*Editor’s Note: This is the first installation of our Tall Excellence Series, exploring ideas on the theme of Excellence in conjunction with the upcoming 2022 CTBUH International Conference.

What is Excellence?


It is a word that all cultures can relate to, and yet its definition is often intangible and elusive. There are people, leaders, buildings, and products that capture this idea of “excellence,” but how do we define why they are excellent? This is what we seek to understand further and aspire towards.

Excellence is defined as “an excellent or valuable quality” or the “quality of being excellent”.i Derived from Latin the word excellentia was defined as “superiority, greatness, distinction, excellence.” Coming from the prefix ex, meaning “out from” and cellere, meaning “to rise high, to tower”, the origins of the word define it as being beyond, or rising above something or someone.ii Already, we can see the connection in the pursuit of, and innovations around, taller buildings, and that this pursuit is synonymous with striving for further excellence in the construction field.

What does excellence mean in contemporary times? More precisely, what does it mean in our industry? The pursuit “to rise higher” comes along with the challenges of sustainability, resilience to climate change, equity, density intrinsic to humanity and growth, urban connectivity, social well-being, etc. Most importantly, how can defining the elements of what embodies excellence help us improve the status quo and overcome the many challenges ahead?

This year in Chicago, CTBUH is asking its members to be part of the discussion in the contemporary definition of excellence in our industry.


Progression of a Changing Industry

Over the past 20 years, CTBUH has seen the number of tall building projects increasing, and structures 200 meters plus exponentially growing. In 2002, there were only 16 tall buildings completed around the world that reached 200 meters or taller. Whereas in 2020, there was a global total of 106 tall buildings over 200 meters. In 2018, a peak of 148 total built projects were completed that year, with 18 towers being designated supertalls (over 300m). While the total number of tall buildings that reached completion decreased in 2019 and 2020, the number of supertalls increased with 26 and 21 towers completed respectively.iii

Advancements in design, construction methods, materials, and technology have made this possible and contribute to changing our urban environments. Innovation is a catalyst for how we build and define excellence.


But there are other paths for excellence we need to explore. Our planet is also changing. According to a report compiled by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the last four decades have been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850.iv The recently published May 2022 Global Climate summary from NOAA climate.gov states that the ten warmest May months have all occurred from 2010 to the present day.v Increasing temperatures cause more wildfires, social displacement, reduced air quality, health related illnesses as well as an intensified water cycle with severe wet and dry events.vi Sea-level rise and increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere affects our future development. Sustainability and resilience are becoming more resonate in the longevity and operation of successful tall buildings and the growth of urban areas.

Does excellence include carbon reduction, new methods of heating and cooling and a relationship with changing weather patterns in how we design? Does excellence form a connection with the environment? Is excellence defined by a tower’s identity in how it integrates urban life, health, equity, and social connections?

What defines a building is more than its height. It is how it breathes, moves and contributes to the landscape of ingenuity in shaping our lives and how we live together.


Discussing Excellence at 2022 CTBUH International Conference

At this year’s conference, our plenaries, sessions, and keynote speakers will be sharing their expertise and knowledge of what is at the forefront of the tall industry and urban development, all with the underlying theme of addressing how we define excellence in the profession. Our opening plenary will lead the charge in “The Search for Excellence: Are Our Towers Good Enough?” It will look at what questions we are asking and how we are leading as well as falling short in the transformation of our cities.

On the first day of the conference (9 November) it will be dedicated to half-day workshops on an important new CTBUH initiative: the establishment of a global accreditation and certification program for both buildings and professionals. It is the very essence of what determines ‘excellence’ in tall buildings and will be led by leaders in the field. Each workshop will focus on a specific category of performance such as carbon, safety, urban integration etc. Members will help determine if this new program is aimed at one holistic rating across all disciplines or separate accreditations. How does this certification join with codes for tall buildings internationally? What are the important determinates for the industry?

Bookending the conference, will be a closing plenary “The Future of Excellence: Dreams and Realities of a Better Future” with practitioners who are leaders in visionary and new ways of thinking. It will encapsulate the qualities that we aspire to find in achieving excellence and identify paths leading us towards new and better realities.

These discussions push what we are already seeing: the plethora of tall buildings aiming to do more for their occupants and the greater environments they are built in. Join us in defining excellence.


i “Excellence.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, accessed July 15, 2022, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/excellence

ii “Excellence.” Online Etymology Dictionary, accessed July 15, 2022, https://www.etymonline.com/word/excellence

iii “Tall Buildings in 2020: COVID-19 Contributes to Dip in Year-On-Year Completions.” Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, accessed July 19, 2022, https://www.skyscrapercenter.com/year-in-review/2020

iv “Global surface temperature in the first two decades of the twenty-first century (2001–2020) was 0.99 [0.84–1.10] °C higher than 1850–1900. Global surface temperature was 1.09 [0.95–1.20] °C higher in 2011–2020 than 1850–1900, with larger increases over land (1.59 [1.34–1.83] °C) than over the ocean (0.88 [0.68–1.01] °C).” World Meteorological Organization. United in Science 2021: A multi-organization high-level compilation of the latest climate science information. 2021. Download at: public.wmo.int/en/resources/united_in_science

v “Global Climate Summary for May 2022” NOAA Climate.gov, accessed July 15, 2022, https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/global-climate-summary-may-2022

vi World Meteorological Organization.