Podcast: Can tall buildings ever be socially sustainable?

In the first of our City of Tomorrow podcast series, sponsored by Montagu Evans, our experts consider whether tall residential buildings can ever be socially sustainable.

Debating a question that has bothered generations of urbanists are Frank Filskow of Make Architects and Claire Bennie of Municipal. Holding the ring in this absorbing podcast is Dr Chris Miele of Montagu Evans, the UK property consultancy.

Claire is a tall building sceptic, highlighting the difficulty of providing satisfactory play opportunities for young children and the high costs to families of living in tall buildings with higher maintenance charges.

Frank is more optimistic about the place for tall buildings, not least by offering housing density where land is scarce. Frank also argues that when done well tall buildings can offer opportunities for different types of households without young children who can realise the benefits of living high up.

However Frank and Claire agree that with anything above mid-rise, the embodied carbon involved in building upwards is very hard to justify, and Chris concludes is perhaps the biggest consideration for the future.

Key quotes for the debate

Chris Miele: “The question can tall be buildings be sustainable presumes they aren’t and begs the question what is sustainability. As a planner, I think that in terms of national government policy that tells us that sustainability has three links to social components and environmental, economic component and of course carbon cuts across all these three.”

Claire Bennie: “The high cost of building it, the high cost of operating it and the high environmental impact really should all make us consider what we are doing when we make tall resi.”

Frank Filskow: “Tall buildings have a role to play in that, in particularly in central urban locations, because fundamentally tall buildings are very valuable because they protect the use of land excessive use of land, which is particularly short supply in the UK.”

About the speakers

Frank Filskow, Make Architects

Frank is a partner of Make, with offices in London, Hong Kong and Sydney. He joined Make in 2004 and is an architect with over 30 years of international experience. He has been involved in a wide range of masterplanning, healthcare, residential and office schemes, including the award-winning civic and residential quarter in East Greenwich.

Frank is an expert in large-scale workplace schemes and major residential buildings. He focuses on bringing together wellbeing and sustainability to create happier places for people to live and work as a community.

His projects have won numerous accolades, including the NLA Mayor’s Prize for the Chobham Manor Masterplan.


Dr Chris Meile, Montagu Evans

Chris is a chartered town planner who specialises in all forms of sensitive land, with expertise in the historic environment such as listed buildings, conservation areas and World Heritage Sites.

He also specialises in the planning of tall developments and has promoted many projects successfully over the last 15 years, including townscape, visual impact work and the treatment of amenity issues such as loss of privacy.

He has worked extensively as an Expert Witness at planning inquiries, the Lands Tribunal, the High Court QB Division and Consistory Court.

Chris trained as an architectural historian and is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.


Claire Bennie, Municipal

Claire founded London-based architects Municipal, which specialises in working with local authorities. She was previously development director of Peabody, with a remit of continuing the housing association’s history of enlightened commissioning of new housing.

During that time, she commissioned outstanding design teams and contractors who shared Peabody’s quality ambitions, delivering thousands of new homes across London for those on all incomes.

Claire trained practised for 10 years before switching to the commissioning side. She is a panel member of Design South East which undertakes design reviews for a number of Local Authorities.