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Old Posted Oct 26, 2019, 1:32 AM
memph memph is offline
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Economics of building narrow towers in Sao Paulo vs North America

One of the things I've noticed about Sao Paulo after checking out the city on streetview/google maps is that they have a lot of narrow highrises, usually 10-30 storeys tall. By narrow, I mean 2000-4000 sf floor plates, and only a small percentage of highrises with floor plates of over 6000 sf. By comparison, Vancouver highrises seem to have mostly 6000-8000 sf floor plates and Toronto highrises are mostly 8000-12000 sf floor plates for point towers, and up to 20000 sf for slab towers.

People often say that smaller buildings and buildings with smaller floor plates are not profitable enough to build in the North American context, but Sao Paulo seems to have plenty of those. They're quite common in other Brazilian cities too. Sao Paulo does not have the extreme wealth of Manhattan, nor those it have the extreme land constraints that can explain Hong Kong's "pencil towers". Although most of the Sao Paulo highrises are probably not geared towards its low income population, they're still common enough that I'd expect its residents to be broad middle or upper-middle class, similar to how it is with the residents of highrises in North American cities.

So what's different about Sao Paulo/Brazil that makes these kinds of buildings more economically feasible? Why does Sao Paulo build so few large (8000sf+) floorplate buildings and why do North American cities build so few small (<5000sf) floorplate buildings?
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Old Posted Oct 26, 2019, 1:41 AM
memph memph is offline
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There are a few examples of small floorplate towers in Toronto actually, ex this older highrise.
https://www.google.ca/maps/@43.65925...7i16384!8i8192
There's another on Pembroke St one street over.

However, those two are the only ones I can think of out of the 2000+ highrises in the city.
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Old Posted Oct 26, 2019, 2:02 AM
galleyfox galleyfox is offline
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Originally Posted by memph View Post
One of the things I've noticed about Sao Paulo after checking out the city on streetview/google maps is that they have a lot of narrow highrises, usually 10-30 storeys tall. By narrow, I mean 2000-4000 sf floor plates, and only a small percentage of highrises with floor plates of over 6000 sf. By comparison, Vancouver highrises seem to have mostly 6000-8000 sf floor plates and Toronto highrises are mostly 8000-12000 sf floor plates for point towers, and up to 20000 sf for slab towers.

People often say that smaller buildings and buildings with smaller floor plates are not profitable enough to build in the North American context, but Sao Paulo seems to have plenty of those. They're quite common in other Brazilian cities too. Sao Paulo does not have the extreme wealth of Manhattan, nor those it have the extreme land constraints that can explain Hong Kong's "pencil towers". Although most of the Sao Paulo highrises are probably not geared towards its low income population, they're still common enough that I'd expect its residents to be broad middle or upper-middle class, similar to how it is with the residents of highrises in North American cities.

So what's different about Sao Paulo/Brazil that makes these kinds of buildings more economically feasible? Why does Sao Paulo build so few large (8000sf+) floorplate buildings and why do North American cities build so few small (<5000sf) floorplate buildings?
A low cost of labor I presume, paired with relatively high land values/lack of space (though not as extreme as Manhattan of course.) New York and Chicago also have a collection of older skyscrapers with small floor plates from back when labor was very cheap. Though condos tend to be narrower than office buildings if they can get away with it because of windows and privacy, but they're just not very efficient structures as far as surface area and materials to volume are concerned.

Last edited by galleyfox; Oct 26, 2019 at 3:32 AM.
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Old Posted Oct 26, 2019, 6:18 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by memph View Post
There are a few examples of small floorplate towers in Toronto actually, ex this older highrise.
https://www.google.ca/maps/@43.65925...7i16384!8i8192
There's another on Pembroke St one street over.

However, those two are the only ones I can think of out of the 2000+ highrises in the city.
There's another one like those two on St. George Street.

https://goo.gl/maps/rbJVW2MFuhVcyhrc8
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Old Posted Oct 26, 2019, 1:57 PM
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That’s an interesting question, I don’t know the answer, but I can throw some numbers for São Paulo. I will work with nominal USD as it’s more tangible.

Brazilian GDP per capita is on US$ 10,000 (the US is near US$ 60,000, Canada around US$ 50,000). São Paulo metro area is twice as higher, at US$ 20,000 and 3x lower than the average big North American metro area.

São Paulo sq meter (1sq m = 9sq feet) in those highrises districts is selling for R$ 20,000 (US$ 5,000). Not sure how that would compare with North American metropolises whether it’s relatively cheaper or more expensive. A person working on construction will make R$ 3,000 (US$ 750) plus benefits. Don’t know either how it compares, but I guess it’s more expensive than North America.

Zoning laws in São Paulo are relatively strict and unlike the general impressions, less than 30% of households are apartaments. Brazilians tend to like better/solid building materials and cities made by dry walls are unimaginable down here.

I guess it might have shed some light on this matter.
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Old Posted Oct 26, 2019, 2:24 PM
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Boston doesn't have a ton but there are a few examples of buildings with small floor plates in that height range. They can be profitable but often there lots available for development are larger than that and it take either relatively short buildings or very high costs to make up for the loss in rentable square footage.

The smallest about 2,000 sf Beacon Hill

4,000 sf Harvard Square area

Three towers near the Harvard campus all 4,000 sf or less rotate the camera Peabody Terrace

This is technically about the limit but it is only 5,000 sf so I am including this building in the theatre district as well: Moxy Hotel, Theatre District
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Old Posted Oct 26, 2019, 4:22 PM
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One of the big differences likely relates to the regulatory framework of building high-rises.

Getting a tower built in most North American cities typically requires a fairly restrictive process of rezoning, community consultation, and development fees. These tend to be lengthy, expensive, and require a certain level of expertise that usually only larger developers possess. On top of that, height limits are pretty common, but width/depth limits are not.

This changes the economics of construction such that they typically need to involve larger land assemblies to be viable (and/or if you're a developer trying to maximize profit, you can make more by building out rather than up). An owner of a single property wanting to throw up a 12-storey tower on their lot is not really feasible. Where skinny towers do exist they tend to either be high-end boutique developments or legacy developments from a time with less restrictive zoning bylaws.

Just a hunch, but I would guess that the same is not true in São Paulo.
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Old Posted Oct 26, 2019, 5:24 PM
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Monkey, about São Paulo, not quite.

Up to the 1960’s, zoning laws were quite liberal and that’s why we have those beautiful urban sets on the old Downtown, with the historic Triangle resembling Lower Manhattan, with narrow streets and 1930’s skyscrapers touching each other. On República, just west of it, lines and lines of 20-floor modernist buildings taking the entire plot. On 9 de Julho Avenue, built on the bottom of a ravine and surrounded by this beautiful urban canyon just like the Metropolis movie.

After that, legislation started demanding large plots to build in an absurd 2:1 ratio (total ground floor area vs plot size). Highrises weren’t stop and it wasn’t meant to do so. Developers started to build those massive and obnoxious common areas on the ground floor to meet this 2:1 rule. Needless to say that encourages an autocentric way of life which is absurd in a city as dense and as big as São Paulo. As a side effect, you have those horrid walls for tens of meters, nothing to see on the sidewalks.

That was corrected only few years ago, with less draconian ratio for constructing highrises and encouraging mixed use, which was something unheard on decades. Now there are new buildings popping up everywhere with shops on ground floor, small apartments and without parking lots, something that had been forbidden (!!!) on the past legislations.
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Old Posted Oct 26, 2019, 6:08 PM
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I don't know why they work in Sao Paulo.

In the US you can't go that skinny very easily. I'll focus on that.

Most of it is inefficiency. What comes to mind:
--You're paying just as much (or nearly) for certain things on every 4,000-square-foot floor as you would on a 10,000-square-foot floor -- two sets of stairs, elevators, plumbing risers, and so on.
--You're renting a smaller percentage of each floorplate.
--The exterior surface is a larger percentage of total cost.
--The building structure costs more per square foot.

There's also parking. In the US it's often important. Parking is only efficient on larger sites. On smaller sites a large percentage of the total space is ramps, elevators, and stairs. The issue is larger when you also have a tower above. The upshot is that any building that needs a lot of parking will be on a big site, and it wouldn't make sense to do an extremely skinny tower on a large site.

There are upsides to skinny towers of course. With a 50x50-foot floorplate, every big room will have a window.
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Old Posted Oct 26, 2019, 6:12 PM
memph memph is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yuriandrade View Post
That’s an interesting question, I don’t know the answer, but I can throw some numbers for São Paulo. I will work with nominal USD as it’s more tangible.

Brazilian GDP per capita is on US$ 10,000 (the US is near US$ 60,000, Canada around US$ 50,000). São Paulo metro area is twice as higher, at US$ 20,000 and 3x lower than the average big North American metro area.

São Paulo sq meter (1sq m = 9sq feet) in those highrises districts is selling for R$ 20,000 (US$ 5,000). Not sure how that would compare with North American metropolises whether it’s relatively cheaper or more expensive. A person working on construction will make R$ 3,000 (US$ 750) plus benefits. Don’t know either how it compares, but I guess it’s more expensive than North America.

Zoning laws in São Paulo are relatively strict and unlike the general impressions, less than 30% of households are apartaments. Brazilians tend to like better/solid building materials and cities made by dry walls are unimaginable down here.

I guess it might have shed some light on this matter.
That's R$ 3,000 per month right? So US$ 9000 per year?

It seems average construction worker salaries in Canada are around US$ 35000 to US$ 40000 per year... apparently (that seems lower than expected to me though).

Costs for relatively new/newish condos vary from about US$ 7500- US$ 8000 per square meter in downtown Toronto to around US$ 6000 per square meter in its suburbs and around US$4500 in the city of Kitchener-Waterloo about 100km away.

In Vancouver, it would be around US$ 10000 to US$ 11000 in downtown to around US$ 6500 to US$ 7000 per square meter in outlying suburbs like Surrey.

In what way are the regulations strict in Sao Paulo? Are highrises limited to only certain areas? They seem to be scattered around among a lot of predominantly lowrise areas in the city.

For people not familiar with Sao Paulo, I'm mostly talking about buildings like these.
https://www.google.com/maps/@-23.549...7i13312!8i6656
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Old Posted Oct 26, 2019, 7:31 PM
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Yes, US$ 9,000. As São Paulo GDP per capita is 2.5 lower than Canadian metro areas, it seems labour costs are relatively lower in SP. As Brazil is still recovering from the 2014-2016 crisis, salaries are still depressed.

When it comes to apartment prices then São Paulo is considerably more expensive than Toronto and alligned with Vancouver, again, relatively speaking.

There are many pockets of low rise only areas as you can see clearly on Google Earth 3D, where buildings suddenly stop. Regulations affect mostly the total floor area vs size of the plot, which increases costs, induces land wasting which makes no sense in a 21 million people urban area.

In fact, those regulations impacted the entire urban area, causing crazy traffic jams and crowded public transit. The low rise residential districts on the far east parts of the city have densities up to 15,000 inh./sq km while more central districts where virtually all the jobs are could manage much higher densities without the regulations. For instance, Paris houses 2.2 million people in 120 sq km, same for Manhattan plus adjacents parts of Brooklyn, Queens and Bronx while São Paulo has “only” 1.4 million people in its most central 120 sq km.
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Old Posted Oct 26, 2019, 8:21 PM
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I used to live in São Paulo, and these kind of buildings are indeed common.

Brazil is an uber urbanized country. Also, even though Brazil has gotten much safer recently and São Paulo has about the same crime rate as most major US cities (except Chicago), the lifestyle that these high-rises offer is considerably safer than living in a single family home.

Also, most of these buildings are only one apartment per floor and are generally quite large. This attracted the Brazilian middle class. Nowadays, these buildings are less common and we're seeing more ''urban'' style developments with smaller units and larger floor-plates due to the loosened land use laws. Also, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have become very expensive cities and economically these skinny towers are less profitable.
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Old Posted Oct 26, 2019, 11:19 PM
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Originally Posted by yuriandrade View Post
Monkey, about São Paulo, not quite.

Up to the 1960’s, zoning laws were quite liberal and that’s why we have those beautiful urban sets on the old Downtown, with the historic Triangle resembling Lower Manhattan, with narrow streets and 1930’s skyscrapers touching each other. On República, just west of it, lines and lines of 20-floor modernist buildings taking the entire plot. On 9 de Julho Avenue, built on the bottom of a ravine and surrounded by this beautiful urban canyon just like the Metropolis movie.

After that, legislation started demanding large plots to build in an absurd 2:1 ratio (total ground floor area vs plot size). Highrises weren’t stop and it wasn’t meant to do so. Developers started to build those massive and obnoxious common areas on the ground floor to meet this 2:1 rule. Needless to say that encourages an autocentric way of life which is absurd in a city as dense and as big as São Paulo. As a side effect, you have those horrid walls for tens of meters, nothing to see on the sidewalks.

That was corrected only few years ago, with less draconian ratio for constructing highrises and encouraging mixed use, which was something unheard on decades. Now there are new buildings popping up everywhere with shops on ground floor, small apartments and without parking lots, something that had been forbidden (!!!) on the past legislations.

I'm not quite following - is it that the 1960s-2000s zoning bylaws São Paulo effectively encouraged the construction of skinny towers then?
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Old Posted Oct 26, 2019, 11:21 PM
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Originally Posted by memph View Post
There are a few examples of small floorplate towers in Toronto actually, ex this older highrise.
https://www.google.ca/maps/@43.65925...7i16384!8i8192
There's another on Pembroke St one street over.

However, those two are the only ones I can think of out of the 2000+ highrises in the city.

I thought there'd be a bunch more, but even some other likely candidates like Theatre Park and Museum House are in the 4,000-6,000 sqft range. 2,000 sqft floorplates are really quite small for a high-rise.

There are a few projects in the works that look like they'd be in that range though:


24 Mercer


33 George


369 King


217 Adelaide



A few common factors they share:
  • Constrained sites with no ability for larger land assemblies.
  • Surrounded by other high-rises - making zoning/community approvals easy.
  • Generally higher-end residential developments - smaller floorplates are desirable for exclusivity & more light.
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Old Posted Oct 27, 2019, 12:36 AM
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Monkey, yes. There was a law in São Paulo that restricted the amount of land constructed on per lot. For instance, if there was an empty lot that a developer purchased, they could only build the tower portion of the building on X percentage of the land.

This created skinny buildings in the middle of lots. Since the lots in SP are generally small, the buildings were placed in the middle of the lot and constructed vertically on the same footprint.

Now, this law is more lax and we're seeing more innovative designs in smaller spaces.
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Old Posted Oct 27, 2019, 1:51 AM
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Monkey, yes. There was a law in São Paulo that restricted the amount of land constructed on per lot. For instance, if there was an empty lot that a developer purchased, they could only build the tower portion of the building on X percentage of the land.

This created skinny buildings in the middle of lots. Since the lots in SP are generally small, the buildings were placed in the middle of the lot and constructed vertically on the same footprint.

Now, this law is more lax and we're seeing more innovative designs in smaller spaces.

Ahh, makes sense. That definitely explains the skinny towers then!

A number of other Brazilian cities seem to have a lot of skinny towers as well though - did they have similar regulations, or did perhaps the style of building in Sao Paulo influence other places or something?


Sao Paulo


https://www.shutterstock.com/video/c...lo-city-brazil


Belo Horizonte


http://tourplans.com/destinations/so...elo-horizonte/


Salvador


https://www.nationsonline.org/onewor...p_Salvador.htm
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Old Posted Oct 27, 2019, 2:27 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by memph View Post
One of the things I've noticed about Sao Paulo after checking out the city on streetview/google maps is that they have a lot of narrow highrises, usually 10-30 storeys tall. By narrow, I mean 2000-4000 sf floor plates, and only a small percentage of highrises with floor plates of over 6000 sf. By comparison, Vancouver highrises seem to have mostly 6000-8000 sf floor plates and Toronto highrises are mostly 8000-12000 sf floor plates for point towers, and up to 20000 sf for slab towers.

People often say that smaller buildings and buildings with smaller floor plates are not profitable enough to build in the North American context, but Sao Paulo seems to have plenty of those. They're quite common in other Brazilian cities too. Sao Paulo does not have the extreme wealth of Manhattan, nor those it have the extreme land constraints that can explain Hong Kong's "pencil towers". Although most of the Sao Paulo highrises are probably not geared towards its low income population, they're still common enough that I'd expect its residents to be broad middle or upper-middle class, similar to how it is with the residents of highrises in North American cities.

So what's different about Sao Paulo/Brazil that makes these kinds of buildings more economically feasible? Why does Sao Paulo build so few large (8000sf+) floorplate buildings and why do North American cities build so few small (<5000sf) floorplate buildings?
Chicago has some very skinny towers too, especially from the 1920s. One of them is over 40 floors tall and the upper floors seem barely 40 feet across, if that much. Not sure, is that the Opera Building?

On thing about Sao Paulo considering the massive number of tall and mid sized high rises and the vast size of downtown, why are there no buildings above 50 floors? There may not even be one above 40. Is there some kind of zoning restriction? Mexico City is a similar sized Latin American metropolis, and has quite a few buildings above 40 stories, and some over 50. Much smaller Santiago has a supertall now. Recife is much smaller, but seems to have more 40+ towers.

Last edited by CaliNative; Oct 27, 2019 at 2:39 AM.
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Old Posted Oct 27, 2019, 3:17 AM
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Skinny highrise projects are fairly typical in Manhattan:

Infill examples:








Highrise Examples:


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Old Posted Oct 27, 2019, 12:43 PM
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Originally Posted by MonkeyRonin View Post
I'm not quite following - is it that the 1960s-2000s zoning bylaws São Paulo effectively encouraged the construction of skinny towers then?
Not sure whether those laws encouraged the construction of narrow towers. I just meant they were not result of lax zoning laws as this period had very strict (and bad) ones.

Quote:
Originally Posted by CaliNative View Post
Chicago has some very skinny towers too, especially from the 1920s. One of them is over 40 floors tall and the upper floors seem barely 40 feet across, if that much. Not sure, is that the Opera Building?

On thing about Sao Paulo considering the massive number of tall and mid sized high rises and the vast size of downtown, why are there no buildings above 50 floors? There may not even be one above 40. Is there some kind of zoning restriction? Mexico City is a similar sized Latin American metropolis, and has quite a few buildings above 40 stories, and some over 50. Much smaller Santiago has a supertall now. Recife is much smaller, but seems to have more 40+ towers.
The horrible zoning laws we were talking about. To build a very tall building, it would take the demolition of several blocks which would make the whole thing not viable. São Paulo is by far the largest economy of the entire Latin America, so it would have a lot of potential.
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Old Posted Oct 27, 2019, 3:26 PM
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Why are we singling out Sao Paulo, when this is a standard South American typology?

And why are we comparing to NA, where middle and upper class people rarely live in urban towers (yes there are a few regional exceptions).

In NYC, the NIMBYs made it much harder to build "silver" towers in the 1980's. There was a huge wave of slivers in the early 1980's, and then the rules were tightened up, so it is almost impossible to build true residential slivers in residential areas.
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