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Skyscrapers: A licence to thrill

It's no longer enough to be a tall building or skyscraper with just a restaurant at the top. Visitors now want to walk and even slide, high in the sky.

side view of woman bungee jumping at macau tower against cityscape

Times and tastes have changed. It is no longer enough to be a tall building with just a restaurant at the top offering a birds-eye view of the city: visitors want to walk, jump, even slide, high in the sky.

A thrill-seeker generation is game for something special – an added attraction, a visitor experience – and the property market is feeding global demand, delivering towering structures with a difference worldwide.

In Canada, Toronto has the EdgeWalk, where you can go full-circle, hands-free in a harness all the way round the roof on the exterior, atop the 116-storey CN Tower. If you would rather jump than walk, New Zealand offers the Auckland SkyJump, where daredevil visitors plummet on a wire 192 feet down the Sky Tower, at a speed of 85km/h.

Alternatively, for a fairground ride with a twist, the OUE Skyspace LA, at the newly-renovated US Bank Tower in Los Angeles opened in 2016. There, California’s tallest open-air observation deck will come complete with a 45ft-long glass slide to carry visitors down from the 70th to 69th floor, outside the building, 1,000ft up.

This dynamic growth pattern in commercial high-rise development appears part of a broader trend affecting the tourism market at large, observes Wayne Allison, National Director, Project Management, at JLL.

“There’s an evolution in tourism, which is proving influential. For attractions and destinations to engage and connect, perhaps repeatedly, there has to be a value-add,” he says. “This seems to be a driver not just for bolt-ons to new buildings, but also upgrades to existing, even historic landmarks. Both the Eiffel Tower and Tower Bridge now have a feature glass floor and there is a demand for more interactive and immersive kinds of visitor experience, especially among a younger demographic.”

When tall alone is not enough

To boost the profile of an aspiring world city in a global marketplace, signature high-rise structures still represent a must-have for 21st-century development. However, with competition rising like the skyline, the real estate challenge is changing. As a crowdpuller, tall still works, just not on its own, explains Emma Cullen, Projects & Marketing Manager for the Eureka Skydeck experience, in Melbourne, Australia.

“Tall buildings have always played a big role,” she says. “Most large cities can be identified by a single tower or structure, such as the Empire State Building, Burj Khalifa or The Shard. Now, however, with the growth of urban high-rise living, a tower’s beautiful design or highest peak doesn’t automatically grant icon status.”

Cullen speaks from a unique perspective, literally. A gold-plated skyscraper by the Yarra River, Eureka Tower is the world’s tallest residential building, boasting the highest public observation deck in the Southern Hemisphere. As well as an unparalleled visual panorama, Eureka Skydeck is also home to the Edge Experience – a glass cube that projects out from the 88th floor suspending visitors almost 300 meters above the city.

This, Cullen argues, is the kind of differentiator a modern tower needs: “A thrill experience develops a point of difference for a tower and drives media exposure and visitation to the public access points, such as observation decks. Executed right, it can generate significant brand strength, which only elevates the property value.”

Providing an additional draw for the public also means the likes of high-rise office buildings can play a more active part in the fabric of a 24-hour city, suggests David Reynolds, JLL National Director and Head of Neighbourly Matters.

“With tall buildings in general, the agenda is complex: it’s a matter of trying to find a balance between requirements of a growing population, urban density, job creation, wealth expansion, lifestyle, community and well-being,” he explains. “We have to recognize that government, local authorities and planners don’t want dead zones in cities – for instance in financial districts such as London, Frankfurt and New York after 6pm. Tall buildings offering alternative attractions help with growth and introduce a different source of revenue.”

Tech steps in to add the thrill factor

It seems likely that the immediate future will see developers building-in even bigger, better and faster attractions to fuel the public appetite – as evidenced by the upcoming project at Embassy Gardens in London, which will showcase a pair of 10-storey buildings linked together by a high-level glass-bottomed swimming pool.

However, fashions in tourism and consumer culture are also being driven by trends in the entertainment sector, where there is a lot of interest in digital gaming and excitement about Virtual Reality (VR) technology, such as Oculus Rift.

Innovation in this field could impact significantly on exactly how real-estate thrills get delivered. According to Reynolds, VR may well help creatives work around the twin obstacles of corporate restraint and planning restrictions.

“With the technology coming through, who is to say we won’t have a change in direction? At the minute, we have physical zip-wires and slides. However, you may have a breakout space in a corporate world where the physical manifestation may not be tolerated, but you can however utilize VR solutions instead.

“Similarly, in the more conservative planning areas like London and Paris, it will typically be baby steps with the physical thrill features, unlike Vegas or Dubai. So, again, VR equivalents may help gain more immediate buy-in.”

Looking ahead, strong prospects are forecast for ongoing integration of physical and digital worlds. Particularly with respect to high-rise development, therefore, this marriage of place and technology offers the real-estate sector a dynamic opportunity, Allison believes.

“I think VR is going to fly. People are already being walked through buildings with a 360° immersive virtual experience. You will see VR alongside physical sensory elements and effects catering to smell and touch to heighten the experience.”

Indeed, modern culture is increasingly putting a premium on novel experiences. “It comes back to making sure the real-estate environment in which we live, work and play is exceeding people’s expectations. Meeting expectations has already been built – the future lies in the rest,” Reynolds concludes.

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