Antony Wood — Taking the Tall Buildings Council to Historic Heights
ENR 11/21/16 p. 26
The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat’s dynamo executive director propelled the global skyscraper authority into a new era.
In 1991, during a global recession, a 20-year-old English architecture-school graduate named Antony Wood rejected a job offer in his native Manchester, England. Instead, he bought a one-way ticket to Hong Kong and took his first flight—jobless and nearly penniless—9,600 miles into the unknown. “All my friends thought I was absolutely crazy,” says Wood, executive director of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) since 2006. “I thought I was absolutely rational.”
Long fascinated by futuristic skyscraper cities depicted in films, Wood saw his first tall towers in Hong Kong. But it took him five weeks to get a job, having been rejected by every architect in the phone book. Finally, he got an interview with a model maker, part of Wise Power Developers. He was hired, but not to make models. Wise flew him the next day to Bangkok to work on an 80-story tower. By 1998, when he moved back to the U.K., Wood had gained expertise in skyscrapers.
Considering his youthful quest, it’s not such a stretch to understand why, in 2006, Wood packed his bags again and, with his wife and two young children, flew 5,000 miles to Chicago to take the helm of the CTBUH. Still, the move was risky. Formed in 1969 by the late Lynn Beedle, the council— once the thriving authority on skyscrapers—could not even afford a full-time executive. Instead of burning any bridges, Wood took a one-year leave from his job teaching architecture at his alma mater, the University of Nottingham.
At the Illinois Institute of Technology, where CTBUH had relocated from Lehigh University, Wood inherited an office full of dusty boxes. “I immediately went to IKEA and bought a desk, shelves, a computer and a phone,” he says.
The initial contract called for Wood to split his time equally between CTBUH and teaching architecture at IIT. “It was never 50-50, in terms of my time,” he says. Currently, the split is 80-20. But Wood’s CTBUH work week is at least 60 hours.
Under Wood, membership increased 539%, the annual budget went to $5 million from $225,000, and the staff grew to 31 full-time-equivalent slots. 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. Wood now wants to grow the CTBUH’s presence in Africa and South America.
In his “dream job,” Wood has initiated an original-research program, expanded publications and made the CTBUH website an interactive treasure trove of data that is free to everyone.
“Antony has worked tirelessly to advance the exchange of information” about tall buildings, says Abrar Sheriff, president and CEO of Turner International. “He has been a driving force to increase the collaborative spirit of our [entire] industry.”