High-rise buildings meet the need for densification

By Nicolas Terrier

The first residential tower in Switzerland was built in Lausanne in 1932 (Bel-Air-Métropole). The development of high-rise residential buildings seems to be continuing, and demand for this type of construction is growing by the day, according to the February 2018 presentation of the Swiss real estate market prepared by Credit Suisse.

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One current project that illustrates this trend is the Praille-Acacias-Vernet (PAV) project, currently under development in Geneva. It will eventually comprise a potential of 12,400 housing units with towers initially planned up to 175 meters in height (Tribune de Genève, 2015).

Projet du PAV (CFFSA , 2018)

It is therefore interesting to understand the main reasons for the attractiveness of this type of building.

1. Re-urbanisation

Cities are at the heart of economic life but also of social and cultural life. They provide access to a higher quality of life, thanks in particular to the proximity of infrastructures and also to the ease of access to services. This increases the demand for housing in urban centers and thus the construction of this type of building.

2. Territorial constraint

In Switzerland, the territorial constraints linked to the mountains and numerous lakes, among other things, prevent cities from expanding in width and lead to densification that supports development at higher altitudes.

3. Population growth

The Federal Statistical Office has planned several scenarios on the evolution of the Swiss population between now and 2045. The latter should be between 9.3 million and 11.0 million, i.e. an expected growth of between 12 and 32%. In order to meet the need, supply should, therefore, develop vertically due to territorial constraints.

4. Architectural quality

Contrary to the boom of the 1970s, when the quality of materials was inferior to today, techniques have largely evolved and tower projects take into account integration into the environment, facilitating acceptance by the population. The evolution of techniques has therefore made it possible to build buildings that are taller, more robust and better integrated into the environment.

5. Rent supplement per floor

The more the dwelling is located on the upper floors, the more the landlord will have the possibility to adjust the rent or the selling price upwards, thus bringing him a better return on investment as can be seen in the graph below. Coupled with the fact that land is becoming increasingly scarce, developers have an incentive to build a high-rise.

(Credit Suisse, 2018)

6. Evolution of lifestyles

The ideal of the couple with the man who works and the woman who stays at home is over. There is a real propensity to want to live alone for a longer period of time, whether it is for young people who are extending their studies, for couples who are postponing the arrival of a child, or for those who simply do not wish to have children. Thus, the desire to live alone, more than a constraint, intensifies, and supports the need to densify cities to meet the demand.

7. Emergence of the collaborative economy

Supported by technology, the “sharing economy” facilitates the arrival of Airbnb, Uber, and other digital companies. This trend has accustomed residents to sharing their daily lives, to taking advantage of significant discounts, whether in sports halls, laundries, or on rooftop terraces, for example. Thus, in order to take full advantage of these benefits, residents are more inclined to reside in urban centers.

8. Regulation

Finally, there is also a desire for densification at height that emanates from local regulators in order to conserve and preserve, among other things, a minimum of agricultural land and green spaces within cities, but also to meet the growing need for housing.


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