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Best Tall Buildings 2012

Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, 224 pages

Reflections at Keppel Bay in Singapore

By Carter B. Horsley

Every year since 2007, the 40-year-old Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat based in Chicago publishes a book on the year's best buildings in four major regions: the Americas. Asia and Australasia, Europe, and the Middle East & Africa.

In each region, it declares one "winner," but also adds finalists and nominees, in varying numbers.  In total, the 2012 edition discusses in good detail 76 tall buildings as compared to 54 in 2009.

The most spectacular project in the 2012 group is Reflections at Keppel Bay in Singapore. Designed by Studio Daniel Liebeskind for Keppel Bay Pte. Ltd, it is a cluster of 6 towers, each with an open spaceframe top and slight vertical curves.  The towers, several of which are connected by two skybridges, contain more than 1,100 residential units.

The book provides the following commentary:

"The artful composition of ever-shifting building orientations, along with the different building typologies, creates an airy, light-filled grouping of short and tall structures.  These forms create an experience where each level feels unique as it is not in alignment with either the floor above or below."


One One One Eagle Street in Brisbane

This 48-story, dark reflective glass tower has meandering white, inside columns near, and visible through its windows, that "erupt" into the open near the tower's top to creat a very intriguing and lovely "bird's-nest" in pinnacle that is one of the global icons of Deconstructivism.

A "nominee" for best tall building in the Asia and Australasia region, it was developed by the GPT Group and designed by Cox Reyner Architects.  The book said the design took inspiration from nearby fig tree groves.

Busan Zenith

Doosan Haeundae Zenith in Busan, South Korea

Developed by Daewon Plus Construction, it was designed by smdp studio.  This cluster of three residential towers, the largest of which is 984 feet tall, has silvery, reflective facades and cruciform shapes and is surrounded by water on three sides.  It is very slick and handsome and was a "nominee" in the Asian and Australasia region.


The Zhejiang Fortune Finance Center in Hangzhou, China
The Zhejiang Fortune Finance Center in Hangzhou was a "nominee" in the Asia and Australasia region and was designed by John Portman & Associates of Atlanta.  It consists of two very attractive towers, elliptical in plan, with scooped tops, each in different directions.  The tallest tower is 846 feet high.  The developer was Zhejiang Te Fu Long  Real Estate.

Doha Plain

The Palm Towers in Doha, Qatar

One of the most exquisite high-rise designs was The Palm Towers in Doha, Qatar, developed by DAR Investment and designed by MZ Architects.  The twin, 802-foot-high, reflective glass towers are hexagonal in plan with circular cores.  It was a "nominee" in the Middle East and Africa region. 

These dark totems have three sharply angled teeth at their tops separated by lower inwardly included angles.  The subtlety of the design is further enhanced by the fact that the sides supporting the "teeth" have three vertical slightly angled projections providing visual thrust.  Beneath the angled projections are clusters of tightly spaced and slightly angled facade incisions.

These columns also have very thin light-colored accents. 

The book notes that the towers are named after the native palm trees of Qatar.

The only blemish at this stunning architectural masterpiece is the light-colored, 8-story parking base connecting the towers.


Tianjin Global Financial Center in China

The 1,105-foot-high Tianjin Global Financial Center in China was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and has a pleated elliptical plan.  Hollow steel tubes, the book noted, were designed and filled with high-strength concrete to allow the minimum diameter columns just inside the facade and the creation of column-free interior space.


The Al Bahar Towers in Abu Dhabi

Developed by the Abu Dhabi Investment Council, the twin, 25-story Al Bahar Towers in Abu Dhabi were designed by Aedes Architects Ltd.  The book provides the following commentary: "To fully combat the effects of solar glare and heat gain, the team looked for a method to shield the glazed towers in a unique and creative way.  By studying the traditional and vernacular architecture of the area, the 'mashrabiya,' a wooden lattice screen used predominantly in Islamic architecture, became the inspiration for the towers' active skin.  The facade's moveable components are semi-transparent PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylne) panels, which are combined in arrays much like umbrellas.  Each array opens and closes in direct reaction to the sun's position, allowing indirect sunlight to enter the building while blocking the strongest rays to prevent glare and heat gain."  This approach was also honored by the council as inaugural winner of it "innovation" award.  Internal sky gardens exist along the southern facade of the building which, in addition to the exterior shading, help alleviate the effects of solar exposure.  Antony Woods a juror, noted that the "umbrella-type 'mashrabiya' facade shade modules are both simple and technically ingenious."  The modules are pale yellow and thus the overall image of the towers is a bit drab.


The Doha Tower in Dubai

This 781-foot-high tower has 41 floors of offices, a restaurant on the 42nd floor and a private residence as its penthouse.  It was the "winner" of the  Middle East and Africa region and was developed by HBS and designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel.

The tower has a dome and slender spire that conjures the solitary horn of a narwhale. "The cladding system is a reference to the traditional Islamic 'mashrabiya,' or artistic screen used for shading or room dividing.  The design for the system involved using a single geometric motif at several scales, overlaid at different densities along the facade.  The overlays occur in response to the solar condiions: 25 % opacity was placed on the north elevation, 40 % on the south, and 60 % on the east and west.  From afar, the screen appears as a uniform density, but the intricacy of the layering and scaling of the screens becomes apprarent at a closer viewpoint....User-operable solar shades are also available behind the glazed curtain wall.  The overall facade system is estimated to reduce cooling loads by 20 %.  At night, an integrated lighting system enhances the delicate screen with programmable light shows....A large....atrium has eight glass lifts


The Leatop Plaza in Guangzhou, China

The 993-foot-high Leatop Plaza in Guangzhou, China, was developed by the Guangzhou Leatop Real Estate Investment Co., Ltd., and designed by Murphy/Jahn of Chicago.  Helmut Jahn, the head of the architectural firm, was awarded the council's Lynn S. Beedle Award for Lifetime Achievement this year. His best-known works include the Xerox Center in Chicago, the Liberty Towers in Philadelphia, the Messe Turm in Frankfurt, the Veer Towers in Las Vegas and 425 Lexington Avenue in New York.  The Leatop Plaza tower is his tallest project and has a slanted top, a motif repeated in the tower's diagonal lighting system for the facade.

Twin Disco

The Absolute World Towers in Mississauga, Canada

The book notes that when this project was first announced it had only one tower and was so popular that the units sold out just days after the release of the plan, leading the developer, Fernbrook and Cityzen, to plan a second tower to meet demand.   The book's commentary stated that "the curvilinear forms contrast with the generic rectanglar buildings [...in the suburb of Toronto], providing a welcome relief from harsh lines.  Fondly dubbed the Marilyn Monroe Towers by local residents, the towers parallel the fluidity and natural lines found in life.  In creating a flowing vocabulary for the building exterior, the design also accomplishes a unique experience for the interior as well: each residential unit is provided with a unique layout and views of Toronto or Mississauga from its balcony."

One of the towers is six stories taller than the other and they have "different rotations." 

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