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Sun 20 Feb 2011 12:00 AM

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Towers with a twist

Elizabeth Broomhall racks up the top twisting towers in the GCC region.

Towers with a twist

In an era where architects have a passion for innovation and
modernity, and a region where traditional architecture is aligned with a taste for
opulence and luxury, it comes as no surprise to find rotating towers dotted across
skylines.

No longer are designers and developers thinking conventionally and conservatively;
rather, they are pushing the design boundaries constantly. And while it is assumed
that this is just a Dubai trend, in reality it has become a GCC phenomenon, as the
region continues to push forward with its plans to become one of the most fascinating
places in the world.

The Infinity
Tower

Developer: Cayman

Architect: Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM)

Contractor: Arabtec

Value: $272 million

Status: Under construction – completion
scheduled for April 2011

Rotation: 90 degrees

Height: 305m (73 storeys)

Location: Dubai Marina

Probably the best example of a tower with a twist is the famous residential building
in Dubai Marina, the Infinity
Tower. Spiralling into the
sky as construction progresses, the tower will eventually reach 73 storeys and 305m,
making it the world’s tallest twisted skyscraper. According to the developer, it
was designed as a twisting tower to maximise the views from the building. On the
lower floors there are more units orientated toward the Dubai Marina, while near
the top they face the Arabian Gulf. And yet the
Infinity Tower does not simply set itself apart from
the rest for being twisted. More unique is the angle of rotation, which at 90 degrees
far surpasses the ‘twistiness’ of other twirling skyscrapers. The effect is achieved
by having each floor or slab plate rotate 1.08 degrees around a fixed cylinder core,
so that once the tower is completed, the 73 floors will add up to a cumulative 90
degree angle. “The Burj [Khalifa] is an achievement by virtue of its remarkable
height, whereas the Infinity
Tower represents a new trend
in tall-building design where sculptural shapes are now possible,” says Skidmore
Owings and Merrill (SOM) architect Ross Wilmer.

As for construction, the project has come on strong after an
initial setback in 2007 when a diaphragm wall that held back the sea was breached,
flooding the site, costing the developer an additional $27million on dewatering.
Other challenges have included keeping the geometry of the condominiums as regular
as possible, in spite of the tower’s external shape, and to be sure that the tower
could be built quickly and efficiently. This was overcome by stepping the structure
of the tower and designing the framing so that the same formwork could be used for
all of the floors in the building, simply rotated about one degree at each successive
floor level. Not knowing how the building would react to strong winds and bad weather
meant the architects had to ‘over-design’ the building. Incidentally, they discovered
in the testing that the twisted shape performs better in the wind than a rectangular
extrusion of the same proportions.

Ocean
Heights

Developer: DAMAC Properties

Architect: Aedas

Contractor: Arabtec

Value: $172million

Status: Completed

Rotation: 33 degrees

Height: 310m (84 storeys)

Location: Dubai Marina

Designed by the same architect that worked on the Dubai Metro
and the famous Ground Zero memorial in New York, Aedas, the recently completed Ocean
Heights residential tower by Dubai-based developersDamac Properties was ‘twisted’
deliberately to make the most of its prime location overlooking the Palm Jumeirah.
Twisted on three of its faces, it allows 75% of its apartments to have an ocean
view (hence the name), including units at the back. Twisting from the base, the
twist was created by reducing the tower’s floor plates in size as it rises, allowing
the rotation to become even more pronounced. At  50 storeys, the building rises over its neighbours,
so that two faces of the building can have unobstructed views of the ocean. The
tower then breaks away from the orthogonal grid and re-orients the project toward
Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah
to the north.

Among one of the many challenges for this project from an architect’s
point of view was to accommodate Damac Properties’ strict requirement for unit layouts
within a changing envelope. This was overcome by establishing a rational 4m-round
module which, by tracking its way down through the entire building and only changing
at the façade, not only considerably simplified the structural works, but also maximised
the internal space of the residential units.

The sheer walls were placed perpendicular to the mean of the
two most extreme angles to the façade to soften the relationship between the façade
and the partitions, minimising how ‘off perpendicular’the relationship becomes.
 As for the build itself, the contractors
had to remove about 50,000m3 of earth for the foundations, and at the peak of construction
had around 2,000 workers on-site. Sub-contractor Drake & Scull International
used enough electricity cabling and wiring to extend from Dubai
to Baghdad, while enough steel was used on the project
to build two Eiffel
Towers side-by-side. It was
finished in three years and 12.5 million man hours.

Al Tijaria
Tower

Developer: Commercial Real Estate Co.

Architect: NORR and Al-Jazera

Contractor: Syed Hamid Behbehani & Sons

Value: $95million

Status: Completed

Rotation: 45 degrees

Height: 216 metres (55 storeys)

Location: Kuwait
city

Another well-known twisted tower in the GCC is the Kuwait World
Trade Centre, completed at the beginning of 2010. Located along the First Ring Road,
fronting onto the historic Al Sour Public Garden, the twisting 216m office tower
rises from a four-level retail mall with a landscaped roof deck, featuring vertically-stacked
atria and panoramic elevators that shuttle people vertically between floors while
providing views out to the city beyond. As with Infinity Tower,
the tower floor plates rotate by about one degree per floor, resulting in a total
rotation of 45 degrees from the base to the top of the structure. Consultants NORR
and Al-Jazera worked together to design the scheme, which was completed at the beginning
of 2010 after five years of construction. The inspiration came from a study of spiralling
geometric patterns in nature. Initially, three design ideas were presented to the
client. Two were reasonably conventional, while NORR’s design for a glass tower
with a twisting sculptural form was not. Surprisingly, it was the latter, and the
most expensive option, that was chosen. Much like other twisted towers, the trade
centre is designed around a circular concrete core with perimeter columns arranged
in a larger concentric circle. This design allowed the consultants to achieve a
sculpted spiralling form for the tower with a relatively simple vertical structure
and reduced torsion. On the exterior, the glass façade of the tower is triangulated
to allow for a warped external surface that is a result of these geometries.

Al Bidda
Tower

Developer: The Platinum Tower Company
and Golden Lands

Architect: GHD

Contractor: Qatari Arabian Construction
Company and Higgs & Hill JV

Value: $82million

Status: Completed

Rotation: 60 degrees

Height: 200m (45 storeys)

Location: Al Dafna area
of Doha

The Al Bidda Tower in Doha is one of the most recognisable
buildings on Doha’s
burgeoning skyline. Winner of the ‘Architecture Award for Qatar’ in the ‘office
development’ category at the 2010 Bloomberg Arabian Property Awards,  it stands at just over 200m and relies on its unique
structure both to set itself apart from the taller skyscrapers, and to stand proud
in the prominent location where it was built, namely the Dafna area of Qatar.

According to GHD executives: “The prominent location of the Al
Bidda Tower, in the Dafna area of Qatar, demanded a form that would be
a unique departure from the conventional design of an urban high-rise tower.” Thus,
unlike other twisted towers, the Al Bidda tower was not primarily designed to maximise
views.

Beginning in 2005, construction progressed steadily, reaching
43 storeys. In an earlier interview with Construction Week, project manager from
architect GHD, Ahmed Megahed, who oversaw construction, said: “The difference between
this and other Doha
buildings is the unique concept regarding the structure. Usually when we go for
a twisted form or complicated form, we make a straightforward structure inside,
and do whatever we need on the outside. For this we went for the most sophisticated
solution. We decided to make the columns themselves read the same shape as the building,
which was very challenging.”

The desired effect was achieved by having each circular floor
plan rotate slightly on each level, so that the total 43 floors add up to a cumulative
60 degree twist from floor to roof along the vertical axis, equalling a 20m horizontal
distance between the bottom of each column and the top. As regards the exterior,
developer The Platinum Tower Company and Golden Lands
opted for a platinum-tinged glass exterior not dissimilar to that used on the Burj
Khalifa, maintaining the extravagance theme. “We used a type of reflecting glass which accentuates
the platinum theme,” said Megahed. “This gives a shimmering effect, which reflects
the light.”

To allow for a curved exterior, the building also made use of
hundreds of individual, triangular glass panels, which allowed the curvature of
the building to be traced with no need for each panel itself to curve. “We used
the triangular pieces to give the feeling of curvature but the glass is not curved,
it is straight,” said Megahed.

“There is a slight angle where each panel joins. The collection
of angles makes for the curvature effect,” he added.

The designers also said: “The shaft of the tower is clad in an
unconventional diagonal curtain wall that forms an integral feature of the design.
This diagonal grid wall accommodates the progressively varying floor plates, as
well as the rotation of the apex on the triangular rotor-shaped plan. The resulting
multi-faceted glass will reflect the sunlight during the day and artificial interior
light during the night in various directions, giving this façade a jewel-like liveliness.”

Other architectural features which make the building unique include
the ‘tornado’ themed interiors, evident for example in the flooring and, of course,
the structure’s slanted roof.

At an angle of 20.5 degrees, the roof gives the tower an additional
architectural edge. At one side of the roof at the top of the tower, the ceiling
is 4m above floor level, and on the opposite side, it is 24m above floor level.

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