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Best Tall Buildings 2013

Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, 224 pages

CCTV HQ in Beijing

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 2013 edition discusses in good detail 59 tall buildings as compared to 54 in 2009.

The most spectacular and awesome "tall building" in the 2013 edition is the CCTV headquarters building in Beijing designed by OMA, which is headed by Rem Koolhaus.  It was named the "winner" in the Asia and Australasia region.  Not only is it slanted and open, its facades are incised jigsaw-puzzles.

The jury statement offered the following commentary:

"Conflating expectations of what a skyscraper is, and can or should do, the CCTV Headquarters has now become embedded in the thought process of the making of tall buildings.  It singlehandedly paved the way from the height-obsessed, set-back skyscraper of the past to the sculptural and spatial skyscraper of the present, at the scale of the urban skyline.  Its stunning form, which appears both powerful and conflicted, as if pulled in several directions, symbolizes the multiple functions of the programs and the dynamic positioning of its nation on the world stage.  The unique architectural design contrasts significantly with historical building styles in Beijing, yet it could never be classified as a homogenizing force.  As a piece of structural engineering, CCTV is also an object lesson for those who wish the push the boundaries and sweep aside the received notions of skyscraper design.  The building's design violates conventions while validating and rewarding intensive and focused collaboration and study."

CCTV vewed from different angle

CCTV viewed from street-level

The book provides the following commentary:

"Two towers rise from a common production platform, the Plinth.  Each tower has a different character: Tower 1 serves as editing area and offices, and Tower 2 is dedicated to news broadcasting.  They are joined by a cantilevering bridge for administration, the Overhang.  The main lobby, in Tower 1, is an atrium stretching three floors underground, and three floors up.  It has a direct connection with Beijing's subway network, and is the arrival and departure hub for the 10,000 workers inside CCTV Headquarters....The engineering forces at work are...rendered visible on the facade: a web of triangulated steel tubes - diagrids - which, instead of forming a regular pattern of diamonds, become dense in areas of greater stress and looser and more open in areas requiring less support."

"The CCTV building is the type of building that may not happen again.  It is an incredible achievement in terms of structural engineering and iconography; in some ways it is the Eiffel Tower of our time," commented Jeanne Gang, the jury chair.

The Shard in London

The Shard in London

The "winner" of the Best Tall Building Europe is The Shard in London, a project developed by the Sellar Property Group and designed by The Renzo Piano Workshop.  When it was completed in February 2013, it was the tallest building in Western Europe at 1,004 feet.

It has 25 floors of offices, three floors of restaurants, a 17-story hotel, 13 floors of apartments and a triple-height viewing gallery and an open-air viewing floor on level 72.  It is located next to the London Bridge Station, one of the city's busiest transport hubs.

The tapering form of the 7-sided tower culminates in its open top, gasping as it were like a while exhaling at the surface.  "Top-down construction allowed the first 23 stories of the concrete core and much of the surrounding tower to be built before the basement had been fully excavated.  The technique was a world first and saved four month on the complex program.'

The jury statement maintained that "the building is both heroic on the skyline and beautifully executed at the scale of the pedestrian and clearly prioritizes public transportation over the automobile."

Sliced Porosity Block

Sliced Porosity Block in Chengdu, China

With five towers, the tallest of which is 404 feet tall, the Sliced Porosity Block in Chengdu, China, carries on architect Steven Holl's white aesthetic for megablocks he introduced in the great Linked Hybrid Project in Beijing (see The City Review article on the council's 2009 awards).

Facade Projection at Sliced Porosity

The 6-story-high "Light Pavilion" on a facade facing central plaza

The complex is complex and its occasional diagonals are honored with the wonderful, 6-story-high "Light Pavilion" on a facade facing central plaza as seen in the above photograph and at the right in the higher photograph.

Sliced porosity

Sliced Porosity Block

The project's plan, the book noted, "takes its shape from the need to distribute natural light, such that each of the residential apartments experiences a minimum of two hour of sunlight each day."  Most of the facades are white concrete with six-foot-square windows.  The "sliced" facades are glass and appear as dark in the above photograph.

"The large public space framed in the center of the block is formed into three valleys inspired by a poem of the city's greatest poet, Du Fu (713-770), who wrote, 'From the northeast storm-tossed to the southwest, time has left stranded in Three Valleys.'  The three plaza levels feature water gardens based on concepts of time.  These are the Fountain of the Chinese Calendar Year, Fountain of Twelve Months, and Fountain of Thirty Days.  These three ponds function as skylights for the six-story shopping precinct below.  Visitors transit between the level of the public plaza via several means, including an inclined moving sidewalk and shallow stairs."

Gate Towers in Abu Dhabi

 Gate Towers in Abu Dhabi

The 781-foot-high Gate Towers in Abu Dhahi were developed by Aldar Properties and designed by Arquitectonica.  They are a very elegant version of the Marina Bay Sands Resort complex in Singapore that was designed by Moshe Safie (see The City Review article about the council's 2010 awards).

The book provides the following commentary although it makes no mention of the Marina Bay Sands project:

The project has a total of 3,533 apartments in three towers connected at their top with a two-level skybridge structure, which contains 21 large luxury penthouses.  This composition is adjoined by a 22-story, horseshoe-shaped building.  The complex includes three swimming pools and four water features, with car parking on three subterranean levels.  The podium includes two levels of retail shopping mall space."

The skybridge has three large circular holes between the towers, which are clad in a very handsome blue fenestration with white horizontal accents.

The project was a "finalist" in the Middle East & Africa region.

Park Royalton in Singapore
Park Royal on Pickering in Singapore

The 16-story Park Royal on Pickering is a hotel in Singapore that was developed by UOL Group Limited and designed by WOHA.  It has a contoured podium that was inspired by rice paddies and the contours create "dramatic outdoor plazas and gardens, which flow seamlessly into the interiors.  Greenery from nearby Hong Lim Park is drawn up into the building in the form of planted valleys, gullies, and waterfalls.  The podium houses the above-ground car park, transforming it into a sculptural urban object:: its roof  becomes a lush landscaped terrace, housing the hotel's recreational facilities, which include birdcage-shaped cabanas."

Devon Energy Center in Oklahoma City
Devon Energy Center in Oklahoma City

The Devon Energy Center in Oklahoma City is a very elegant complex developed by Hines and designed by Pickard Chilton.  It consists of a 50-story office tower, a 300-seat publicly accessible auditorium, a 2.25-acre public park, a rotunda that serves as the project's "town square and a low-rise podium with conference and dining facilities.
  The tower has 12 corner offices and the building is "among the ten largest LEED-NC Gold-certified buildings in the world.  It was a "finalist" in the Americas region.  The entire ground level is open and accessible to the public.

Marriott in Dubai

JW Marriott Marquis in Dubai

The very handsome, twin-tower, 1,166-foot-high, JW Marriott Marquis complex in Dubai was developed by Emirates Airlines and designed by Archgroup Architects.  The book notes that "the towers currently hold the title for the tallest all-hotel function buildings in the world" and were "nominees" in the Middle East & Africa regions.

The towers, which are joined by a seven-story base, has a rather dazzling facade treatment that conjures tick-tack-toe diagrams run riot.  The center side facades have four groups of such diagrams in three staggered columns and the mullions of each group protrude sligfhtly as they rise.  The configurations stop several floors short of the towers' tops, which flare outward somewhat and have angled bases for thin spires.  The towers have elliptical plans with one end indented and the other slightly protruded.  The book maintains that "the hotel is designed in the expressionist style, inspired by the date palm, a symbol highly evocative of Arabian culture," adding that "its detailing replicates the trunk of the palm."

Sowwah Square in Abu Dhabi
Sowwah Square in Abu Dhabi

The 509-foot-high Sowwah Square complex of two four towers and a new low-rise headquarters for the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange in the Al Maryah Island section of Abu Dhabi was developed by Mubadala Real Estate & Infrastructure and designed by Goettsch Partners.

The book noted that "the elevation of the stock exchange on pedestals reinforces the importance of the commercial activity inside, while creating an enticing, shaded communal space beneath."  The exchange structure has sharply inclined downward sides and the towers have sharply inclined downwards "pinched" bases.

New Babylon in the Hague
New Babylon in the Hague

The 465-foot-high New Babylon project in The Hague, Netherlands was developed by Babylon Den Haag BV, a collaboration between SHS Property Finance BV and Fortress BV.  It was designed by MVSA Architects and was a "finalist" in the Europe region.

The book provides the following commentary:

"The Babylon renovation project began in 2003 with a brief to extend the existing Babylon complex at The Hague's central railway station, as part of a broader scheme to revitalize the center of The Hague....The Park Tower on the northeast side and the City Tower on the southwest side contain 335 owner-occupied and rental apartments....Each apartment has its own outdoor space....Given Old Babylon's somewhat dark and sterile appearance and imposing scale, the designers wanted to introduce a human factor.  To achieve this, a new, graduated facade was designed, with each step accentuating the function of the corresponding floor."

With a large cantilever in a mid-rise building, the two high-rise towers have very bright,attractive and distinctive facades.

The Bow in Calgary
The Bow in Calgary
The 779-foot-high tower known as The Bow in Calgary was developed by Matthews & Southwest and designed by Foster & Partners.

The book provides the following commentary about  the very handsome building, which was named the "winner" in the Americas region:

"The tower faces south, curving toward the sun to take advantage of daylight and heat, while the resulting bow-shaped plan that gives the tower its name maximizes the perimeter for cellular offices with views of the Rocky Mountains....While the building curves inwards, the glazed facade is pulled forward to create a series of atria that run the full height of the tower.  Three sky gardens, which project into the aria at levels 24, 42 and 54, promote collaboration and bring a social diminsion to the office spaces....At level 54, the building features a large 200-seat auditorium.
30 St. Mary in London
30 St. Mary in London

Another design by Foster & Partners is 30 St. Mary Axe, a 590-foot-tall tower in London that was the "winner" of the council's 10-year award.  Known as "The Gherkin," the book said that it "helped define a modern, open, and progressive image for one of the world's oldest financial centers and set a benchmark in architectural qualtiy for a new generation of tall buildings."  It tapers dramatically at its top and less so at its base.

The building's tapering form and diagonal bracing structure and the book notes that "atria between the radiating fingers of each floor link vertically to form a series of informal breakout spaces that spiral up the building."

The jury statement provided the following commentry about the 2003 building:

"In a just a few short years, the Gherkin not only launched the trend of affectionately naming London skyscrapers, it paved the way for the current generation of non-orthogonal tall buildings that now have become a quintessential feature of the city.  The Gherkin showed us not only that skyscrapers could be more than the simple upward extrusion of a floor plan, it showed us that we could demand more from skyscrapers, and expect to receive it."

Zhengzhou Greenland Plaza
Zhengzhou Greenland Plaza

The 919-foot-tall Zhengzhou Greenland Plaza in China was developed by the Greenland Group and designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.  The building was a nominee in the Asia & Australasia region.

The book provides the following commentary:

"The Greenland Plaza tower is instantly recognizable for its sophisticated three-to-five-story-tall light-gauge painted aluminum screens.  Configured at an outward cant that enhances the interior daylighting though scientifically calculated reflections, the screens protect the all-glass exterior from solar gain.  The rhythmic cant of the screens, combined with their decreasing size as they rise on the building, creates a dynamic movement that gives the building a fine-grained texture."

The council's Lynn S. Beedle Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Henry N. Cobb of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners.  He is best known for Hancock Plaza in Plaza and Fountain Plaza in Dallas.
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