Project Highrise – April 2016 Architect’s Notes

by matt v, April 27th, 2016

Cuius est solum, eius est usque ad coelum et ad inferos.
(Whoever’s is the soil, it is theirs all the way to heaven and to hell).

A question we get frequently when people first see Project Highrise is an obvious one when your game is based on building skyscrapers: “How high can I build?” On the technical side of the game, that’s mostly up to you as the player – how tall can you or do you want to build?

But it’s also more complicated than that, because city laws and rules also impact you as tower builder and manager. That opening quote in Latin forms one of the core tenets of modern property law – that if you own a piece of land, you own everything that’s above it and below it. However, that doesn’t mean that you’re completely free to do with it as you please. Cities set rules, limits, regulations and statutes that govern construction of everything from backyard sheds to gleaming towers of steel and glass.

The city regulates how much tower you can build. Click the image for larger.

Almost as soon as steel frames liberated builders from the rather modest height achievable with masonry load bearing walls (see the Monadnock Building building in Chicago for the limits of masonry walls), cities began imposing limits on how tall these new buildings could rise. In 1920, that was 264 feet in Chicago and between 600 and 700 feet in New York.

In addition to the limit on height, there is also the concept of air rights. These are a set of rules and calculations that permit a given number of square feet to be built on a lot based on its dimensions and location. The combination of these two things largely defines how much tower you can build.

As an aspiring developer in Project Highrise, you’ll have to be keenly aware of those limits as you plan and construct your tower. You will only be able to build a set amount of floor space, and up to a certain height. So do you go as tall as possible and maximize for height? Or do you max out your floor area first and building height second? Maybe you build a large base and a skinny tower (or two)?

This large building is nearing its city-imposed limit on height. Click the image for larger.

In Project Highrise’s campaign mode scenarios (and to a more limited extent in sandbox), you’ll be confronted with building lots of many different configurations and sizes. Some come with their own special city limitations for you to work with (or around). Your challenge will be to create a prestigious, prosperous tower within the constraints of size, zoning and other civic constraints.

Of course, there are ways to massage those rules in your favor. You can hire consultants that can use their influence with City Hall to allow you a valuable exemption. You can agree to build some public space in exchange for an increased allocation of air rights. Often the city will also be looking to encourage specific types of construction – tall residential towers or expansive office buildings. You should use these initiatives to your advantage.

A successful developer will have to manage more than just the tenants in the building, but a whole host of external pressures. More on those other external pressures next time.