Luís Bettencourt, Joey Lee, Markus Schläpfer

Paper #: 15-12-045

The shape of buildings plays a critical role in the energy eciency, lifestyles, land use and infrastructure systems of cities. Thus, as most of the world’s cities continue to grow and develop, understanding the interplay between the characteristics of urban environments and the built form of cities is essential to achieve local and global sustainability goals. Here, we compile and analyze the most extensive data set of building shapes to date, covering more than 4.8 million individual buildings across several major cities in North America. We show that average building height increases systematically with city size and follows theoretical predictions derived from urban scaling theory. We also study the allometric relationship between surface area and volume of buildings in terms of characteristic shape parameters. This allows us to demonstrate that the reported trend towards higher (and more voluminous) buildings e↵ectively decreases the average surface-to- volume ratio, suggesting potentially significant energy savings with growing city size. At the same time, however, the surface-to-volume ratio increases in the downtown cores of large cities, due to shape e↵ects and specifically to the proliferation of tall, needlelike buildings. Thus, the issue of changes in building shapes with city size and associated energy management problem is highly heterogeneous. It requires a systematic approach that includes the factors that drive the form of built environments, entangling physical, infrastructural and socioeconomic aspects of cities.