Five AS+GG Projects That Turn Architectural Wisdom Inside-out

Words by Katie Puckett

Visualization of the Jeddah Tower

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Jeddah Tower / Jeddah / Saudi Arabia / 2020

It’s the first building to be measured in kilometres — and, with its tri-petal concave shape, a giant solar concentrator. “We realized that we were heating up the entrance,” explains Gill. “So we enlarged the lobby, created a bump-out at the base to accommodate the arrival sequence and then laced it on the rooftop with PV and hot water. So we’re generating a little bit of power and a lot of steam off the roof of this building and at the same time protecting the interior.”

Visualization of FKI Tower in Seoul Exterior View Facade

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FKI Tower / Seoul / South Korea / 2014

This tower for the Federation of Korean Industries has a sawtooth facade with photovoltaic panels integrated into the spandrel. This takes advantage of South Korea’s generous renewable energy payback policy, while solving one of Gill’s pet peeves: all-glass offices where the occupants are forced to pull down the shades against the glare. The PV is angled towards the sun, while the glass is tilted inwards 15° to reduce the thermal load on the building and the glare inside the space. From the outside looking up, those close by see their surroundings reflected back at them, the ground plane transitioning to sky. There is one drawback: when you’re in the space looking out, the ceiling light system is reflected back at you in the tipped glass, so the ceiling ideally needs to be kept neutral with the lighting placed somewhere else. “We like this wall so much that we call it our ‘typical wall’ and we simply modify it now. If the client is looking for something simple, rational, if they don’t want to get too complicated on their exterior wall, it’s a really simple way to get a unique characteristic in a building.”

Render of the facade of Pearl River Tower Guangzhou China

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Pearl River Tower / Guangzhou / China / 2011

Designed while Smith and Gill were at SOM, as the headquarters for the Chinese National Tobacco Company, this building was intended to be the world’s first supertall tower to produce most of the energy that it consumes. It uses wind turbines, solar collectors, PV cells, radiant heating and cooling from the ceilings, and underfloor air distribution. Its response to the wind is one of the most significant elements. It is shaped to direct the powerful winds that assail a supertall to openings in the mechanical floors, where they are used to ventilate the building and to drive the micro-turbines to produce energy. Working with the wind improves its structural performance, reducing the weight of material required for the structure.

Great City Masterplan of Chengdu in China

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Great City masterplan / Chengdu / China / 2020

When complete, this new eco-town outside Chengdu will provide homes, workplaces and healthcare facilities for 80,000 people, with every part accessible from anywhere else within a 15 minute walk. Of the 7km2 site, only 1.3km2 will be built on and the rest left for agriculture. But Gill believes its greatest innovation is a financial model for the housing units that makes city living affordable for young professional couples from one-child families, while enabling them to look after two sets of parents living close by.

Visualisation of EXPO 2017 in Astana Kazakhstan Aerial View

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EXPO-2017 / Astana / Kazakhstan / 2017

For this year’s World Expo in Astana, Gill says it was another economic model that secured the practice the job. “Even though I’m very proud of the architectural design, that’s not the only reason we won it. They had a 1.4km by 1.4km site, but the plan was really just a 25ha circle and the rest was blank. So we proposed that they parcel it out and sell it, and we designed a community and then adapted it for the Expo — instead of designing it for the Expo and then trying to figure out what the heck we do with it after.” Every parcel was sold, and the practice designed the guidelines and advised all of the developers on behalf of the client.

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