Building Higher

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BURJ KHALIFA ARCHITECT ADRIAN SMITH ON HOW TO BUILD THE WORLD’S TALLEST TOWERS

Adrian Smith, founder of Chicago-based Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, is known for designing unimaginably tall buildings.

Along with his record-setting structures in Saudi Arabia, he designed the Central Park Tower, which is now rising and will be New York’s tallest residential tower when completed in 2020.

We caught up with Smith, 73, to talk about his designs around the world and what makes them work.

Burj Khalifa, the 2,722-foot-tall skyscraper you designed in Dubai, is the world’s tallest building, to be surpassed by your 3,280-foot Jeddah Tower when it is completed in 2020. How does that fit in with what els e is going on in Saudi Arabia?
Jeddah Tower will be the signature tower that welcomes pilgrims to Jeddah, the gateway to Mecca and Medina. Its secondary purpose is to anchor the new district of some 23 million square feet of new construction, a form of satellite city just north of the traditional city of Jeddah. This new icon for Saudi Arabia will give its surroundings an important element of identity, and it will be the catalyst for future growth of the area.

What are some of the design challenges when working on supertall buildings?
Perhaps the key challenge in the design of a supertall building is the problem of wind load. As wind hits a supertall tower, vortexes form and can cause lateral movement, which can be sensed by occupants.

For Jeddah Tower, we chose a sloped shape, which our wind-tunnel testing indicates will work even better in terms of wind resistance. Its body tapers upward from a three-legged footprint, with each leg terminating at different heights. 􀁄e wanted to reduce the sail area at the top of the building to reduce wind load, and we also wanted the massing at the top to be asymmetrical to assist in shedding wind vortexes, thereby reducing the acceleration of the tower’s movement.

A more cerebral challenge is designing a building that will become the tallest structure in history. It is always new and uncharted territory for an architect and the engineer.

Achieving the art and the science in harmony is always difficult.

What are some of the ways you make these buildings energy-efficient and sustainable?
Skyscrapers are inherently sustainable because they accommodate a large number of people on a small footprint. Simply put, supertall buildings foster the opposite of urban sprawl.

Within a desert environment, urbanization is even more important, given the energy and efficiency loss of all systems associated with covering large stretches of land.

Where in the world are you seeing the most exciting and interesting architecture?
Exciting and interesting buildings are happening most where cities and communities are thriving economically. Great buildings, extraordinary architecture, and buildings with great interest need both great clients who want to do good things for the places they are building and good architects who understand the needs of the client and society. Zaha Hadid’s new tower under construction in Beijing promises to be very exciting and special. Santiago Calatrava’s new cable-supported needle tower in Dubai has great promise as well.

For most of your career you’ve been based in Chicago, and as a young architect you were part of the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill t eam that designed the pioneering John Hancock Center in the lat e 1960s. What do you like about Chicago and its architecture?
Chicago has a rich history of architecture from the last century and a half. It has had great luminaries of architectural thought and practice who have developed their philosophies in Chicago, and their influence has been passed down through those they have mentored, most of whom have stayed and practiced their craft. It’s a great city with great pieces of art and architecture and a great river that runs through it.