A-cero's flower in the desert.
Madrid-based A-cero Architects wanted to design a building that was both natural and elegant. Architects Joaquin Torres and Rafael Llamazares pictured a building that moved and flowed dynamically; something that balanced on a stem, poised to bloom, "like a flower". Its client, on the other hand, sought an energy-efficient iconic structure that would hold its own amidst New Dubai's rapid development. In the 370m, 92-storey, US$ 170 million (UAE 625 million), mixed-use Wave Tower, it would seem both have achieved their goal.
While its definitive location is technically confidential-although mention has been made of a positioning near the Burj Al Arab-because of its aesthetic and functional philosophy, a location in or around the water is imperative. "A-cero's design is based on the concept of the intervention between sea and land. The tower ‘grows' gently inland to create the forceful sight of a tall building that mimics the waves of the Gulf Sea," says Torres.
Moreover, A-cero's design aims to capture the cultural references of the region with a sculptural statement of environmental responsibility. "The tower's orientation should value the landscape and the natural environment of the location," says Torres. "Managing the area's available water resources will also be a major function of Wave Tower."
Wave Tower's inspiration
A firm whose philosophy revolves around capturing the connection between landscape and the physical environment in sculpted form, Torres and Llamazares owe their architectural inspiration to renowned British sculptor David Nash. Nash is best known for ‘land art' that sees large pieces of wood transformed with a chainsaw, axe and torch. He generally focuses on the relationship between man and nature and is often presented indoors, or in the proximity of, significant pieces of architecture. According to Torres, the Wave Tower is, "a clear reference to the work of David Nash, which conjugates form and function."
As designer, masterplanner and landscape architects for the project, A-cero's interior gardens have been liberally integrated in common areas and meeting places to improve air quality and add freshness to its look and feel.
Gardens, plants and aquatic-themed landscaping has been peppered around the inside of the building to, once again, underscore the man vs. nature paradigm. The colours, textures, structural variations and lighting were all studied and specifically chosen by Torres and Llamazares for their aesthetic appeal as well as their ability to, "generate a diversity of ambiences that provide a unifying vision."
Wave Tower's structure
Glazed glass will comprise the curtain walling system of the façade and installations and elevators will make up the central core inside Wave Tower's V-shaped waves. On the podium, pointed arches with smooth curves-to represent waves in the sea-splash out in every direction and include a land bridge that flows to the shore and connects land and sea.
Aesthetics aside, Wave Tower's management of the surrounding water resources is a particularly noteworthy endeavour. In an effort to control water consumption, Torres and Llamazares have designed the tower to incorporate a purification plant inside. The plant will desalinate and purify the surrounding sea water and then be filtered and allocated for drinking water, landscape maintenance and sewage.
The double-skin façade
For Wave Tower, A-cero has designed a façade that will both adapt and respond to its surrounding environment and merge with traditional Arabian culture and aesthetics. Specifically, its design calls for a high-performance glass façade that will mimic the aesthetics of the desert during the day-thereby reflecting sunlight and controlling ambient temperatures-and illuminate or become transparent at night.
If the skin of a building is the connection between the natural environment and the built environment, a double-skin façade is a complex system designed to provide structural integrity, protect occupants, reduce energy use, control solar gain, regulate internal and external air pressure and maximise visual access to the environment. Put simply, Wave Tower's double-skin glass façade was chosen for its ability to provide users the best of the outdoors and protect them from the worst. "Its elegance and sculptural shape-opaque during the day and transparent at night-function like a lighthouse looking out to the coast," says Torres.
Because A-cero will incorporate a double-skin façade, its dual ‘skins' will be separated by a 250-750mm air corridor, which will include shading devices within. This type of façade is a common choice in hot/humid climates where varying factors make natural ventilation difficult and occupants require shading from excessive temperatures, environmental conditions and sound.
Inherent challenges with double-skin façades
Using a double-skin façade forces architects and engineers to carefully consider whether their seemingly ‘environmentally responsible' building is as efficient as they initially thought. For example, the air cavity between the two skins of façade circulates dust around the office more quickly, which ultimately requires more maintenance than a building without a double-skin façade.
Moreover, today's double-skin façades are advanced technological systems that, in the case of failure, can significantly increase the cost of repairing or replacing the affected portion. The additional cost of employing a high-tech mechanic to manage the façade contributes to overall operational costs, but these are rarely considered.
Finally, in an age of recycling and reusing building materials, to outweigh the initial construction costs of a double-skin façade, a building needs to ensure a long-term existence-without significant expansion-before savings begin to be realised.
While it is commonly accepted that double-skin façades are indeed more energy efficient, at the moment, the industry lacks reliable long-term test data to prove such efficiency. Moreover, a universally accepted façade system, a standard by which the rest could be measured, has yet to be determined and thus, efficiency claims remain speculative as well.
A-cero's future in the region
While Wave Tower is A-cero's first project in the GCC, it is by no means an exclusively domestic firm. Apartment blocks in Hungary and homes and masterplans in Switzerland, Morocco and Dominican Republic make up only a portion of A-cero's international portfolio. It has just recently opened its Dubai office and-along with its work on Wave Tower-is currently competing for an exclusive unnamed residential development.
As a Dubai newcomer and an emerging international architectural firm, it is not surprising that Torres has only good things to say about A-cero's Middle Eastern expansion and the negotiation and design for Wave Tower. "We start with client needs; we imagine, we plan and we persuade. We propose our ideas to our client and work together until we come to an agreement."