9 may 08 | Gulf News

Dubai gives the necessary freedom designers need

By Saifur Rahman

Dubai: He has designed some of the world's tallest towers, but does not live in one. "I'd loved to, but I can't afford one," said architect Adrian Smith, partner at Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill, who also designed Burj Dubai, currently the world's tallest man-made structure with 160 floors. "I prefer living close to the ground," he said. "In fact, my wife prefers living near the soil." Dubai is set to have 11 of the world's supertowers, skyscrapers that host more than 100 habitable floors, in the next few years. About six of them are at various stages of development, including Burj Dubai.

Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill recently announced four projects - Atrium City Towers, East Park Site 07, 09 and 15 - that incorporate 11 towers, including five supertowers, valued at around Dh25 billion. The projects, to be announced later this year, will be part of a new master-planned development that will raise Dubai's profile on urban development and masterplanning in the world. The projects, already been approved by Dubai Government, are expected to be completed within four to five years.

"Dubai has already become the host to the highest number of supertowers in the world," Smith said. "We are going to add a few more to the city's growing skyline. Out of the 13 supertowers that are being designed by us, five of them will be located in the UAE and one in Qatar." Smith gave an exclusive interview with Gulf News on his works and his view on Dubai's construction sector. Excerpts:

Can you elaborate on the latest projects?
Adrian Smith: Atrium City is a beautiful cluster of three supertowers - each rising above 100 floors, to be connected at base with an atrium and with skybridges - each spanning three floors in height for people to commute among the towers so that there is less congestion at the atrium lobby. A mixed-use project, it will have a built-up area of 800,000 to 900,000 square metres, exclusive parking facilities for more than 6,000 people.

It will have a hotel, residential, commercial, retail and entertainment space for people to be able to live and work. The new towers that we have planned, the Atrium City Tower and East Park towers, will for the first time employ the latest architectural ideas and techniques. They will be more energy efficient, high-density building and become highly sustainable. For example a canal and waterway will pass through the Atrium City Towers and will create an open space for educational and theatrical activities. The towers will utilize solar energy through the steel frame and the skins of some of the towers. This energy could be saved and used at peak hours.

Could you shed some light on energy efficiency and how environment-friendly these structures are?
These will be very energy-efficient, intelligent and smart buildings. There will be open garden spaces with water, creating an oasis surrounding the six buildings. Besides, energy saved by one tower could be passed on to another. This way, these buildings complement the use of energy. This concept is unique and we are going to implement this in Dubai for the first time. Apart from that the new technology will allow us to pull air from the top floors that are about 10 degree cooler, and spray it at the lower levels where temperature is higher.

This is a unique technique never employed in supertowers. Dubai will be the first city in the world to have them implemented. The new buildings that we have designed for Dubai can save energy between 40 to 60 per cent. We can to '0' level in energy consumption. We can, in fact, design buildings that can create energy for the city. Instead of consuming energy, these buildings can actually contribute energy to the city.

What about building life? Due to the ground soil condition, buildings here have shorter lives compared to those in other markets. How long will these supertowers last, especially Burj Dubai?
These are designed for life. It will be very difficult to destroy these. Towers like Burj Dubai will easily last at least a hundred years.

How safe are these supertowers? Will they withstand the shocks of earthquake tremors?
All these buildings are designed to withstand earthquake tremors. With the modern technology that will be used, they will be high density and much stronger. We have taken care of these aspects.

How did September 11 impact architectural designs?
Now there is a lot of emphasis on concrete and columns. Columns are designed so that they don't collapse progressively, as we witnessed in the World Trade Centre. The concrete base has also become more solid and thick.

On high rise towers, there is more relief given for people to descend and gather at a particular floor so that casualties and damages are lower.

How many supertower projects are you doing currently and how many of them are in the Gulf?
We have currently 13 towers under planning and development, including five in Dubai and one in Doha. We are very much present in Dubai.

A lot of architects are coming up with creative structures that will grace the skyline of Dubai. What inspires your designs?
Tall buildings represent cities and they become landmarks and icons. People recognize cities with these icons. These buildings attract visitors to the city. Skyscrapers have become tourist attractions in many cities. Some of these supertowers will attract visitors to Dubai.

Why Dubai?
Dubai is looking for spectacular designs. The emirate gives the necessary freedom that a designer needs to come up with creative designs. Besides, the environment here, and the way projects are developed, help designers offer creative solutions to their clients. People in Dubai thrive on unique projects.

How do you feel about Burj Dubai now that it has reached 160 floors?
Projects like Burj Dubai come with lots of challenges. Burj Dubai had its share of challenges. There were certain things that needed to be fixed, such as the exterior cladding contract. The contractor went bankrupt. However, Emaar was quick to solve the problem and the company managed to catch up pretty fast. I'm happy with the way it shaped up. Emaar has been a great client.

Biography: The man behind the name

Adrian Smith has been a practicing architect for over 40 years. "His extraordinary body of work includes some of the world's most recognizable landmark structures, including the Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai, China; Rowes Wharf in Boston, Massachusetts and the Burj Dubai in the UAE, soon to be the world's tallest structure," says his official website.

"Adrian's unique design approach emphasizes sensitivity to the physical environment. He considers each project holistically, taking into consideration site orientation, climate and geography, cultural and social influences to create highly sustainable projects that achieve contextualism within the global environment. As one of the world's foremost experts of super tall towers, he recently collaborated with Gordon Gill to design the world's first net Zero-Energy skyscraper, Pearl River Tower, to be built in Guangzhou China," the website adds.

Prior to founding Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture in 2006, Adrian was a design partner in the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill from 1980 to 2003, and a consulting design partner from 2004 to 2006. Throughout his career, Smith has played an active role in international projects and developments. From 1971-1973 he was the resident project architect for the corporate headquarters for the Wills Hartcliffe Project in Bristol, England. In 1989, he was selected to participate in the IV Hamburger Bauforum to lead a team in exploring alternative visions for the Speicherstadt District in Hamburg, Germany.

In 1990 he participated in a team of 40 international architects and planners in the Zentrum: Berlin Symposium, at the Bauhaus in Dessau, to discuss the challenges for the reunification of Berlin. He has also designed buildings in Bahrain, Brazil, China, England, Germany, Guatemala, Indonesia, Korea, Kuwait, Mexico, the United States (Chicago, Boston, Des Moines, St Louis, Minneapolis, Washington, DC, Orlando,) and Saudi Arabia.