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Tall Buildings & Urban Habitat Volume 3

Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, 327 pages, 2019

Changsha Hua Center Phase II

Changsha Hua Center Phase II in China by Aedas

By Carter B. Horsley

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

Recently, the council changed the name of its annual book from "Best Tall Buildings" to "Tall Buildings & Urban Habitat," and published it in a larger format while retaining some of its very small fonts.  This year, the book is Volume 3 of that series.

In past years, it declared one "winner" in each region, but also added finalists and nominees, in varying numbers.  In total, this edition includes 91 projects buildings in 15 categories but not all have accompanying essays and multiple pictures, and it also did away with labeling the entries as "winners," "finalists" and "nominees." In 2009, it included 54 in five catagories with good descriptions and photographs.

The most spectacular new building in this year's book is the Changsha Hua Center Phase II in Changsha, China, a complex with a 28-story and a 21-story tower set askew to one another with a marked variety of facades.  The relatively small project has retail, offices, film and music studios and a baking studio.  It was developed by Huayuan Propert co., Ltd., and designed by Aedas.

According to the council's book, the design concept was "derived from nature and inspired by the world heritage site. Zhanglia Jie, a tourist destination in Hunan known for its landscape of sandstone pillars, caves, water canyons, ancient village, and rugged and weathered mountain rocks....Brilliant yellow light sheds mimic the stalactites amd stalagmtes of Huanglong Cave."

With its curves, setbacks, "urban parlors" and facade variations, this project is a marvelous and rather inscrutable "Rubik's Cube."


53 West 53rd Street by Jean Nouvel

If Changsha Hua Center Phase II is mind-boggling and mysterious, Jean Nouvel's soaring, 77-story tower next to the Museum of Modern Art at 53 Wast 53rd Street is a sculptiural masterpiece and a great work of skyscraper art.even though Amanda Burden. the chair of the New York City Planning Commission ordered it be 200 feet lower so that it would not interfere with the Empire State Building, twenty blocks to the south!

Even such an outrageous "chop" could not diminish the stunning elan of this tower, the finest of the city's subsequent crop of SuperTalls.

The council's book provides the following commentary:

"The site is mid-block, irregular in plan, and fall in three different zoning districts, each with different floor area and massing limits....The resulting form of the tower represents the angled, tapering zoning setback requirements with sleek angled surfaces, not the rectilinear setbacks often employed to comply with the underlying zoning.. .The tower's signature tapering geometry is reserved for the north and south facades, while the east and west rise in perfect sheer verticality.  The particuliarities of the three different zoning district and ground plot drove the form to a multi-apex iteration, where each of the three peaks is distinguished with a color treatment - gold, black and silver - further emphasized by the gradient transition of each pinnacle's hue.

"The wind and seismic bracing, expressed in a diagrid, generates a very rigid, highly efficient structure - so efficient that most interior columns are eliminated, and the proportion of clear views is greater than in a traditional rectilinear column arrangement.  The entire structure is executed in reinforced concrete....This was the first building in North America to use triple glazing (with two air spaces) throughout....The need to create more than 5,000 different, irregularly-shaped custom window panels...out of low-iron glass made for a compelling exterior wall composition, particularly when consideration is given to the irregular geometry."


Tiajin CTF Financial Center in China

The Tiajin CTF Financial Center in China is 1,729 feet high and was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

The mixed-use tower has a sporty and sinuous, "unbuttoned" look that reflects the varying requirements of office, hotel and residential components, all beneath a permeable crown that dissolves wind loads.

The slender, 97-story tower has rounded corners its unusual form conjures a bursting aparagus stalk.

Zhuhai Tower

Zhuhai Tower in China

A more successful design is the Zhuhai Tower in China, a 1,079-foot-wall structure developed by the Huafa Group and designed by RM3M.

Its fluted design is not as complex as that of the Tiajin CTF Financial Center in China, shown above, but it rises from a more interesting, attractive and sexy base. 

The council's book provides the following commentary:

"The completion of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and undersea tunnel, the longest sea crossing and the longest fixed link in the world, has positioned the Hengqin region of Guangdong as one of Southern China's primary financial centers.  The Zhuhai Convention and Exibition Center...is home to the Zhuhai Tower.  The office and 250-key hotel building is the anchor and focal point of the multifunctional development, standing at a prime location on the west bank of the Zhu Jiang (Pearl) River Estuary....

"The convention center and integrated plaza take the fluid form of an architectural 'urban ribbon;' the tower rises as a vertical extension of the ribbon.  As the profile subtly changes, the fluted form is reminiscent of a sculpted glass vase."


Suzhou IFS in China by Kohn Pedersen Fox

The 95-story, 1,476-foot-high Suzhou IFS in China was developed by Wharf China Estates and designed by Kohn Pederson Fox.

The council's book provides the following commentary:

"Overlooking the banks of Jingi Lake, both the silver-toned facade and the curved 'tail' at the pinnacle of the Suzhou International Finance Square (IFS) are reminiscent of the body of a fish, a Chinese cultural symbol of prosperity and longevity."

The building has a shimmering LED display.


Rosewood Bangkok Hotel by Kohn Pedersen Fox

Another Kohn Pedersen Fox project in the survey is the 507-foot-tall Rosewood Bangkok Hotel developed by Rende Development. 

The 32-story hotel is linked directly to the Phloen Chit Skytrain system by an above-grade, outdoor pedestrian bridge. 

"Drawing inspiration from the graceful hand movement of the wai - the simple and elegant Thai gesture of greeting and welcome - two connecting high-rise structures are skillfully connected to create a dynamic form, revealing a tall, interior central opening."

The hotel is a couple of blocks away from the Central Embassy, a 40-story angle similarly tower with a 32-story Park Hyatt Hotel.


Aro in Midtown West in Manhattan designed by Cetra/Ruddy Architects

This handsome, mid-block tower in Midtown West is 738-feet-tall and rises almost shearly from a wide, low-rise base.  It was developed by Algin Management and designed by CetraRuddy Architects.

The council's book provides the following commentary:
"The glass curtain-wall is covered with a light-hued metal net that serves as a distrinctive graphic overlay.  This net, comprised of 18-inch...deep 'fenders,' also acts as an integrated solar device."

The building has rounded corners, some of which at the top are balconies that bulge a bit.

St. Petersburg

Lakhta Center in St. Petersburg, Russia

This 87-story, 1516-foot-tall tower is known as the Lakhta Center on the coast of the Gulf of Finland in St. Petersburg, Russia.  It was developed by the Joint Stock Company and the architect was RM3M.

The tower has a variety of public uses, including a planetarium, a medical center and a science education center.


18 Robinson in Singapore

The 591-foot-high tower at 18 Robinson in Singapore was developed by Tuan Sing Holdings Limited and designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox.

The 28-story tower is dramatically raised, angled and obiliquetly, above its podium base at a highly visible intersection, and the upper tower is significantly chamfered while its lower portion is lightly chamfered.  The upper tower's facade abounds in thin mullions that exaggerate its modest height.

The "levitation" of the prism-like upper tower is sensationally subtle.

Leexa Hadid

Leeza SOHO in Beijing

The 46-story tower known as Leeza SOHO in Beijing was developed by SOHO China Co., Ltd, is a 679-foot-high  office building  that was designed by Zaha Hadid Architects.

It anchors the Lize Financial Business District and straddles a new subway line that diagonally divides the site. 

From the outside, it resembles a slit "boom-boom" dress.

Leeza interior

Leeza SOHO's interior

The circular tower tapers at its top and at its bottom but its banded fenestration is boldly interrupted by windows that sinuously reveal its very exciting and spectacular atrium, perhaps the architectural firm's greatest creation - a platinum roller-coaster trip.

Inside, the atrium resembles a giant squid's shiny intestinal fortitude with suckers galore!

One Thousand

One Thousand Museum in Miami

A second project by Zaha Hadid Architects in the book is the 62-story One Thousand Museum tower on Biscayne Boulevard in Miami that was developed by Regalia Beach Developers that was headed by Louis Birdman, Gregg Covin and Kevin Venger.  It was designed by Hadid before her death in 2016.

The tower is 699 feet tall and has an exoskeleton composed of about 5,000 pieces of glass-fiber reinforced concrete that were shipped from Dubai.  The tower roxes from a low-rise podium that is largely perforated with small holes but centrally highlighted by very large lobster-like "claws" that look like albino ruins from Jurassic Park.  The lower levels of the tower have balconies and the tower's top has a 28-foot-high swimming room.  There is a helipad on the roof, a screening room and very dramatic and handsome concierge desk in the lobby and a spiraling and perforated ceiling in the spa.

The building is not a swan, nor a sleeping beauty, but, as is typical of many of Hadid's designs, fluid and unexpected.

She had an italic eye.


The Exchange 106 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The 1,460-foot-tall known as The Exchange 106 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was developed  and designed by the Malia Group.  The floor plan is a square with circular elements and night its 65-meter faceted crown is illuminated. 

Kuala base

Kuala base

The tower has two low-rise elements at its base, one angled and one eliptical, that provide an interesting contrast at grade to the tower's imposing and impressive verticality.

London crazy

The Brunel Building in London

The 15-story, 233-foot-high Brunel Building in London was developed by Derwent London and designed by Fletcher Priest Architects.

The council's book provides the following commentary:

"The building's exoskeleton was derived from a desire to reference the Great Western Railway, as well as the wider engineering heritage of Paddington Station.  Combined with its aesthetic appeal, it also serves an engineering function in supporting the building over the two subterranean tunnels of the Bakerlook Tube Line, while helping to create flexible column-free interiors."

The bold angled bracing of the exoskeleton is very dramatic and "for the first time since Paddington Basin was opened more than 200 years ago, the public has acccess to a new tree-lined canal towpath."

Melbourne crazy mullions

271 Spring Street in Melbourne

Another mid-bride building with "crazy" angled facade bracing is the 17-story,  241-foot-high building at 271 Spring Street in Melbourne was developed ISPT Super Property and designed by John Wardle Architects.
The tower is dramatically cantilevered over two historic low-rise buildings and the top of the cantilever is slightly angled as the building's roofline.

The lower half of the building, including most of the steeply angled cantilever, has an random assortment of angled, projecting frames that give the base a very prickly, spiked appearance.


White Tree in Montpellier, France

White Tree, a mid-rise residential building in Montpellier, France is the epitome, or possibly, nadir, of balconies run riot.

It was deverloped by  Promeo, Opalia Urban Workshop and designed by Sou Fujimoto Architects.

The various-sized, rectangular balconies project from the tower tower like drawbridges and some has stairs to upper levels and the overall effect is an albino bristling cactus tree.  In addition to the balconies, the apartments have thin pergolas to provide some shade and add more complexity to the structure's dizzy aesthetic.

U. S. Embassy in London

U. S. Embassy in London designed by Kieran Timberlake

The most unattractive building in this year's crop is the U.S. Embassy in London designed by Kieran Timberlake.  It replaced an embassy designed by Eero Saarinen that was an impressive Brutalist foray into a Georgian-style neighborhood.  This mid-rise, boxy structure rises from an two-story-high base with angled piers.  Its main facade conjures a frozen cave of bulbous stalagtites with a two-story hole near its top at one corner just to add a hint of unbalance.

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