2021 CTBUH Tall + Urban Innovation Conference Event Report

18–20 May 2021 | Virtual


Connecting hundreds of delegates from 104 cities and 41 countries over three days of programming, the 2021 Tall + Urban Innovation Conference was a tremendous success, once again presenting the projects and individuals instrumental in building the cities of today and shaping the cities of tomorrow.

This year’s conference has been an extraordinary one, combining both the 2020 and 2021 Award of Excellence winners into a single event, featuring over 250 presenters, representing more than 160 projects across 29 categories, all judged by juries made up of thought leaders in their industry. The 2021 conference is the first to debut the much-anticipated Audience Awards, which allows delegates to cast their votes for each of the categories and become even more involved in the conference’s program.

It also represents the program’s first foray into a 100 percent virtual delivery across three time zones, Tokyo / Seoul; London / Lagos; and Los Angeles / Vancouver, through a combination of four presentation tracks, and a day of panel discussions. The conference’s interactive digital presence is supported by a custom app, sponsored by Schindler.




On the morning of 18 May, 2021, the conference kicked off the first of its three days of programming with opening remarks by CTBUH Chairman Steve Watts, Partner, alinea Consulting, and CTBUH CEO Antony Wood.

“Over the next few days, you are going to see some of the leading figures in the tall building industry give new insights into some of the most innovative projects and products that really do represent best practice,” said Watts. “They are transforming what cities will look like in the coming decades.”

Wood went on to add some words of warm welcome to the conference as well.

There are 29 Awards categories here, so wherever your interests lie—whether it’s looking at the project holistically in the Best Tall Building track, through the lens of the urban habitat, the disciplines of engineering and construction, or the Lifetime Achievement Awards that discuss impactful figures in the industry—there’s something for everyone at this conference.

Antony Wood, CEO, CTBUH

Wood then thanked and recognized the conference’s 50 sponsors, including its 10 Platinum-level sponsors, and the 104 talented jurors that critically evaluated each and every project, contributing to the heart of the program’s success.

Best Tall Building Jury Chair Karl Fender, Founding Partner, Fender Katsalidis Architects, then introduced the day’s sessions. With an incredible roster of speakers such as Koichi Takada, Ron Klemencic, Rune Abrahamsen, Gordon Gill, and Jeanne Gang the first day of the program covered tall building excellence in several height categories, with Best Tall Building Awards in the under 100-meter category, 100–199 meters, and the 300–399 meters and the 400 meter+ categories, as well as the Innovation, Interior Design, Structural Engineering, and Construction Award categories.

Koichi Takada, Principal, Koichi Takada Architects, and Iwan Sunito, Group Chairman and CEO, Crown Group deliver a presentation on ARC by Crown Group, Sydney.

During the Best Tall Building under 100 meters session, Koichi Takada, Principal, Koichi Takada Architects, gave a presentation on ARC by Crown Group, an arched residential tower in Sydney, alongside Iwan Sunito, Group Chairman and CEO, Crown Group. Takada described the approach to designing the building as “’future heritage’ because it respects the past but equally talks about the forward thinking use of traditional materials in a contemporary building.”

Rune Abrahamsen, CEO, Moelven, and Magne Bjertnaes, Department Leader, Sweco Structures AB share insights on the structural engineering of Mjøstårnet.

Rune Abrahamsen, CEO, Moelven, and Magne Bjertnaes, Department Leader, Sweco Structures AB, detailed their structural engineering strategy for Mjøstårnet, Brumunddal, an 18-story timber building that relies heavily on local materials, resources, and people, and which currently holds the CTBUH title of “Tallest All-Timber Building.” Abrahmansen added his thoughts about the building being unseated in the not-too-distant future.

We don’t think Mjøstårnet will be the record holder for too long, but we, and the climate, are fine with that.

Rune Abrahmansen, CEO, Moelven

Jeanne Gang, Founding Principal and Partner, Studio Gang Architects talks about the design concept of Mira, San Francisco.

During the Best Tall Building 100–199 meter session, Jeanne Gang, Founding Principal and Partner, Studio Gang Architects, presented alongside Matthew Biss, Managing Director, Design & Construction, Tishman Speyer, to talk about incorporating local design cues into Mira, an office building in San Francisco. “The concept for this design really draws directly from the classic bay window, a familiar feature to San Francisco’s early houses. We were interested to adapt the bay window into something for a contemporary high-rise.” She also spoke about the importance in her practice of being mindful of animal and plant life and how that features in Mira. “We provide food for pollinators on our roof gardens and also incorporated a ceramic frit on the glass to reduce the dangers of bird strikes.”




Day 2 of the conference continued with the four conference tracks in further Best Tall Building categories, including more in the 100–199 meter category, and the 200–299 meters category, as well as the Best Tall Office Building Award, Best Tall Residential or Hotel Building Award, and the Best Tall Mixed-Use Building Award, as well as the Renovation, Façade Engineering, Fire & Risk Engineering, Geotechnical Engineering, and the Single-Site Scale and District/Master Plan Urban Habitat categories.

Astrid Piber, Partner, UNStudio, shares the renovation details of Hanwha Headquarters, Seoul.

Astrid Piber, Partner, UNStudio, presenting with Hoyoon Na, Deputy General Manager, Hanwha E&C, kicked off the Renovation session, granting delegates insight into her process on renovating Seoul’s Hanwha Headquarters, which included refreshed interiors that encourage socialization, and solar technology embedded in the façade.

By improving workspaces, a building can be utilized more efficiently and therefore contribute to the improved densification of our cities.

Astrid Piber, Partner, UNStudio

James Goettsch, Chairman and Co-CEO, Goettsch Partners, delivers a presentation on 110 North Wacker, Chicago.

A 2019 recipient of the Lynn S. Beedle Lifetime Achievement Award, James Goettsch, Chairman and Co-CEO, Goettsch Partners, delivered a presentation on 110 North Wacker, Chicago, an Award of Excellence winner in the Best Tall Building 200–299 meters category. Of the striking office building’s strategy, Goettsch said, “the building’s resulting architecture provides a memorable structural solution, a sense of detail, and accentuates the verticality of the building.”

Ole Scheeren, Principal, Buro Ole Scheeren, supplements his presentation on DUO Tower, Singapore, with an exploded axonometric drawing.

During the Urban Habitat—Single Site Scale session, Ole Scheeren, Principal, Buro Ole Scheeren, presenting with Irene Yong, Technical Director, Beca Group, spoke about the relationship of DUO Tower to its surroundings, which include a 24-hour plaza. “Architecture must address the city as a wider context and integrate itself through productive and positive relationships with its environment.”




With eight robust panel discussions, two 10 Year Award sessions for completions in both 2010 and 2011, and interviews with CTBUH Fazlur R. Khan Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Wuren Wang, Vice Chairman and General Manager, CITIC Heye Investment Co., Ltd.; and CTBUH Lynn S. Beedle Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Moshe Safdie, Founder, Moshe Safdie Architects, the final day of the Conference was an action-packed and enriching one.

CTBUH CEO Antony Wood chairs the panel discussion, “Mass Timber & Tall: What’s Driving it, and What’s Holding it Back?” with panelists (top row, from left): Tim Gokhman, Director, New Land Enterprises; Lisa Podesto, Senior Business Development Manager, Lendlease; (bottom row, from left): Jeff Spiritos, Manager, Spiritos Properties LLC; and Rainier Strauch, CTO and Managing Director at CREE Buildings, CREE GmbH.

The topics of the panels ranged from discussions on the challenges and opportunities of building high density in different global regions; to the value generated by skygardens, skybridges, and atriums; to the future of the post-pandemic office space. In addition, panel discussions formed around the drivers behind the tall mass timber movement, and the vetting of buildings in terms of life cycle cost, evaluating when to implement strategies of renovation, demolition, and recycling within the context of carbon capture and expenditure.

Ian Gillespie, Founder, Westbank, and Bjarke Ingels, Founding Partner, Bjarke Ingels Group, accept the Best Tall Building Worldwide Award for Vancouver House, Vancouver.

After the final session of the day, Wood announced the final category winner for the evening, Best Tall Building Worldwide: Vancouver House. “This is really an example of how to do something brilliant on a site that almost doesn’t exist,” of the site’s creative maximization of residential space through an inverted massing concept. Bjarke Ingels, Founding Partner, Bjarke Ingels Group, and Ian Gillespie, Founder, Westbank, accepted the award. Upon receiving it, Ingels said, “We are deeply honored by this award. If this is the bar, we’ve definitely set it as high as it goes.”

At the conclusion of the conference, Wood and Fender thanked the jurors again for their hard work and the sponsors for their support. Wood noted that the Awards portal for 2022 would open again in August of 2021 for those eager to submit their projects for the chance to compete for winning distinctions during next year’s Tall + Urban Innovation Conference.

See more on the CTBUH Awards program at awards.ctbuh.org.