Reaching for the stars

As buildings continue to grow in size and scope, they're creating a new set of engineering rules.
Reaching for the stars
By Dr Sadek Owainati
Mon 03 Nov 2008 04:00 AM

As buildings continue to grow in size and scope, they're creating a new set of engineering rules and outgrowing architectural categories. Dr. Sadek Owainati reports.

It is an interesting yet perplexing situation that the world is experiencing at the moment. Financial hurricanes seem to have hit many of the banks' fortresses and caused considerable damage.

The global real estate market is shattered because of economic avalanches, which are largely the result of the unbalanced structure of the loans and mortgages. The global economy is experiencing precarious instability because of these financial landslides.

Rescue plans to bridge the cracks propagating through the global economy are being undertaken by governments insisting on more control while banks and finance institutions continue to add more limitations.

Meanwhile, Gulf countries are showcasing their plans for huge new developments with extremely challenging projects-many of which deliberately intend to break records and surpass existing limits for size and height.

One project that illustrates the immense engineering challenges of building a tower standing more than a kilometre is Nakheel's new endeavour (designed by Woods Bagot): Nakheel Tower. With its announcement, Nakheel has already overtaken-at least in the conceptual realm-the tallest structure in the world: Burj Dubai.

We are eye witnessing the onset of a new architectural paradigm; we are witnessing the post-skyscraper era. To reconfirm that a new trend for iconic buildings have been simmering on the drawing tables, we learn of several other kilometre-surpassing supertall skyscrapers: The Kingdom Tower (Jeddah, KSA); Burj Mubarak Al Kabir (Kuwait); and Dubai City Tower (Dubai, UAE)-all of which claim will be the world's tallest tower.

While it is a personal choice whether we choose to live in these ultra tall towers, what we are concerned with here is the professional aspect of the debate.Such projects create unique conditions for sustainability considerations that demand specific assessments once the details of the project are identified. It is anticipated that the building will be subjected to serious scrutiny during the design stage and it is then that its green features and various sustainability solutions will be revealed.

On the other hand, designing and executing such supertall buildings introduces serious new challenges for all engineering disciplines. We cannot afford to underestimate the unprecedented impact on existing technology, which will demand innovative solutions for a host of new challenges from services and operational aspects.

The structural performance of the building is expected to be analysed at laboratory level, but it will be exciting to study how the building actually behaves during construction and after completion.

It's crucial that the building be continuously monitored after completion as it can serve to enrich engineering knowledge, especially since some of the loading conditions and serviceability criteria used in design codes may not be applicable for such buildings.

From a construction point of view, reconciling between theoretical propositions and experimental applications would be tricky to resolve, especially if time constraints are significant.

I anticipate the design of the structure and the facades will evolve by incorporating new approaches for off-site activities with all inherent constraints and limitations, especially for stability.

Moreover, vertical transportation during construction and throughout the life of the building will bring a host of intriguing questions and daring suggestions.For example, the travel time-or should we say the waiting time-for tenants will be a difficult problem to solve. Many cranes and hoisting mechanisms will have never experienced travelling these extended heights.

The design of the electro-mechanical systems will have their special challenges to resolve and I imagine the MEP specialists will require extensive reviews. Furthermore, the operation and use of the building with the expected high level of attention to safety and efficiency are other areas demanding exceptional attention.

These and other challenges will undoubtedly prove tantalising as it will be the equivalent of exploring a new world. Certainly new techniques and original technologies will be borne out of the experience of constructing these super tall buildings.

This new breed of buildings dictates the need for pioneering and groundbreaking inventive resolutions far beyond those currently known or implemented for supertall skyscrapers. Public concerns, which range from social attitudes to safety, add a further dimension to the equation.

Such buildings are simply different from what we've had until now and they dictate their own identity. These exceptionally tall towers deserve to be considered a new architectural paradigm and classified as a unique category and class of buildings.

A new name is appropriate to describe the message these building intend to affirm: a message of engineering and construction expertise that is rising to ever greater heights. When we view the skylines of the future, these super iconic, supertall skyscrapers will be seen as the stars of the building world in the 21st century. And as such, I propose to call them Star Scrapers.

Critique submitted by: Dr. Sadek Owainati, Engineering Consultant

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