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Skyscrapers Now House Everything From Schools to Cemeteries

William Jones College Preparatory High School

Photograph by James Steinkamp, Steinkamp Photography

William Jones College Preparatory High School

Exploding population numbers, increasingly dense cities, and a shift toward green urban design have many architects using skyscraper architecture to build more than just residential and office towers. These days, there are high-rise schools, vertical farms, and even skyscraper cemeteries.

Skyscraper school designs are fairly tame compared with other high-rise creations. In Milan, architects have broken ground on an $85 million vertical forest, which will be populated by “730 trees, 5,000 shrubs and 11,000 plants, to be exact,” according to Spiegel International. Meanwhile, Singapore boasts one of the world’s first vertical farms, a structure called SkyGreens that has rotating vegetable gardens, gravity-powered waterwheels, and more.

Japan already has a high-rise cemetery, and other countries may follow suit. A Norwegian architecture student named Martin McSherry recently ruffled feathers by proposing a vertical cemetery that would grow taller as more graves get added. “In time, the city’s tallest and largest building will become a grave for all its citizens—the city’s ever-changing monument,” said McSherry, according to Gizmodo.

Downtown Chicago’s William Jones College Preparatory High School, a seven-story building that opened in August, is one of a growing number of skyscraper schools. “There was no alternative [to going vertical] for this site,” says Chris Hale, a senior associate with Perkins+Will, the firm that designed the Jones Prep building. Classrooms are on the fourth and fifth floors; the lunchroom, auditorium and library are below; and the school’s swimming pool and gymnasium are on the upper stories.

“The design team wanted to ensure that the typical school-as-community center, common to schools laid out horizontally, was maintained even if the school was built vertically,” said a spokesman for Perkins+Will. This was done, in part, by including consistent access to natural daylight, as well as outdoor spaces, such as expansive terraces off the library, cafeteria, and athletic facilities.

Hale suspects that high-rise schools will become increasingly common. There are already a handful in major cities. Beacon High School on 43rd street, once a New York Public Library warehouse, is seven stories tall. The Beekman Hill International School in Manhattan, which houses K-5, is five stories tall and has a roof playground. This fall, Georgia opened North Atlanta High, constructed for $147 million in an old IBM (IBM) skyscraper. “With 11 stories, a 900-car parking deck and views fit for a corporate executive, the school, North Atlanta High, looks very much like the fancy office buildings and glittery shopping strips that populate its Buckhead community,” writes the New York Times.

Winter is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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