Great Tall of China

Great Tall of China

More than 2,000 feet tall, the Shanghai Tower (right), will surpass its neighbors, the Jin Mao Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center.
Courtesy Gensler

Eighteen years ago, the Luijiazui finance and trade zone of Shanghai’s Pudong district was nothing more than farmland. Today, Pudong is Shanghai’s bustling financial center and newly-dubbed “Supertall District,” a designation soon to be reinforced by Gensler’s Shanghai Tower, a 2,073-foot building that will be the tallest in China and the second tallest in the world.

Some might think that with the global economic downturn in full effect it would be a poor time to begin construction on such a tower, which broke ground on November 29. But firm founder and chairman Arthur Gensler disagrees. “By 2014 (when the building is done) the economy should be really booming,” he said. All those big international firms that are pulling back right now will be looking for space and making deals in two or three years; they’ll be looking to expand into China again.” 

Also working in Gensler’s favor are the falling costs of materials—most notably steel—which may result in that rarest of architectural feats: a project that comes in under budget. “We really believe that we’ll bring it in at 30 percent below budget,” said Gensler.

The firm’s Shanghai office beat out four international offices and five Chinese architecture institutes with a spiraling glass office tower whose startling transparency sets a new precedent for Shanghai. The building’s 120-degree twisting form was derived from multiple wind-tunnel tests, and the carefully-optimized enclosure reduces wind loads on the building by 20 percent. However, this striking envelope is only the outer layer of a double-skinned building. An inner skin encloses nine stacked cylindrical towers, and between these dual enclosures, eight atria divide the Shanghai Tower vertically. These “sky gardens” were derived from a building code requirement for areas of refuge, but have been expanded to provide green space, basic commercial services, and to accommodate the HVAC system for the floors above.

Along with its local partner, the Architectural Design and Research Institute of Tongji University, Gensler hopes to achieve certification from both the China Green Building Council and the U.S. Green Building Council, so the sustainable elements of the building don’t end with the sky-garden trees. Wind turbines will generate on-site power, and a spiraling parapet will capture rainwater for reuse within the building. A glazed multi-level retail podium will mitigate the building’s massive scale at ground level, standing in stark contrast to the heavy, bomb-shielding bases of neighboring highrises.

The Shanghai Tower will complete a super-tall triumvirate that includes the 88-story Jin Mao Tower, designed by SOM and finished in 1999, and the recently-opened, KPF-designed Shanghai World Financial Center: “the past, the present, and the future,” as Art Gensler described the trio.

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