Super Tall and Ultra Green

SOM’s tower in Guangzhou, China, aims to generate more energy than it uses.

Talking about the sustainability strategy behind Pearl River Tower “is like pulling on a thread—everything is connected in some way,” says Gordon Gill, the project’s lead architect at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). Scheduled for completion in fall 2009, in Guangzhou, China, the project aims remarkably high: the first zero-energy supertall building in the world. “We definitely sought to utilize proven technologies; what’s unique is that we’re assembling them symbiotically and gaining from the interrelationships. That’s the beautiful thing about the project really.” Just as critical is the design’s relationship to the surrounding site landscape. As Roger Frechette, SOM’s director of MEP engineering, remarks, “We’ve knit these technologies together to take advantage of this specific location too. If the building was even across the street, it would look different.”

The brief didn’t require a zero-energy structure. However, the client’s long-term commitment to the building—CNTC Guangdong Tobacco Company will house its headquarters there—as well as aggressive sustainability incentives by China’s Ministry of Construction gave SOM a real opportunity for a breakthrough. Pearl River Tower will draw on its riverside location in humid sun-rich Guangzhou, a port city of ten million 100 miles from Hong Kong. The tower will harvest wind, humidity, and solar power from the environment and use it to maximum efficiency through myriad interwoven systems. “The three big ideas are really the combination of the external wall, the underfloor radiant system, and the ventilation,” Frechette says. His partner Rob Bolin, associate director of sustainable engineering, estimates that these three interconnected systems will reduce typical energy consumption by about 40 percent—and that’s just for starters. Metropolis traces the thread of these technologies as they interact.

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