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Sky-High: What You Can Do With A Skyscraper, And What You Can't

Skyscrapers don't just change a city's skyline, and provide enormous volumes of floorspace: Tall buildings also provide a host of other unexpected opportunities.

As the skyscraper count rises relentlessly in both Manchester and Birmingham, to what irregular or unusual uses could the city's new crop of skyscrapers be put, by landlords, tenants and intrepid outsiders?

Bisnow set out to discover.

Eat In Them

Jestico + Whiles' design for the Aqua Shard restaurant, on the Shard's 31st floor

Restaurants have been at the top of skyscrapers since skyscrapers first rose out of the ground. Power lunches, romantic assignations, schmoozy dinners with clients: Everything works better against the backdrop of a twinkly cityscape.

Yet creating skyscraping restaurants is far from easy. James Dilley, director of Jestico + Whiles, was part of the team that created the 220-cover Aqua Restaurant about halfway up The Shard on level 31.

The difficulty is that a tower restaurant can never really be independent of the landlord or managing agent, who determine most of the things that matter.

“Your arrival point is in the skyscraper reception, and we couldn’t control that," Dilley said. "We could have signage but no control. So you don’t control the first point of contact with diners. Then there’s the lift, and they are shared with other operators on other floors, so you don’t control the second point of contact either. And the service lifts are often shared, too. So that’s all something you have to deal with.”

The answer is to provide a wow-factor point-of-arrival on the restaurant floor itself, and trust the view to do the rest.

“This is all about the view," he said. "Your currency here is the window seats, but it’s a challenge to give everyone a view, because absolutely nobody is going to do this without a view. We opted for elliptical tables round the perimeter, which meant diners in pairs didn’t confront the problem of one diner having their back to the window. Then a little further in from the windows we have half-moon shaped banquettes, again pointing at the window. And behind them we have the service areas."

The positioning of the kitchen was another conundrum because the floorplate was tight. The result is that views to the south have been blocked, but as Dilley explains, views to the south were the dullest of the four points of the compass, so no loss.

The biggest pitfall to avoid is intrusive after-dark lighting. “We really want that dusk and evening view, and that means getting the lighting right. If you go for flamboyant lighting it is all going to reflect in the window, killing the view. The lighting has to be careful, and point down onto the table,” he said.

Dilley wonders if rooftop restaurants might soon be accessed from above, rather than from below. “At some time, probably the next 20-30 years, the higher floors will become landing and taking off points for drone taxis. You’ll go up from the restaurant, up to your waiting unmanned pod, and off you go. It’ll all get very Blade Runner,” he predicts.

It sounds like a very unsettling way to end a nice meal, but time will tell.

Run Up Them

Vertical Rush, racing up Tower 42 for a good cause

The staircases and fire escapes found in the core of every skyscraper can easily be turned to advantage: You can run up them.

Vertical Rush has pioneered the idea, raising money for homelessness charity Shelter. Skyscraper tenants sign up to take part in the dash, with the next due at Kirsch Group's Tower 42 in London on 12 March.

The event is now in its 12th year and attracts around 1,300 runners each year, including professional tower runners (who knew such people existed?), raising around £300K. Panting participants include BNP Paribas, Lendlease, CBRE, British Land and Redwood Consulting. The winner up the 932 steps at Tower 42 took an astonishing 4 minutes and 17 seconds.

You can  'Power up the Tower' yourself by registering here.

Stand On Them

The roof garden at 10 Fenchurch Ave., London EC3

What could be nicer than a rooftop garden?

At Generali Real Estate’s 10 Fenchurch Ave., CO-RE secured a new planning consent, which allowed for a publicly accessible rooftop garden at level 15.

CO-RE director Bradley Baker said his firm is an enormous believer in roof gardens, particularly if they are open to the public.

“It is easy to underestimate how much occupiers like access to the outside," he said. "It is all part of the wellbeing agenda, and roof terraces and gardens are part of this not just because they can be relaxing, but you can also work in them and they can be both functional and liberating.”

“It’s uplifting,” Baker said. “You could even put your rowing machine up there.”

As usual with skyscrapers, everything boils down to a question of lifts. Once access is sorted, the next issue is to find low-maintenance designs.

“You need this to be sensible landscaping. You don’t want maintenance costs to go through the roof or the garden itself to literally go through the roof. You want something sociable and chilled out."

If you can’t manage a roof garden, Baker recommends balconies or simple openable windows. It all helps let a bit of the inside out, and the outside in.

Eric Parry Architects designed 10 Fenchurch Ave., which has been chosen by M&G Investments for its 330K SF global HQ.

Climb Them (In A Bad Way)

Grippy footware advisable

Last week George King-Thompson was released from Pentonville prison having served 12 weeks of a six-month sentence for climbing the Shard skyscraper in July 2019.

King-Thompson is not alone. Skyscrapers have become magnets for thrill-seekers, with Manchester and London the most popular destinations along with Paris and New York.

At the Shard, and in Manchester, civil injunctions from landlords have proved a deterrent to the YouTubers and Instagrammers aiming for the rooftops. It was as a result of an injunction obtained by Teighmore Construction Ltd that 20-year-old King-Thompson found himself before the courts and subsequently in prison.

Climb Them (In A Good Way)

Climbing wall inside 22 Bishopsgate

A more legitimate climbing experience will soon be unveilled at 22 Bishopsgate in the City of London.

The 62-storey development by AXA and Lipton Rogers will include a transparent climbing wall as part of the wellness and fitness offer at the 1.3M SF development. It is being touted as London's first climbing window. It was designed by PLP Architecture.

Development is due to complete in April, with the developer predicting it will be 75% let by the time the contractors down tools. Pre-lets include AXA themselves with 65K SF, fellow insurers Beazlery and Hiscox, U.S. law firm Cooley and Nasdaq, the U.S. stock exchange, which will take 25K SF on the 18th floor.

The climbing wall failed to hook another insurance firm, Aspen, which pulled out of a 70K SF pre-let.