Sky-High Ambition


Jeanne Gang’s Aqua Tower in Chicago mirrors the hills, valleys, and lakes of a natural landscape.

 Jeanne Gang’s Aqua Tower in Chicago mirrors the hills, valleys, and lakes of a natural landscape.

The word “skyscraper” first emerged in Chicago in the late 19th century, a natural expression of people’s awe at the newly tall buildings scraping away a piece of sky from their vision, casting shadows onto sidewalks, and blocking out the sun. It altered their experience of the city. Skyscrapers still have that effect today, perhaps on an even more visceral scale: the gust of a wind tunnel, the speed of an elevator, the breathtaking sight of a skyline at sunset.

While US architect William Le Baron Jenney’s 10-story Home Insurance Building of 1885 in Chicago is widely considered to be the first true example of the form, it is his contemporary, Louis Sullivan (1856–1924) who was labeled “the father of skyscrapers” for his influential theories of design and construction that enabled these buildings to reach new heights. In the centenary of Sullivan’s death, it feels timely to reflect on the skyscraper’s ever-expanding appeal.

Dubai’s Burj Khalifa is the currently the world’s tallest building at more than 828m

 Dubai’s Burj Khalifa is the currently the world’s tallest building at more than 828m

The past century has seen it rise from the ornate brick and steel office buildings of the late 1880s, all the way to the current tallest, the 828m Burj Khalifa, completed in Dubai in 2010: a colossal slither of glass, concrete, and metal. Styles have shape-shifted in between, from the decorative art deco Chrysler building (completed in 1930) and clean lines of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Modernist Seagram Building (1958) in New York; to London’s so-called Gherkin (2003), Cheesegrater (2014), and Walkie Talkie (2015); and Beijing’s CCTV Tower (2008), described by its Dutch architects OMA as a “three-dimensional cranked loop.”

Today, the lower height limit of a skyscraper is considered to be 150m, with China boasting six of the top 10 cities worldwide with the highest number of skyscrapers, and Dubai the highest number of “supertalls”—buildings above 300m. How we use skyscrapers has also dramatically evolved.

Architects MVRDV turned a drum tower into the colorful Shenzhen Women and Children’s Centre, which is now a vibrant community space

 Architects MVRDV turned a drum tower into the colorful Shenzhen Women and Children’s Centre, which is now a vibrant community space

Once built mainly as offices, skyscrapers are now vertical hubs of all kinds of activity. We traverse these towers with as much ease as the horizontal streets below them, whether that’s soaring up to a rooftop bar—Ozone on the 118th floor of Hong Kong’s 480m Ritz Carlton is currently the world’s highest—or to penthouse homes, from where the luckiest few can enjoy spectacular views of the skies and the surrounding city.

“It’s exhilarating to live and work in a place that is so private and solitary, but at the same time so connected to the city,” says architect Scott Duncan of SOM (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill). The firm designed both the very first “mixed-use” skyscraper back in 1968 (Chicago’s John Hancock Center) and the world’s largest mixed-use, the Burj Khalifa, which houses a mall, restaurants, hotel, spa, apartments, observation platform, and much more. Duncan sees the appeal of living in the skies only increasing: “The skyscraper had its origins in efficiency and density. Its future, however, will be rooted in enhancing the quality of the human experience. We will see architects exploring ways to make living in a skyscraper an even more extraordinary and sublime experience.”

Residential building Aqua encourages social interaction between neighbors with strategically curved terraces

 Residential building Aqua encourages social interaction between neighbors with strategically curved terraces

Architects have been thinking about how to make skyscrapers healthier and more liveable since the 1970s. Singapore-based practice WOHA uses features such as elevated gardens, open-air walkways, integrated landscaping including trees, and shading systems that cool buildings to prevent reliance on air conditioning—all important for the tropical Southeast Asian context and for our globally warming world. In Chicago, architect Jeanne Gang has explored how to sculpt a skyscraper to boost social ties and nature. Her 82-story residential building Aqua (2009) is designed as a vertical landscape, with curved balconies, a rooftop garden and a bird-friendly facade.

Now construction accounts for around 40% of carbon emissions worldwide, a new era of skyscraper “retrofits” are showing that existing tall buildings can be effectively repurposed and made more sustainable with additions such as solar shading. Recent examples include the transformed Quay Quarter Tower office building in Sydney and the Shenzhen Women and Children’s Centre, once a 100m drum tower and now a colorful community resource. What will the skyscrapers of today become in the next century?

“The most sustainable building is one you do not tear down,” says Peter Wang, principal and design director at Gensler. He has just led the groundbreaking conversion of a 24-story 1970s office tower in New York into 588 homes, in response to changing demands of space in the city, post-Covid. “Shifts in culture, work styles, lifestyles, and attitudes are happening faster and faster, hastening the demise of these older buildings. Our job is to think analytically and creatively on how to leverage these existing structures to support new uses.”

Sweden’s climate-positive Sara Cultural Centre is currently the world’s third-tallest tower with an all-timber structure

 Sweden’s climate-positive Sara Cultural Centre is currently the world’s third-tallest tower with an all-timber structure

Sustainability has also been a driver for the recent growth of so-called “plyscrapers,” built with an engineered wooden structure made possible by innovations in cross-laminated and glue-laminated timber. Timber offers many benefits in comparison with concrete and steel; it is a natural carbon store and renewable when sourced sustainably, plus it can be pre-fabricated, is quicker to build with, and healthier for construction workers. Today, the tallest timber building rises to 86.6m; by 2027 it’s set to reach 100m (in Switzerland, with the Rocket & Tigerli by Schmidt Hammer Lassen).

Many of the first innovations in timber tall buildings have been in Norway and Sweden, countries with timber industries and support from the public sector and municipalities—for example, the 20-story Sara Cultural Centre (2021) in northern Sweden, which houses a theater, library, and art gallery. While excited about the promise of plyscrapers growing taller, the cultural center’s lead architects, Robert Schmitz and Oskar Norelius of White Arkitekter, both agree that height isn’t everything: “The main achievement of a tall timber building is its much smaller climate impact than a conventional tall building, the new possibilities for architectural expressions, and the quality of interior spaces that timber [offers].”

Architect Andrew Waugh, who has pioneered timber high-rises in east London where he grew up, supports this: “Timber is good for people, providing healthy environments that reduce stress and increase wellbeing. And timber buildings just smell so good!” Waugh’s design, the 10-story residential Dalston Works in London was the world’s largest cross-laminated timber building on completion in 2017. He wonders, do we really need to build higher and higher? “I think super-tall buildings aren’t great for people or for cities—they create shadow and wind and alienate the young and elderly. I think we’ll find a sweet spot for timber buildings that suit the material and work better for all of us.”

The Sara Cultural Center is located in Skellefteå, Sweden, which has a rich history of building with wood

 The Sara Cultural Center is located in Skellefteå, Sweden, which has a rich history of building with wood.

Just like scenes from science fiction, it seems the skyscraper of the future will be rising in all kinds of directions and dimensions. At present, Duncan sees most of the innovation happening “at the nano-scale.” SOM is currently co-developing an algae-based concrete (aimed at reducing its carbon footprint and soaking up CO2 from the air) and embedding solar technology in ultra-thin layers of glass to make this most skyscraper-friendly material more energy productive. In London, Danish architect Bjarke Ingels has teamed up with British designer Thomas Heatherwick on plans for a new Google headquarters “groundscraper”—as long horizontally as the Shard is vertical (as London’s tallest building at just over 300m). Meanwhile, the Italian architect Carlo Ratti has proposed an idea for the “farmscraper,” including a vertical hydroponic farming system for a Chinese supermarket chain. It seems as though the sky is no longer the limit.

Harriet Thorpe is a London-based author and journalist, writing about architecture, urbanism, art, design, and travel

The St. Regis Residences, Miami

The St. Regis Residences, Miami
Prices starting at $4m | ONE Sotheby’s International Realty

A sunny outlook

Robert AM Stern has been heralded as “architecture’s king of tradition” for his firm’s skyscrapers that blend admiration for the past with truly contemporary luxury living. The architect’s new project in Miami, the St. Regis Residences on the South Brickell coastline, is no exception. The elegantly curved building takes its design cues from the aesthetic of golden-age ocean liners, rooted in the art deco spirit that defines so much of Miami’s glamor.

Each residence commands expansive views over the Biscayne Bay and Atlantic Ocean beyond, and has access to truly covetable amenities, from a fine-dining restaurant and bayside infinity pool, to a private marina and sky bar. Lush landscaped grounds and terraces are designed by Swiss designer Enzo Enea, who expertly crafts livable outdoor spaces—a perfect way to enjoy Miami’s glorious weather.

Photos: © Steve Hall; Bettmann/Getty Images; © Nick Merrick/Hedrich Blessing; Courtesy of MVRDV, © Xia Zhi; Jonas Westling; Visit Skellefteå.

New Wave


Miminat Shodeinde on her OMI D-3 chair in stained mahogany and nubuck.

 Miminat Shodeinde on her OMI D-3 chair in stained mahogany and nubuck.

From a slick penthouse in Cape Town, South Africa, to a contemporary country residence in Gloucestershire, England, British-Nigerian designer Miminat Shodeinde has worked on the interiors of a wealth of different residences since launching her studio, Miminat Designs, in 2015. She has also created an array of sculptural furnishings and objets d’art, and has several architecture projects underway in Portugal, India, and beyond. Now, Shodeinde is diversifying her impressive professional portfolio as she completes the fit-out for M/Y K, a 131ft private yacht.

The yacht’s owner commissioned London-based Shodeinde in the summer of 2022, and although she wasn’t familiar with creating spaces for the water, it was an opportunity she couldn’t let go adrift. “I love what I do and want to try designing everything and anything,” she says.

Interior render of Shodeinde’s design for the M/Y K private yacht

 Interior render of Shodeinde’s design for the M/Y K private yacht.

The interiors will be installed in the latter half of this year, the culmination of a design process that came with new challenges for Shodeinde: suddenly she found herself having to navigate the space limitations imposed by even a superyacht’s quarters, and consider how pieces of decor could impact stability, weight distribution, and performance at sea. “It was such a learning curve, especially when it came to all of the marine, boating, and yacht lingo,” she adds. “But overall it doesn’t really differ from designing spaces on land—you’re essentially trying to create moving art that caters to the brief and the desires of the client.”

In taking this unified approach to design, Shodeinde has instilled M/Y K with the same warm tactility that permeates her shore-side residential works: darkened ash veneer will line the vessel’s sinuous walls and swathes of honey-colored jute will underpin the seating areas. The ceilings will be lined with pale ceramic-composite panels, their rectangular form emulating that of a traditional Japanese tatami mat. “A lot of what I do stems from Japanese design philosophy, as it often centers on space, simplicity, harmony, and a deep appreciation for the natural elements. There’s also a strong emphasis on the seamless integration of indoor and outdoor,” says Shodeinde.

Interior render of Shodeinde’s design for the M/Y K private yacht.

 Interior render of Shodeinde’s design for the M/Y K private yacht.

M/Y K’s future furnishings also add to the yacht’s home-like ambience. All of the pieces were designed in-house at Shodeinde’s studio, yet each of them holds distinctive details that make it appear as though they’ve been artfully collected. The chairs that will surround the dining table, for example, feature cushions lined in a soft, suede-style fabric and angular aluminum backrests, while the light pendant that will hang above is a sumptuous mix of textured glass and Nero Marquina marble. “Many yacht interiors tend to embrace an austere and sometimes very clinical look; they have a lot of white, glossy, and reflective surfaces that almost makes it seem like you’re on a spaceship,” explains Shodeinde. “I wanted to create something that was inviting and elegant.”

She isn’t the only one. An increasing number of architects and interior specialists are getting on board with yacht projects, applying the same palette they would use for spaces on terra firma. Shodeinde thinks this may, in part, be a result of advancements in industry technology and the wider availability of lighter, more durable iterations of ultra-luxe materials that can be effectively applied within marine interiors. But it could also be down to a significant shift in aesthetic tastes.

“There’s a growing emphasis across all design genres to infuse spaces with personality and intimacy, particularly in a post-Covid world,” she says. “Everybody wants that boutique, homely feel.” If indeed there is a new wave of yacht design coming, it seems Shodeinde is already riding high.

Photos: Armand Da Silva, courtesy of Miminat Designs.

Sotheby’s International Realty Releases Luxury Outlook 2024

After the past few years’ frenzied market, the market is hitting more of a buyer-seller equilibrium, with inventory levels moving up ever so slightly, buyers getting used to a new normal of interest rates, prices generally holding steady, and high-end home seekers expanding their reaches to more parts of the globe.

There are lots of changes happening, and the report explores them in depth—everything from the newest tech tools currently disrupting the real estate market, from artificial intelligence to smart-home technology, to pinpointing the parts of the world where tax incentives are increasingly enticing wealthy citizens.

Luxury Outlook 2024 also looks at the growing importance of sustainability and climate resilience to home builders and buyers, how hybrid work has shifted the world’s real estate needs, and how provenance can help homes sell.

This is a difficult time when it comes to geopolitical challenges, with several conflicts raging around the world at once. That makes it difficult to predict what the future will bring, and whether an intensification of conflict could affect financial markets.

For now, there continues to be economic uncertainty into 2024, despite some sporadic positive news. In the U.S., for one, economic growth accelerated in the fourth quarter of 2023, according to the Commerce Department.

While many experts are torn about the effects the conflicts are likely to have from a financial perspective, many market watchers predict an overall positive 2024 for the real estate market. As Sotheby’s International Realty CEO Philip A. White Jr. points out in his interview, Freddie Mac is forecasting prices rising by 0.8% between August 2023 and August 2024, followed by another 0.9% gain in the following 12 months, pointing to “tremendous” demand for houses relative to supply, continuing “to keep upward pressure on prices.”

For now, at least, most of the worries about the real estate market stalling due to rising interest rates haven’t come to fruition, with demand strong, as people move both because they’re going through major life events—such as new children and new jobs—or simply because they want to upgrade their homes and, with it, their lifestyle.

Speaking of the lifestyle factor, as always, we explore the high-end purchases people are making outside the real estate realm, including art, collectibles, and more.

Luxury buyers and sellers want to spend wisely, and staying well-informed is just the way to do it.

Read the Luxury Outlook 2024 by clicking here.

Gulf to Bay Sotheby’s International Realty to Sponsor Boca Grande Film Festival

Gulf to Bay Sotheby’s International Realty has just signed on to be a sponsor for the 5th Annual Boca Grande Film Festival.

The three day festival will be hosted by the Friends of Boca Grande and runs from February 22nd-24th.

The Boca Grande Film Festival was created to bring the community together through film culture and cinematic experience. Each year, organizers curate a lineup of the top films and documentaries in the festival circuit. Throughout the festival, the audience will have the chance to vote for each film, and at the end of the festival we will announce the Audience Winner at the closing reception!

For more information click here.

Barrier Island Parks Society Lighting of the Lighthouse

On Saturday, December 9th, 2023, the Annual Lighting of the Lighthouse took place in Boca Grande, Florida. Attendees journeyed to the southern tip of Gasparilla Island and enjoyed a Christmas concert by Rob Rolleri with appetizers prior to the event.

As dusk fell, the crowd hushed and the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse was transformed into a beacon of seasonal spirit.

This annual event serves as a fundraiser for the Barrier Island Parks Society (BIPS). BIPS manages and operates three historic sites, supports four state parks, manages two gift shops, a bike and kayak rental program at Cayo Costa, Beach Ambassador, Light Keeper and Bird Stewardship programs and much more. BIPS has many exciting educational programs and events slated for the upcoming year that they directly support and are eager to help those new to the island reconnect with nature at all ages.

Learn more at

Gulf to Bay Sotheby’s International Realty Hosts Annual Christmas Walk

A selection of photos from the 2023 Annual Boca Grande Christmas Walk.

On November 25th, 2023 the agents and staff of Gulf to Bay Sotheby’s International Realty participated in the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Christmas walk in downtown Boca Grande, Florida.

Attendees were treated to a sparkling wonderland of Gasparilla Island and its most enviable homes transposed into gingerbread form.

Gulf to Bay Sotheby’s International Realty’s Rental Director, Taylor Guilerm, and her team dipped over 200 pretzel rods in Ghirardelli chocolate and crushed peppermints while serving charcuterie cups, setting out decadent platters of treats and serving their signature Coconut Snowball Martini.

Special thanks to Colleen Heincelman, Dee Sullivan and Keri Ducy for their hard work and planning to make this event such a success!

The recipe for the Christmas Walk’s official cocktail thanks to DeKuyper.