Santa Fe Institute

A science of city skylines?

Jan. 29, 2016 9:44 a.m.

A city’s skyline is more than a silhouette, according to new research by SFI’s Markus Schlӓpfer, Luís Bettencourt, and their colleague Joey Lee. Articles in The Atlantic's CityLab and MIT Technology Review highlights the team’s finding that heights of metropolitan buildings increase predictably with population size, and that buildings' outward shapes play a role in determining a city’s carbon footprint.

The researchers analyzed dimensions of almost five million buildings across North America, in 12 cities of varying sizes. They found that building shapes could be characterized as a function of population, with the average heights increasing predictably with population size. As a city’s population rises, so do its buildings, which become more energy efficient—“up to a point.” Buildings diffuse less heat as they move from flat to cube-like, but then they lose efficiency again as tall, “needle-like” skyscrapers proliferate, as in New York and downtown Boston.

The articles point to potential for a “new science of skylines” in planning sustainable megacities.

Read the article in The Atlantic's CityLab (January 28, 2016)

Read the article in Government Technology (January 7, 2016)

Read the article in MIT Technology Review (December 14, 2015) 

Read the article in The Wall Street Journal that highlights other urban insights from SFI (December 11, 2015)

Read the paper on arxiv (December 3, 2015)

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