In the decade since Antony Wood became executive director of the 47-year-old Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, membership has increased by 539%, the annual budget has increased to $5 million from about $225,000, and the staff has increased to the equivalent of 31 full-time positions from only two, according to the Chicago-based CTBUH.
“Antony Wood was hired in 2006 to run the operations of the council—he had no mandate to grow it,” says Ron Klemencic, chairman of the group from 2001 to 2005 and the person who recruited Wood. “Yet the council’s growth has surpassed anything I imagined,” adds Klemencic, chairman and CEO of structural engineer Magnusson Klemencic Associates.
The group’s 9,042 organizational members—including academics, developers, designers, contractors and suppliers of tall-building systems—represent nearly 1.3 million individuals in 53 nations across six continents. Wood’s strategy was “to take the group out of academia—still keeping one foot in the door—and engage the professions,” says David Malott, CTBUH’s chairman since 2014 and a principal with architect KPF. Malott wants to diversify even further and integrate technology companies into the group.
Trained as an architect in the U.K., Wood also teaches at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) College of Architecture, Chicago, and is a visiting professor of tall buildings at Tongji University, Shanghai. “My passion and interest is skyscrapers, since I was a small kid,” he says.
Described as having boundless energy, Wood is devoted to improving tall buildings, not simply running the organization and fund-raising. “I’m the guy challenging the industry,” he says, adding that “95% of tall buildings are crap.”
To help make skyscrapers better, CTBUH in 2011 launched an original-research program, giving out $112,000. This year, the group awarded $479,000 in grants intended to upgrade skyscraper quality by creating better design tools and standardizing practices worldwide.
In Wood’s own 2014 research paper, “Rethinking the Skyscraper in the Ecological Age,” he outlined several design principles. Tall buildings should relate to the physical, environmental and cultural characteristics of place, he says. They should vary with height in form, texture and program. And they should bring all aspects of the city up into the sky.
In 2006, the group issued three publications. Last year, the publication count was 26. All materials are free to anyone, not simply members. Among the publications are the CTBUH Journal and technical design guidelines on topics such as wind-tunnel testing, structural outriggers, performance-based seismic design and natural ventilation.
With the help of his staff, Wood also has built up the CTBUH annual conferences, which provide income to fund the group’s other programs. In 2001, before the Wood era, a conference in Melbourne, Australia, attracted 321 attendees. This year, the conference in China—held from Oct. 16 to 21 in three cities, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Hong Kong—attracted a record 1,350 registrants. Wood hopes to step that number up to 3,000 to 5,000 at the group’s 2018 conference.
“He’s a real entrepreneur,” says Malott. “He has elevated the council as a brand.”