Trunk towers

One's first impression of Trump Tower is of a classic structure, both understated and conservative.

A view of the southwestern facade of TIHT. (Nakheel)
A view of the southwestern facade of TIHT. (Nakheel)

Donald Trump's latest project is Palm Jumeirah's newest icon.

A quick glance at a profile shot of the new Trump International Hotel & Tower (TIHT)-located in the middle of the trunk of Palm Jumeirah-offers yet another example of ultra-contemporary, steel and glass architecture.

One's first impression of TIHT is that of a classic structure that seems both understated and conservative, given the site it occupies. That's at first glance.

The north/south view from the crown or mainland, however, reveals a very different reality.

From there emerges a bisected podium and two free-standing towers that converge at the 40th storey to literally straddle Palm Jumeirah's Golden Mile, the Dubai Monorail and two bridges to the mainland.

There will not be another piece of architecture as good as [TIHT]...There won't be a location like this....Tens of billions of dollars has been invested in Dubai and we have the best site. - Donald Trump

It is then that the magnitude of the project and the complexity of the Lee Morris-designed structure become clear.

Sixty-two storeys in total, the towers appear symmetrical for the first 40 floors, at which point they join together to create the distinct diamond-shaped crown. The taller tower contains the 399-unit freehold residential space and two high-profile penthouses, while the smaller, wider tower contains the Trump International Hotel.

"The towers, within the greater context of the building, have different components and different aspects depending on how you see them," says Lee Morris, design director and principal architect, Atkins Middle East & India. "Although there is symmetry in how it sits on the site, there is asymmetry within the building itself, which creates a sense of distinct architecture.

True to context

While the stainless steel and glass of TIHT make for a striking image against the backdrop of crystal blue waters and picture-perfect sunsets, from the inception of the project in 2005 both client and architect were excited about the site.

"When I saw the Palm and I saw the site, it was instantaneous. It was really a very easy decision," said Donald J. Trump, chairman & president, Trump Organization, when asked about how he arrived at his decision to collaborate with Nakheel and Atkins on Palm Jumeirah's tallest structure.

In Nakheel's drive to mould Palm Jumeirah into an icon for the ages, collaboration with branded products has been its primary strategic plan, which is evidenced by partnerships with Cirque du Soleil, Atlantis, Anheuser-Busch Entertainment Group, Aquatica SeaWorld, Discovery Cove and Bush Gardens. These collaborations made the TIHT site particularly challenging.

Early in the design process, the location and symmetry of the site presented Morris with a conundrum: should he attempt to stay true to the Arabesque context of the Palm's other signature projects, or approach the site as a unique point of difference?

"We saw it having the strength and power to stand alone as a piece of architecture, rather than follow other elements on the Palm," explains Morris.

"Some people say it should follow the context of what's around it, but we looked at the overall aspect of the Palm and we think this is the perfect approach to deal with that context."

Johann Schumacher, managing director of Palm Jumeirah, agrees with Morris' decision to design a stand-alone project. In fact, Schumacher insists that the unique form of TIHT is what will ultimately make it a successful project and a popular venue for both guests and residents.

"There are a lot of Arabesque buildings on the Palm but TIHT is our centrepiece," he says. "The shape and materials are what draw people's attention to what is a very iconic structure and allow passers-by to experience the Trump brand."

Though the tower is super-contemporary, the four-storey podium is a much more solid link to its surrounding context.


After going from sketches and renderings, the next obvious challenge is actually building it. We need to make sure that this building looks as good as it does on paper. That's going to be the real challenge. - Lee Morris

Morris and his team were admittedly "very conscious" about what is primarily a four-storey carpark. In the interest of integrating the urban context with the contemporary elevations, the carpark was designed with sculpted edges and space for offices, retail outlets and townhouses throughout.

"We tried to concentrate on integrating the base of the podium with what sits around it....We were conscious not to create massive blank walls in the middle of what is primarily a residential area," explains Morris.

After considering the mix of Balinese and Arabic styles within a relatively small area, Trump and Nakheel accepted the vision of Atkins and put their trust in Morris. It was that trust that inspired Morris in what is, up until now, the pinnacle project of his accomplished career.

"You're only allowed as much as the client wants you to do," says Morris. "Architects and designers can do great buildings, but in conjunction with a fantastic site and a truly visionary client, who aspires to do something extraordinary, that combination is what gets you going."

The benefit of good design

Amidst all the industry chatter about green buildings and HH Sheikh Mohammed's October 2007 decree, it is commonly understood within architecture and engineering circles that achieving a LEED Silver certification requires little more than good, conscientious design.

TIHT has been on the drawing board for nearly three years, which means that its design pre-dates the Emirates Green Building Council and the region's rush toward LEED accreditation. Morris, however, always saw this project as one that would work with the elements.

"Our first priority has always been how best to protect the outside of the building," explains Morris. "We also focused on a very high-quality glazing system. Although there is a lot of glass on it, it's all low-E glass so it stops much of the thermal impact."

Morris's tower was always designed with glass elevations in mind, so one of his first considerations was orientation. Balconies along the east and west elevations will provide shading for guests and residents. The north face will incorporate clear glazing to provide views of the Arabian Gulf. Glass on the southern elevation has been chosen for its high U-value, which will reduce thermal bridging.

Only after these basic architectural concepts were in place did Morris and his team look at recoverables and renewables. "We're looking at the feasibility of condensate recovery systems and grey water recycling, both of which can produce enormous amounts of water that can either go back into the building or used for landscaping," says Morris. Solar thermal technology is also being considered in certain applications on the building.

Logistical nightmare

Architecturally speaking, the site's potential for incredibly beautiful views belies a surplus of inherently difficult design and construction challenges. Consider that the site sits between two highways and is intertwined with residential and hotel complexes.

It is split by what will be an operational monorail and, from the beginning, Nakheel insisted on connectivity from the mainland to the crown. By the end of 2008, what was one of the most barren building sites in Dubai when designs for the TIHT began, will be a fully functioning urban hub.

"There will always be challenges with construction," says Schumacher, "but this has got to be one of the toughest sites to build on in the whole of Dubai."

Given the connectivity stipulation, Morris had to address not only how to go from north to south on the Golden Mile but also how to get across the site. He and his team quickly determined that they would need to provide a one-level link that would allow for both vehicular and pedestrian connectivity.

Faced with the decision of whether or not to try to link the monorail system into the building, Morris and his team determined that the building would need to be split down the middle.

"The split-link tower idea is not just about aesthetics but about creating something that had a sense of definitiveness about it," says Morris.

Splitting the tower asymmetrically meant that one 'leg' would be taller and heavier than the other, which automatically introduced load-bearing engineering challenges. All of these questions required getting the Atkins/Nakheel team of engineers and architects around the table very early to ensure a consistent vision.

"When you do something that's out of the ordinary, you need to work hand-in-hand with structural and mechanical engineers to first find out if it can be done," explains Morris. "With Nakheel especially, there was an extraordinary drive toward making this thing happen."

A change of plans

Ironically, the TIHT, in its current form, almost didn't happen. The original renderings of TIHT-released in October 2005-saw Nakheel and the Trump Organisation working with an altogether different team of architects. The result was a building that looked much different from Morris' rocket-like wishbone-shaped structure.

The previous design was a cylindrical structure that incorporated four massive golden petals, which was designed to resemble a flowering tulip. In February of 2006, however, Atkins was asked to undertake a technical review of the feasibility of the "Tulip" design.

"We did our review and took it one step further-we said we could do it better by looking at a different design," says Morris. "We focused on turning the previous scheme, which was a monolithic, solid, circular element, and breaking it down into more identifiable forms."

According to Donald Trump, both the Trump Organization and Nakheel welcomed Atkins' input and involvement with the Tulip design. "We had another building that was an entirely different shape and I wasn't a huge fan of it," says Trump. "Ultimately Chris [O'Donnell] got involved and he wasn't a fan of it either. It was a very expensive building and it just didn't look great so we scrapped that plan and started over again."

A final word

TIHT represents Donald Trump's first business foray into the Middle East and, in keeping with the persona he's created, is only fitting that it come on what is being called the most high-profile site of the most high-profile development in the world's most high-profile city.

Neither Donald Trump nor Nakheel have become famous by being conservative in business. Their collective decision to replace the original architects and go back to the drawing board represents both organisations' willingness to achieve the highest possible standard of excellence.

Lee Morris's design sets the standard on the Palm because it single-handedly creates a new contemporary context for the area. In Morris's design, both Trump and Nakheel seem to have achieved their goal.

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