The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat began life in 1969 as the "Joint Committee on Tall Buildings," a group formed by the International Association of Bridge and Structural Engineering and the American Society of Civil Engineers. Today, civil/structural engineering - indeed, all of engineering - represents only a small part of the Council's field of activity.
The First World Congress, held in Bethlehem in 1972, was titled "Planning and Design of Tall Buildings" and focused primarily on technical aspects of skyscrapers. The Sixth World Congress, 29 years later and half a world away, is subtitled "Cities of The Third Millennium" and focuses equally on tall buildings and the urban habitat of which the buildings form an integral part.
These changes reflect the ways in which, at the start of the twenty-first century, the "why" of tall buildings has become as important as the "how." Technology, especially structural technology, plays an increasingly small role today in determining how tall a skyscraper can be, or whether it should be built at all. The more important consideration is that the building be compatible with the way people choose to live and work.
Another important development is that tall buildings are no longer an American preserve: Thirteen of the twenty tallest buildings in the world were built in the last 20 years; eleven of the thirteen are in Asia; only one is in North America. Many of the Asian buildings in the current top-twenty used American technology and expertise, but this is just a passing phase. Knowledge in the twenty-first century does not recognize geographic or national boundaries.
The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat has worked throughout its existence to lower the barriers to the free flow of knowledge between disciplines and nations. The Council is, today, the only organization in the world in its field that is both multidisciplinary and truly international.
The Council's 60 topical committees are organized into eight Topical Groups that cover Urban Systems, Development and Management, Planning and Architecture, Building Systems and Concepts, Building Service Systems, Design Criteria and Loads, Tall Steel Buildings, and Tall Concrete and Masonry Buildings. The Council's general membership is drawn from 77 countries; the majority of the governing Steering Group are from outside North America; there are Vice Chairmen representing all regions of the world.