Designing tall buildings as urban habitats rather than structures that stand aloof from their environments has become an important concern. However, without quantitative data, design and architecture cannot achieve effective urban renewal and thus, better placemaking. Aiming to fill this gap, a human-focused approach for measuring the social impact of tall buildings’ ground condition—where they interface with public space—has been applied in the CBDs of three Asian megacities: Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore, which all face similar problems. Patterns and categories of lower-level public spaces were abstracted via typological analyses and field study.
Evaluations on social impact were achieved through the analytic hierarchy process via expert rating and stated preference survey in a virtual reality environment. Virtual reality techniques were then applied to create an immersive, three-dimensional environment for illustrating different combinations of spatial patterns. Preferences and perceptions were collected as representations of social performance. Discrete choice models were used to run statistical analyses. This study quantitatively explores the relevance between tall buildings’ lower public spaces and their social impacts. Well-designed elements such as the inclusion of plant life as well as seating, arcades, through-block links and small-scale plazas could greatly improve the quality of lower public spaces. At-height public spaces could foster social benefits, encouraging patrons to visit and remain in the space at length. Evaluations in three case studies suggest the importance of vertical pedestrian networks and multi-level public spaces in high-density city areas. In-depth, quantitative understanding achieved from this study could assist efficient placemaking for positive social benefits. This study also helps to suggest design codes for tall buildings aimed at a more human-scaled urban habitat.