Towers with a twist

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

Infinity Tower.
Infinity Tower.

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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 twisting towers dotted across skylines throughout the GCC.

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 it has, in reality, become a GCC-wide 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

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.

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

Ocean Heights
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.

Developer: DAMAC Properties
Architect: Aedas
Contractor: Arabtec
Value: $172million
Status: Completed
Rotation: 33 degrees
Height: 310m (84 storeys)
Location: Dubai Marina

Al Tijaria Tower
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.

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

Al Bidda Tower
The Al Bidda Tower in Doha is one of the most recognisable buildings on Doha’s eclectic 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.

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 in West Bay,  Doha

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