For Students in IIT’s Master of Tall Buildings and Vertical Urbanism Program, the Sky’s the Limit

A first-of-its-kind graduate program offered by IIT and the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat helps students see the world’s greatest skyscrapers and launch innovative projects reimagining the future of sustainable living and urban development


A group of M.TBVU students and professors pose for a photo on the skybridge between the two Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur

CHICAGO—April 18, 2024—In a rapidly urbanizing world, where 70 percent of the global population is projected to live in cities by 2050, Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) have positioned themselves at the forefront of architectural education with their groundbreaking Master of Tall Buildings and Vertical Urbanism (M.TBVU) program.

A year and a half since the pioneering program’s inception, students have not only embraced the challenges of designing the future’s high-rise landscapes but have also set new benchmarks through their remarkable achievements. From envisioning sustainable urban environments, using both new techniques and traditional materials, to exploring the architectural wonders of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore, M.TBVU students are redefining what it means to build upward. Together, they are proving the immense potential of vertical urbanism to foster healthy, energy-efficient and sustainable communities for cities of tomorrow.

“Our students in the M.TBVU program have embarked on an unparalleled journey of innovation and discovery,” says Reed Kroloff, dean of the IIT College of Architecture. “Their dedication and creativity in addressing the complexities of tall building design and urban density underscore not only their potential, but also the program’s unique capacity to shape the architects of the future. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, our college’s former dean, gave shape to a new way of modernist living, and our students today continue his legacy, designing buildings that are uniquely suited to the needs of the twenty-first century and beyond.”

M.TBVU—the world’s first multidisciplinary advanced degree focused specifically on the high-rise and the role of urban density in future cities—is a full-time, one-year program spanning a 30-credit professional master’s, tailored to propel graduates to the forefront of tall-building design and urban planning. Building on IIT’s rich legacy of architectural innovation, which led directly to world-famous buildings such as the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower and 875 North Michigan (formerly the Hancock Center), and CTBUH’s status as the world’s leading authority on tall buildings, the M.TBVU program is deeply rooted in a tradition of pioneering high-rise structures. In addition, the program boasts an illustrious board of advisors comprising some of the world’s foremost architects.

Vertical urbanism, the program’s core philosophy, addresses the multidimensional challenges and opportunities presented by urban density. It encompasses not just the architectural and structural aspects of tall buildings but also their social, environmental, and economic impact on cities, among numerous other outcomes. The concept promotes the development of high-performance, energy-efficient, sustainable skyscrapers that integrate seamlessly with the urban fabric, enhancing the livability, resilience and sustainability of metropolitan areas.

“In an era defined by unprecedented urban growth, the significance of vertical urbanism cannot be overstated,” says Dr. Antony Wood, CTBUH president and director of M.TBVU. “Our collaboration with IIT represents a critical step forward in preparing a new generation of architects and urban designers, instilling in them the importance of integrating sustainable, energy-efficient practices with innovative design to meet the challenges of future cities. Through this unique approach, we are not just shaping the future of skyscrapers but building the future of urban living itself.”

Through the generosity of a sponsorship by Ramboll Group, an extraordinary opportunity was provided to the first intake class of the M.TBVU program, led by Wood. In support of the design studio “Future Timber City,” seven M.TBVU students accompanied Wood and CTBUH Research Director Daniel Safarik to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur in February 2023. In the following academic year, with the support of CTBUH, Dr. Yohan Kim, assistant director of M.TBVU, and eight students in the Talking Tall II course traveled to Dubai and Abu Dhabi in March 2024. Throughout a wide range of building and office tours, conversations with industry-leading experts, and urban cultural excursions, the field trips to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi provided valuable insights into the architectural innovations and sustainable design strategies currently employed throughout the regions.

A key aspect of the M.TBVU program is the participation of the renowned architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), which is running the program’s design studio in the 2023–24 academic year. A Chicago institution since 1936, SOM’s work includes Chicago’s most iconic skyscrapers, One World Trade Center in New York, and Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. Three senior colleagues at SOM—Design Partner Scott Duncan, Associate Principal Jorge Rovira, and Associate Principal Jason Fisher—instructed and gave guidance to M.TBVU students, allowing them to see how professionals at the top of their field approach problems and find solutions. Students also got the opportunity to visit SOM’s offices in downtown Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, letting them take a deeper look into the firm’s innovative design processes and the collaborative work environment, which has produced some of the world’s most recognizable buildings.

The SOM-led studio culminated in a student project called Nova Pro Forma, which confronted the evolving landscape of urban architecture in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and shifting societal norms. Challenged to reevaluate the traditional tall building typology, which has predominantly served commercial office and multifamily residential purposes, students devised alternative uses for tall structures that directly respond to contemporary ecological challenges and changing work-life paradigms. Through their explorations, students developed architectural designs and corresponding financial models—called “pro forma”—for uses ranging from carbon capture and energy generation to food production and medicine, plus an integrated approach combining functions to support multifamily housing.

“The M.TBVU program’s extensive education and network opened doors to remarkable opportunities in tall building design, offering a fresh perspective on urbanism,” says Allison Drooger, a current M.TBVU student. “Connections forged in the studio led to an enriching internship at SOM, where learning extended beyond theory to hands-on experience with esteemed architects. This ongoing education continues to shape my understanding of how architecture impacts our cities, and how we as designers can create a more enjoyable world for others through design. The opportunities of this master’s program are endless!”

Another student project, Future Timber City, boldly reimagines urban existence in the year 2070. Faced with the daunting challenges of climate change, rapid urbanization, and the need for sustainable development, students were tasked with designing a megacity to accommodate 10 million inhabitants, primarily using timber. Throughout the two-semester course, students not only devised a detailed urban vision, but also refined the design of a cluster of tall buildings within the futuristic city.

“The Master of Tall Buildings and Vertical Urbanism program at Illinois Institute of Technology provided me with the opportunity to develop essential knowledge and gain up-to-date industry insights from professionals,” says Jiwon Park, who graduated from the program last year. “Additionally, the program’s vibrant community facilitated the establishment of meaningful connections for me, ultimately leading to a designer position at Safdie Architects. I am thrilled to leverage and refine the skills honed during the program, contributing to both personal and professional growth in a dynamic work environment.”

The M.TBVU program is currently accepting applications for the fall term. The deadline for international students is May 15, and August 1 for domestic students. Please contact Dr. Kim at with any questions about the application process.

Image: The students of the Masters of Tall Buildings and Vertical Urbanism (M.TBVU) program pose with Dr. Antony Wood, CTBUH president, and Daniel Safarik, CTBUH director of research and thought leadership, on the skybridge spanning the two Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur on Levels 41 and 42 at 170 meters (558 feet) above ground.

Illinois Institute of Technology

Based in the global metropolis of Chicago, Illinois Tech was born to liberate the power of collective difference to advance technology and innovation for all. It is the only tech-focused university in the city, and it stands at the crossroads of exploration and invention, advancing the future of Chicago and the world. It offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering, computing, architecture, business, design, science and human sciences, and law. Illinois Tech students are guaranteed access to hands-on experiences, personalized mentorship, and job readiness through the university's one-of-a-kind Elevate program. Its graduates lead the state and much of the nation in economic prosperity. Its faculty and alumni built the Chicago skyline. And every day in the city's living lab, Illinois Tech fuels breakthroughs that change lives. Visit

IIT College of Architecture

The College of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology builds on a legacy of disciplined experimentation in materials and technologies to educate and inspire the next generation of architects and landscape architects. From its landmark campus and home at S. R. Crown Hall, IIT Architecture champions an interdisciplinary approach to education and research that is simultaneously local and global in its impact. IIT Architecture students are educated to address complex, contemporary challenges of designing and constructing across all scales. Both faculty and students enjoy a longstanding relationship with professional practice in Chicago, a city with a vibrant history of innovation in architecture, design, landscape architecture, and urbanism. Visit

Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to smarter, more sustainable cities and a more viable future for global populations. Specifically, CTBUH focuses on the critical role of density in addressing climate change. CTBUH is headquartered in Chicago and has offices in Shanghai, China, and Venice, Italy. CTBUH’s worldwide membership network includes companies from fields such as real estate development, architecture, engineering, cost consulting, building management and construction, among others. In addition to hosting leading industry events, CTBUH produces research and reporting on issues of significant consequence to its membership. Its most utilized asset is its building database,, a compendium of detailed data, images and technical information on more than 30,000 tall buildings throughout the world. CTBUH is best known to the public for developing the international standards for measuring tall building height and is recognized as the arbiter of the “World’s Tallest Building” designation. For more information, please visit

Media contacts

Kevin Dollear
Communications Manager
Illinois Institute of Technology
Cell: 773.860.5712

Charles Mutscheller
Director of Marketing & Communications
Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat