Guangzhou's Super-Green Skyscraper, by Architectural Record

File Type: Free Content, Article
Release Date: April 2014
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Office Building

Pearl River Tower, the 1,020-foot-tall office tower that opened last year in Guangzhou, China, incorporates a highly integrated approach to sustainability that has earned it LEED Platinum certification, according to an article by Joann Gonchar in the March edition of Architectural Record. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) was awarded the project through a design competition that called for a building that would allow “nature and mankind to exist in harmony.”

While SOM designers and engineers “set their sights on a net zero energy building,” the project faced numerous challenges that ultimately made that goal unreachable. Yet, Pearl River Tower (PRT) offers valuable lessons to others attempting to design and develop sustainable skyscrapers.

“The PRT team proposed 18 tightly coordinated strategies for shaving the tower’s energy use, for recovering energy, and for generating power” using state-of-the-art technologies, the article notes. “The glass-clad, composite structure of concrete and steel incorporates most, but not all of SOM's originally proposed strategies,” it continues. “It has generally rectangular floor plates and a subtly concave south elevation, a slightly convex north elevation, and a bullet-shaped roof. The PRT is further sculpted to provide inlets or ports for what arguably is the project's only truly exotic technology—two pairs of building-integrated vertical axis wind turbines (VAWTs) inserted at floors 25 and 50.”

The four inlets containing the VAWTs do double duty. While their shape and location were determined primarily to make the most of their power-generating potential, wind-tunnel testing confirmed that they also serve to reduce the pressure differential between the structure’s windward and leeward sides, which allowed for the use of less steel and concrete.