The Pearl River Tower in Guangzhou
Pointing to the sky like a wing tipped vertical, its penthouse soaring 71 stories above Guangzhou, the former Canton and capital of Guangdong, the Pearl River Tower embodies China's wish to be counted among those nations leading the paradigmatic charge towards responsible urban planning and architecture informed by the evolving technologies to create and exploit sustainable energy.
The Pearl River Tower presents a relentless contemporary urban design. It is sleek, dramatic, majestic and, to some, breathtaking. The principles of social conscience and clean, renewable, efficient energy infusing the concept of the structure are unfailingly laudable.
Within the context of Guangzhou, however, this sparkling office building built on high ideals is a beacon of anomaly. The city is hot, humid, and increasingly dirty, nearly as crowded as Tokyo and its air quality is deteriorating. Like much of the rest of China, Guangzhou is in the midst of an unprecedented boom of new construction- a projected 50,000 new tall buildings by 2025. Skyscrapers have sprouted like steel and concrete mung beans all over China despite domestic economic instability, and most of the torrent of new construction relies on dirty fossil fuels such as coal to generate electricity.
New Energy, Fresh Design, High Hope
Unlike the morass of construction perpetuating unsustainable, inefficient energy draws detrimental to the environment, Pearl River Tower was conceived as the world's most green skyscraper. In fact, the initial plans called for the building to feed surplus energy to the grid, but the local power company resisted the idea. It was scuttled prior to construction. Set back, but undaunted, the Guangdong Tobacco Company, the owner of the building, and the architects made sure that high-tech insulation, multiple wind turbines, smart lights, and photovoltaic solar panels became prominent features of Pearl River Tower.
Its rooms feature state of the art radiant ceiling technology, by which circulating water maintains cool temperatures. Pearl River Tower represents the largest installation of this German technology in the world. Because the climate of Guangzhou is tropical, the building has little need for a heating system and, since the cooling system requires no fans, the building presents a significantly quieter work environment than a conventional office building.
Not only the ceilings, but also the outer walls of the building are functional components of the cooling system. The Tower is wrapped in dual layers of glass encapsulating a middle layer of air. The region's hot sun naturally raises the temperature in the air space, but the hot air is drawn and driven from the building by solar powered fans before it gets the chance to heat the interior of the structure.
As impressive as the radiant ceilings and heat-exchanging walls may be, the four wind turbines influencing and indeed integral to the design of the building might be even more captivating. Although the US architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) are responsible for the overall design of the building, they subcontracted to the renowned Canadian firm Rowan Williams Davies & Irwin Inc. to turn wind into light and power. Four huge slots punctuate the sides of the Tower. Wind turbines occupy the slots. The slots form wind tunnels to drive the turbines at consistently accelerated speeds- enough to surpass the electricity generated by conventionally situated, discrete turbines by a factor of 15. Engineers expect the Tower's turbines to generate a million kilowatt hours of electricity per year.
Roger Frechette, the project engineer from SOM, estimates that such energy efficient technology will reduce the costs to power the building by at least 50% relative to structures of comparable size. Construction costs for the steel, concrete and glass skyscraper will run $12M over the cost to build a less energy efficient structure. However, experts project that the extra costs can be recouped within five years through not only reduced energy consumption, but also because the absence of conventional oversized fans, furnaces, compressors and excessive ductwork provides property owners additional square footage to let.
Although the energy efficient attributes of the design of Pearl River Tower are not true innovations on their own, as a set, and on such an enormous scale, they are unique. This is not your father's office building- Pearl River Tower is a commanding vision of next-generation skyscraper design. Although detractors nitpick at the architect's rather lofty goals to create an emission free structure- goals the engineers readily admit exceeded their abilities- Pearl River Towers stands worthy of worldwide emulation.
Though this page only covers the River Tower in Guangzhou, you should also check out some other fascinating buildings. We bundled some of our favourites