In 2008 Gensler broke ground on the sustainable Shanghai Tower in the Pudong district of Shanghai, China. The tower is currently in construction and it’s one of three supertall buildings in Pudong, including the Jin Mao Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center. The elegant structure spirals up to the sky, and once it is completed in 2014 it will become the second tallest tower in the world — only second to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The 632 meter tall structure is a testament to both modern architecture and the potential of engineering, and it also sets a precedent for sustainable super structures. The tower will take the form of nine cylindrical buildings stacked atop each other, enclosed by layers of glass, and hosting public space for visitors including atriums, gardens, cafes, restaurants, retail space, a hotel, and 360-degree views of the city. The building will also include a rainwater recycling system and a series of wind turbines able to generate up to 350,000 kWh of electricity per year. But most notably, the tower’s glass façade was designed specifically to reduce wind loads on the building by 24%, which means that fewer construction materials are needed (including 25% less structural steel). We recently spoke to Gensler‘s Chris Chan, Design Director and member of the tower’s design team, who gave us some insight on what it has taken to get the Shanghai Tower built, and how Building Information Modeling (BIM) has played a crucial role from concept to construction. Jump ahead for our fascinating interview with Chris!
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INHABITAT: How did your and Gensler’s involvement in the Shanghai Tower come about?
CHRIS: Gensler participated in an international design competition in 2007 with nine firms from around the world. In the second round, we were shortlisted along with SOM and Foster & Partners. Ultimately, Gensler won the competition based on our unique, iconic, and sustainability-centered design.
INHABITAT: The tower will be the second tallest tower in the world, and the tallest in Asia – was that a goal of the client? How has this aspect impacted the design and the sustainable strategies employed?
CHRIS: The client was quite prescient; they knew that supertall towers built with the goal of being “the tallest” rarely remain so for long. Case in point: roughly 1-2 years after Shanghai Tower is completed in 2014, another tower in Shenzhen is scheduled to be completed and taller than Shanghai Tower by several meters. The client therefore rightly believes it important that the Tower become a symbol of more than sheer size, but also representative of longer term values — most notably sustainability. So, the Tower’s design was centered around innovative sustainable concepts and technologies. Upon completion, it will be the most sustainable super-tall tower in the world. This is a recognition we expect will be maintained for some time.
INHABITAT: What is your favorite part of the Shanghai Tower design?
CHRIS: One of the things that excites me most about the Shanghai Tower is that it was designed with performance utmost in mind. The dramatic twisting form of the tower, for instance, was not just inspired but shaped through careful study of how wind forces will move around the tower. Iterative study was made possible only with advanced BIM systems to adjust and update the whole tower shape according to CFM (computational fluid modeling) and wind tunnel feedback. As a result, the taper and rotation of the tower was optimized to reduce wind loading on the building facade thereby reducing the amount of structure in the tower by 24%. This was a substantial savings in construction materials and costs.
INHABITAT: What has been the most challenging aspect in the design of the tower?
CHRIS: This project has many notable ‘first-ever’ and ‘biggest’ aspects. The most ground-breaking is the tower’s façade: it will be the largest and tallest double-facade system in the world. Fine-tuning this system for optimal wind performance was a process involving the structural engineers and wind engineers and many runs through a large-scale wind tunnel. Once the building’s unique shape was defined, the process of making the facade constructible was another significant task. Using advanced software the team developed the facade system into an optimal balance of engineering performance, constructability, safety, maintenance, economy, and design. This was no small feat; the outer facade comprises of over 130,000 square meters of panels.
INHABITAT: The Shanghai Tower was designed using BIM. How important has it been to your design and construction process? Can you explain how your team has used it and how it has helped you?
CHRIS: BIM allows the design teams to integrate meaningful information for optimized building systems solutions. One of the core concepts is performance based design and this was at the center of everything the design teams did for this project.
A building as unique as the Shanghai Tower would not have been possible without using advanced software. The BIM delivery was critical in two major aspects. First, in the design of the tower. Using several advanced, scriptable, parametric 3D software programs, the team was able to visualize the complex geometries and reconcile them, i.e. define the tower shape with precision detail so it is constructible. Second, as the technical coordination took place, the team was able to work seamlessly with the engineering consultants using Autodesk’s Revit to integrate the parametric models to confirm design of spaces, structural connections, avoid collisions of structure, ducts, shafts, etc. As technical drawings were being produced, the parametric CAD software was central to the team being able to produce the volume of detailed information necessary to describe the project.
INHABITAT: The tower features a distinctive, transparent spiral form, and is composed of a set of nine stacked cylindrical buildings surrounded by an inner façade. Given the tower’s size and complexity, how has BIM technology allowed you to do things you might not otherwise have been able to do in terms of both architecture and engineering?
CHRIS: Across the project team, from the architects to the engineers, multiple software platforms were used, many in an integrated fashion to solve the various challenges the teams faced. The teams used software for the building shape, wind design, structural design, MEP design, fabrication, fire safety, transportation analysis, and energy modeling. Even during the fabrication and construction phase, advanced visualization software was being used by contractors for 3D shop drawings, digital fabrication, construction simulation, and digital pre-assembly.
For Gensler’s architectural team, using Revit on a project where every floor plan is different on all of its 128 floors was impactful. Being able to coordinate and generate the large amount of documents on the project wouldn’t have been possible without many of the software tools the team used.
INHABITAT: The building features numerous green systems, including a geothermal system for heating and air conditioning, wind turbines and even gardens to create a thermal buffer zone and air filter – what role did BIM play in optimizing the efficiency of these additions?
CHRIS: Being able to incorporate the various spaces of the project into the related engineers’ work was essential in turning concept into reality and BIM was a cornerstone of this collaborative effort. There were many types of analytical software used among the consultant team that integrated with the architectural Revit model: document workflow, occupant traffic analysis, fire safety, structural analysis, energy modeling. Without an integrated digital work flow, the teams would not have gotten this important information in a cohesive, timely fashion.
INHABITAT: How has BIM helped you troubleshoot as the tower is being constructed? Have less issues arisen due to the use of BIM from the offset?
CHRIS: This is an interesting question since a tower of this design and level of technical challenge has never before been attempted, but we are all pleased with the progress to date. Normal issues for a major construction project have come up however we have worked closely with the client, contractor, subcontractors, and all the design team members to find solutions and make solid progress that meets everyone’s high expectations.
INHABITAT: What do you hope the Shanghai Tower will represent once it is complete in 2014?
CHRIS: More so than ever in architecture and construction, we are realizing great advances in the capabilities of advanced computer software and as such can bring to life our most innovative ideas, translating them into real buildings. Shanghai Tower is clearly one of these projects.
These tools are constantly evolving. Yesterday’s manual drafting tools were replaced by CAD. And in turn CAD was replaced by today’s advanced BIM tools. Eventually the next generation of digital tools will offer dramatic new capabilities and extend our reach as designers of what we can imagine and build. For me, this serves as an important reminder that the one constant in our industry is collaboration. No project is successful without the effective collaboration of the client, consultant design team members, and the construction team. This is particularly true for what will be the most sustainable super tall tower in the world.
My hope is that when this project is completed, it will represent not only today’s most cutting edge ideas and technologies, but stand as a testament to the incredible collaboration of the people and teams involved in the Tower’s creation.
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