Published in Office Life February 2008
Architecture, according to American novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, is primarily about creating spaces for human beings to inhabit, and in so doing it expresses what it means for man to inhabit this earth.
From the Burj Dubai to the Shanghai ifc to the Freedom Tower and the International Commerce Centre (ICC), today’s intelligent skyscrapers are re-writing man’s relationship with the earth. Technological innovation has allowed us to exhibit a far deeper and more meaningful connection with everything that is important to us, in the way that we create and interact with our buildings.
One thing is clear, and that is that we are reaching ever skyward. The Burj Dubai, when it is completed at the end of 2008, is expected to be the world’s tallest free-standing structure at over 700 m, finally knocking Toronto’s CN Tower off the top spot where it has been for 32 years. New York City’s Freedom Tower will stand 541 m tall, a testimony to its role as a ‘beacon of freedom’ and a symbol of the democratic resolve of the people of the US.
When the ICC opens its doors in West Kowloon in 2010, it will be Hong Kong’s tallest skyscraper at 118 storeys and 490 m and, for some time at least, is set to remain as one of the top ten tallest buildings in the world. This, in spite of a Hong Kong government regulation that limits the height of new buildings so that the ridgelines on top of the Peak and Lion Rock remain visually accessible.
Height is no mean feat to achieve and factors such as wind speed and force weigh in heavily when designing upwards. Architects for the Burj Dubai conducted extensive wind tunnel tests to ensure the tower would perform optimally in response to weather conditions.
“Form and shape are critical in how a building responds to high winds and extreme weather. Wind vortices, the forces that move a building from side to side, can create movement that is uncomfortable for occupants,” explained Adrian Smith, architect of the Burj Dubai.
The ICC, designed by renowned US architects Kohn Pederson Fox and poised to be an icon for the future, will feature 2.5 million sq ft of ultra-modern office space with the 5-star Ritz-Carlton hotel sitting above the office floors, making it the tallest hotel in the world; and an observation deck, in-between hotel and office, where members of the general public can go to unwind and enjoy the stunning views.
The key to the ‘intelligence’ of both the ICC and the Shanghai ifc is the way the infrastructure will be flexible enough to cater for real technology that is coming in the future, according to T.S. Lee, project director responsible for the ICC and the Shanghai ifc at Sun Hung Kai.
“Nowadays with telecommunications technology advancing so quickly, buildings need to be able to adapt to future technological advances,” he described. “We need to build in sufficient duct and shaft space to cater for increased data transmission capacities. Our tenants may need more fibre optic cables as their business grows.”
Intelligent systems are used to control all aspects of the buildings, including the electrical supply and the air-conditioning supply. “Telecommunication needs are very high, so a stable source of electrical power is needed,” explained Mr Lee. Again, spare electrical capacity is built in.
Security and safety aspects will also feature highly in the buildings. According to Mr Lee, since the 9/11 attacks in New York, security and safety have become major concerns of many building tenants. At the ICC, smartcard-based turnstile systems used to control visitor entry into the building will be integrated with the elevator control system for more efficient people movement.
Among the many priorities of the new ICC and Shanghai ifc buildings is the very important one of energy efficiency. Through the use of advanced technology and sustainable practices, both buildings will minimise the use of fuel and energy.
These savings mean a lot to the environment. According to scientists, commercial and residential skyscrapers have a big effect on their surroundings, from the amount of energy they consume and the wasteful way they use raw materials to the greenhouse gases they produce.
In the case of the Burj Dubai, the environment of Dubai was a big factor in the design of the building. The exterior walls of the Burj were designed specifically to control the interior space from the hot Dubai sun.
According to Mr Smith, the exterior of the pavilion features a ventilated double wall system. Heat from the sun is contained within the two glazed surfaces by sun-shading devices and then extracted. The exterior wall of the tower is a double glazed high efficiency, low e glass that reflects 82 per cent of solar heat, shielding sunlight from interior spaces, he said.
Both the new SHKP buildings have been designed to rise to the eco-challenge and contribute to a greener environment. Their external walls and insulated glazing unit windows will keep to a minimum the heat going into the building and the heat being lost from it, translating to less reliance on air-conditioning in the summertime and on heating in the winter.
Newer and more efficient light fittings will be used in both the buildings and an intelligent building control system maximises the use of the air-conditioning. “If there are not so many occupants in the building, the system can automatically turn the air-conditioning down,” explained T.S. Lee, project director responsible for the ICC and Shanghai ifc at Sun Hung Kai Properties. “The system is intelligent and can detect the number of people inside the building at any point in time.”
Condensed water from the air-conditioning system is collected and re-used in the system, reducing wastage. Double-deck elevators, designed in such a way that one elevator sits on top of the other, coupled with intelligent controls allow for more efficient use of the elevators especially during off-peak periods.
“The pattern of usage is also learnt by the system so that travelling time in the elevators are reduced,” Mr Lee pointed out. “These elevators occupy less floor space, have bigger handling capacities and use less energy.”
Environmental groups are not the only ones pushing for green technology in buildings, developers and architects, too, are embracing it with open arms. Although going green can be costly, the higher up-front costs pay for themselves in the long term.
The Burj Dubai, for example, takes advantage of the humid external air in its location by collecting the condensate produced when the humidity combines with the cooling requirements of the building. The condensate, totalling almost 15 million gallons of water per year, or the equivalent of nearly 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools, will then be used for irrigation on site.
It is technology that has allowed for many of these ecologically-friendly changes to be integrated into buildings. “The technology in building systems has really advanced. We are able to do things now that we couldn’t do even a few years ago, because the systems have improved,” remarked Burj architect Mr Smith. “Technologies like improved photovoltaic cells, better wind turbines and radiant floor systems have made it possible to make buildings much more sustainable.”
The Hearst Tower, the first building in New York City to get a gold rating from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating program of the US Green Building Council, used an uncommon ‘diagrid’ structural frame design for its skyscraper, which rises out of its original 1928, six-storey headquarters, that required 2,000 tons less steel than a conventional frame. It was not just the steel that was saved but also the toxic by-products of its production.
For about three-quarters of the year, a modern, high efficiency heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system will utilise air from the outside for ventilation and cooling, which will make the Hearst Tower 26 per cent more energy efficient than other comparable office buildings in New York.
Other key features include using low e glass in the building envelope, light sensors to control the amount of electric light on each floor based on the amount of natural light available and sensors that detect activity levels to control both lights and computers.
The roof of the Hearst Tower has been designed to collect rainwater, which is kept in a 14,000 gallon reclamation tank stored in the basement, and used to replenish the water lost to evaporation in the air-conditioning system as well as to water the plants inside and outside the building.
Sustainability is not something that is added on as an after-thought, rather it needs to be considered from the outset. “It is not simply a matter of designing the building and then adding on sustainable features, like wind turbines or photovoltaic cells,” described Mr Smith.
“We consider sustainable principles in forming and shaping the building – so that buildings make the best latent value of their sites and generate environmentally-friendly energy,” he added.
Our buildings will reflect our needs and the way that we interact with our earth and each other. In the words of Mr Lee: “The thought that buildings should cooperate with the environments they find themselves in is pushing architects and developers to develop entirely new forms for buildings.”