Adrian Smith, AS + GG Architecture

'Kingdom Tower', presently under construction in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is likely to be world's tallest skyscraper by 2019 - taller than the present mixed use skyscraper Burj Khalifa located in Dubai, UAE. The architecture firm which is turning the ambitious 'Kingdom Tower' project into a reality goes by the name of AS+GG, short for Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture. Design Partner Adrian Smith gives the latest update to Greater Middle East Real Estate on the construction of 'Kingdom Tower', discusses the unique challenges a project of this nature brings, and shares his views on the changing significance of design and architecture when it comes to building skyscrapers for modern societies - interestingly, AS+GG Architecture's upcoming project is building 'satellite cities' in China.

Nine months after the construction of Kingdom tower began, what is the latest update on the project which

Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture would like to share with the industry? How has the year 2013 been since construction of the Kingdom Tower began?

Currently equipment is on the ground and they’re drilling the caissons. It will take several more months to get the foundation work done and built up to grade.

© Kingdom Holding Kingdom Tower, Jeddah, KSA © Kingdom Holding Company

Were there any unique or unexpected challenges which the AS+GG team had to face since the start of this project? Would you like to share those with the architecture-construction fraternity?

Perhaps the key challenge in the design of a supertall

building such as Kingdom Tower is the problem of wind load. As wind

hits a supertall

tower, wind vortices form and can cause lateral movement in the tower which can be sensed by occupants

. Obviously we want to avoid this as much as possible. In Kingdom Tower, we chose a sloped shape, which our wind tunnel testing indicates will work even better in terms of wind resistance. Kingdom Tower's body tapers upward from a three-legged footprint, with each leg terminating at different heights. We wanted to reduce the sail area at the top of the building to reduce wind load, and we also wanted the massing at the top to be asymmetrical in order to assist in the shedding of wind vortexes, thereby reducing the acceleration of the movement of the tower.

The success of the Burj Khalifa (Adrian Smith was the Design Architect of the project at

SOM Chicago, prior to founding AS+GG) has positioned you someone specialized in designing world's tallest and sustainable towers. Can you elaborate on why is it important for you to ensure that a project is sustainable? Would it be correct to say that AS+GG designs are guided by the energy efficiency/sustainability factor?

My buildings have been concerned with sustainability since the late 1970s, well before the term “sustainability” was in common use. It was part of my contextualist

approach to architecture, which engages the history, art, landscape, climate, vernacular architecture and indigenous materials of the places where the buildings are located.  In response to frequent power outages in Guatemala, for example, I designed three Banco de Occidente branches (completed in 1980) to operate without electricity if necessary, using courtyards and louvered skylights for daylighting and natural ventilation.  In the desert climate of Bahrain, my United Gulf Bank (1986) features a wrapper wall with deeply recessed windows outfitted with heat-absorbing glass fins and light scoops. Later I introduced the first double climate wall commercial structure in the United States, 601 Congress Street in Boston, completed in 2005.

Skyscrapers are inherently sustainable because they accommodate a large number of people on a small footprint of land. They also offer efficient vertical and horizontal transportation systems, encouraging the use of public transit and creating increasingly walkable

cities. Supertall

buildings can also be formed to further decrease their environmental effect and become “super-sustainable.” These structures can take advantage of the faster wind speeds at higher altitudes and drive wind toward building-integrated turbines to generate power. Because they are less likely to have shadows cast on them, high-rises also make efficient use of building-integrated photovoltaic systems to absorb solar power and generate energy. And deep foundations make them ideal for geothermal heating and radiant cooling systems.

Besides Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill, the team working on Kingdom Tower includes (L-R) Brian Jack (Senior Project Manager), Alejandro Stochetti ( Senior Designer), Peter Weismantle (Senior Technical Architect), Robert Frost (Management Partner) The team working on Kingdom Tower in Jeddah includes (L-R) Brian Jack (Senior Project Manager), Alejandro Stochetti

Senior Designer), Peter Weismantle
(Senior Technical Architect) & Robert Frost (Management


Can you speak about some of the key design elements of the Kingdom Tower project which

empowers it to be energy efficient and sustainable?

We design it to be grounded in built

tradition and yet aggressively forward-looking, thinking about technologies, building materials, life-cycle considerations and energy conservation. The main sustainable element featured is a high-performance exterior wall system that will minimize energy consumption by reducing thermal loads.

Adrian Smith, Design Partner, AS+ GG Architecture Gordon Gill, Design Partner, AS+ GG Architecture

What according to you are likely to be emerging trends for major commercial or mixed used buildings in 2014?

Architecture, if it’s done right, is an economic generator and I believe there is a real need for continued economic growth—for creating jobs and societal stability.

Consider Riyadh and Jeddah, the two largest cities in Saudi Arabia, which have some of the fastest growing populations in the world. Their children go off and get college degrees and return needing jobs. They have to find ways to give them purpose. That’s happening in the major areas like Qatar, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Saudi Arabia. They’re fashioning their society slowly but surely into a more sustainable model that’s not just based on oil, but on manufacturing, tourism, and finance.

HRH Prince Alwaleed
Bin Talal
is said to have a unique and ambitious vision when it comes to the Kingdom Tower project. How would you sum-up his involvement in the project so far?

Prince Alwaleed
Bin Talal
selected AS+GG’s competition design out of eight designs submitted by a field of international Architects, including Foster and Associates, Henninger
Larson, KPF, SOM, Pichard Chilton, and HOK.

Next to Kingdom Tower, what are the projects which Adrian Smiths is working on and in which part of the world? Has there been an increase in the number of projects which AS+GG is proposed every year since it was given the contract for Kingdom Tower?

We have been master planning several “satellite cities” in China. It’s very exciting because we have the opportunity to create holistic, zero energy, self-sustaining cities.  The idea is to build multiple satellite cities that are linked together around the urban core.  Each of these “city-states” may eventually have 35 million people.  We finished the design for Tianfu, a Great City, as it is called, outside of Chengdu. The project plan is circular in form, about 1.3 kilometers in diameter, and is a live/work environment for about 100 thousand people.

These satellite cities are the thing of the future.  They can be replicated in China, but this is a good model for India, possibly Africa, and many underdeveloped countries.  If we can provide a prototype, an example of how to do it, well, that’s what’s

we’re hoping.  In four to seven years, it will be done.  The tall towers are always exciting to do, but the satellite cities have the potential to make a difference for the greatest number of people. Everyone is on board—the client, the cities, us—it’s just a matter of time.

All images, except that of Kingdom Tower, are © Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

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