“The process of turning big cities into clones of Atlanta or Hong Kong can create more than freakish cityscapes. They create long-term problems. One is environmental. Sky-piercing buildings covered in glass windows that can’t be opened require huge amounts of energy all year round for heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Energy prices may be falling, but at some point they will reverse course. Many old buildings in Europe simply rely on thick walls to repel the heat in the summer and retain the heat in the winter. Their windows can be opened to create a breeze, and ceiling fans do the rest.

Another big problem with modern high-rises is that they are single-purpose structures. Bank towers with enormous open trading floors wired to the fastest communications networks cannot be easily remade into housing, factories or shops. For the most part, they will have to be torn down when they have outlived their usefulness. In Europe, strong old buildings keep getting reinvented, century after century. An 18th-century monastery can be converted into a hospital, a church into condos, and a warehouse into an office.

But the main shortcoming of the skyscraper craze is the loss of urban identity…”

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