Why glass towers are bad for city life -- and what we need instead | Justin Davidson | Summary and Q&A

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Why glass towers are bad for city life -- and what we need instead | Justin Davidson


This content explores the impact of uniform and glass-dominated architecture on cities, emphasizing the importance of diverse materials in creating vibrant and livable urban environments.

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Key Insights

  • 🏒 Buildings in cities are becoming increasingly uniform, with concrete, steel, and glass dominating skylines worldwide, leading to a loss of architectural diversity and character.
  • πŸŒ† Shiny glass towers prioritize the interests of owners and tenants over the communal aspects of urban living, choking cities and eroding public spaces.
  • 🎭 The exteriors of buildings create texture and depth in cities, influencing how people interact with and experience the spaces around them.
  • πŸ›οΈ Public spaces thrive or fail based on many factors, including the quality of architecture, with successful plazas combining old and new, rough and smooth materials.
  • πŸ” Glass, while versatile and economical, has a limited ability to be expressive compared to materials like stone and brick, which hold historical and cultural significance.
  • 🌱 Architects and developers are rediscovering the value of texture and local materials, introducing innovations like living facades and using materials with regional significance.
  • πŸ’‘ By embracing architecture that celebrates the diversity of the urban experience, cities can avoid becoming monotonous and soulless environments.
  • πŸŒ† Rather than encasing cities in glass and creating a hall of mirrors, we should prioritize an architecture that respects and reflects the richness and variety of urban life.


Imagine that when you walked in here this evening, you discovered that everybody in the room looked almost exactly the same: ageless, raceless, generically good-looking. That person sitting right next to you might have the most idiosyncratic inner life, but you don't have a clue because we're all wearing the same blank expression all the time. That... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What is the author's main concern regarding the architectural transformation of cities?

The author is concerned about the increasing uniformity and smoothness of cities, particularly with the prevalence of glass towers. He argues that the loss of diverse architectural surfaces and materials simplifies architecture, impoverishes cities, and showcases a disregard for the communal aspects of urban living.

Q: How does the author believe the use of different materials in buildings affects urban spaces?

According to the author, the choice of materials in buildings greatly influences the texture and character of urban spaces. Buildings with rough surfaces and a variety of materials contribute to a touchable city and create streets that can be experienced through touch. In contrast, glass towers and an excessive use of glass homogenize cities and detract from the richness of public spaces.

Q: How does the author use Salamanca and other examples to illustrate the impact of building exteriors on urban life?

The author uses Salamanca's Plaza Mayor as an example of how building exteriors can enhance the urban experience. The facades in the plaza create depth, detail, and glamour, turning it into a stage where different generations can interact. In contrast, the author mentions examples like the Place de la DΓ©fense in Paris, which is a glass-walled open space devoid of warmth and vitality.

Q: What is the author's opinion on glass as a material in architecture?

The author acknowledges the versatility and modernity of glass as a material in architecture. It allows for the creation of transparent structures and offers developers the economic advantage of maximizing real estate values through panoramic views. However, the author argues that glass's limited ability to be expressive and its dominance in high-rise buildings result in a loss of historical and cultural continuity, as well as a lack of texture and variety in cities.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Cities are becoming uniform and losing their individuality due to the prevalence of glass towers and lack of architectural diversity.

  • The use of materials like granite, limestone, wood, and terra-cotta adds character and texture to cities, creating more inviting and touchable spaces.

  • Building facades have the power to influence how we experience and interact with urban spaces, and the quality of these exteriors can make or break the success of public areas.

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