A glimpse on Burj2020: Bigger, better

A glimpse on Burj2020: Bigger, betterImage Credit: Supplied

Burj2020, the conceptual masterplan unveiled at last month's Cityscape Global, will not compete with the Burj Khalifa as the world's tallest tower in the world, but will be taller than the rest of the UAE's super-tall towers.

Built as part of Dubai Multi Commodities Centre's (DMCC) Burj2020 District, a mixed-use complex, Burj2020 could rise more than 700m, around 100m shorter than the 828m Burj Khalifa. In comparison, the second-tallest tower in the UAE, Marina 101 in Dubai Marina, rises to 426.5m, or nearly half the height of the Burj Khalifa and around 300m shorter than the Burj2020. But as its engineers point out, Burj2020 will have a much more imposing presence in the skyline.

''At its highest it might go at 700m plus. We're looking at a super-tall tower,'' says Ahmed Bin Sulayem, Executive Chairman of DMCC, which already owns one of the Middle East's tallest office towers, Almas Tower at 360m in Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT).

''The demand that we will be registering will dictate how high this tower is. We are also looking at having one of the world's highest viewing decks.''

Gautam Sashittal, CEO of DMCC, calls the project a vertical city as he points to a pent-up demand to justify the development of such a structure. ''We have over 11,000 licensed companies from all parts of the world. We're growing at 170 companies every single month. We have a captive demand that will feed into this development. That's the reason that we are expanding capacity.''

Set to be integrated with the DMCC Free Zone in JLT, the Burj2020 District will comprise towers for residential, retail and commercial use. At over one million sq m, the Burj2020 District's built-up area will be about one-third of the existing JLT area.

In addition to commercial space, a retail offering totalling over 100,000 sq m will serve the free zone, JLT and surrounding areas.

The architects of the project, Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill of AS+GG Architecture, have celebrity status in the region and indeed the world of tall buildings, having worked on the design of Burj Khalifa while at Skidmore Owings + Merrill. The firm has designed Saudi Arabia's Kingdom Tower, which would be at least 1km high and would be the world's tallest upon completion in 2019. Earlier in this career, Smith was the architect for Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai, China, which at 420m was the tallest building in the country until 2007.

With the architect of the world's tallest tower on the team, comparisons with Burj Khalifa are inevitable. ''We cannot really say whether it is going to be the tallest or not,'' says Adrian Smith. ''When you talk about the Burj versus this, for example, the surface area of this building is going to be most likely larger than the Burj. This has more presence in the skyline because of its massiveness.''

Gill calls the Burj2020 the ''gateway to South Dubai, [where] the next generation of growth is happening''.


While the team is not overly concerned about the final height of the building, there are many specifics at play. ''We don't want to quantify it yet in the press because it's still is fluctuating. Part of the reason for the Cityscape preview of the projects was to gauge the interest in super-tall tower for the clients to be able to understand whether they can make investment,'' says Gill.

''It's not just a matter of designing a super-tall tower, it's a matter of how you pay for that tower. The larger master plan of the mixed-use centre also needs to be considered. All of these things come into play.

''We're trying to hit the sweet spot where every system is optimised. The elevator system can be optimized and you might be able to add a floor or two to each bank. Or you might have a situation where if you get a high-density tenant or series of tenants, you may actually have to reduce the number of floors in that elevator bank or add an elevator to make it functional at its optimum. You don't want to have hundreds of people in the lobby waiting to get into the elevator in the morning because it is not adequate.''

Smith says the project, unlike the Burj Khalifa, is almost all office. So it takes a stronger and more robust form. ''The volumes on each floor have to be defined by its lease-span [the distance between the exterior wall and the core] and its depth from the exterior wall,'' he says. ''The volume of the building is much more symmetrical and square.''

So Burj2020, compared to Burj Khalifa, is not designed with reducing floor space as it rises. Instead it has a focus on optimum use. ''In climates like Dubai it's advantageous to have a fairly large floor plate where you have between 10-15 feet distance between the floor and the exterior wall,'' says Smith.

''It allows you to organize your work stations efficiently, where you can fit more people in that space without an encumbrance. It's ideal to have a building where all of the space around the floor is column free. This building will have that. All these allow for a high-occupancy ratio per square footage that's good for tenants.

''The efficiency of the building really impacts the cost and the format that the developer has to work with. When efficiency is low, it becomes more expensive and you are culling out the number of people who can actually use it.''

Usability is clearly part of the tower's brief where many other tall structures, especially vanity projects, sacrifice utility in favour of height. The Empire State Building, for instance, the tallest in the world for nearly 40 years after its completion in 1931, was famously known as the ''empty state building''. Ronald A. Reis, in his book about the building, says, ''By 1936, much of the Empire State Building was, indeed, the Empty State Building. There was no elevator service from the 45th to the 80th floor. With two exceptions, the building was completely empty of tenants from the 41st floor up. The management decided to keep the lights burning on the upper floors to prevent the tower from looking as if it was floating.''

Gill notes that ''this is an often overlooked characteristic of projects of this scale''.


New technology not available only a few years ago would allow the Burj2020 to have a much higher observation deck. ''When we were doing Burj Khalifa, which we started in 2003 and finished in 2010, the elevator systems had a limit. They could only get up to about 450m at the time,'' says Smith. ''So, one of the reasons that the Burj Khalifa has its observation deck at the 123rd and 12th floors is because we could not get a single run any higher because of the size of the machinery and the size of the cable. The cable of steel running 450m is a lot of weight that the machine has to work with.''

On the Kingdom Tower, AS + GG worked with elevator company Kone, which has introduced Ultrarope, a material composed of carbon-fibre with friction-proof coating. It's seven times lighter than steel cables and can support lifts up to 1km in height.

''The new cable is less heavy and flat. When you roll it up it takes much less space. Now we can take those elevators to about 600m,'' says Smith. ''So we are talking about going higher to the top floor with a single run of the elevator. That is going to make it much more interesting for people going to the observation deck. It is going to give them a quicker trip, of course, with your body's reaction to speed being factored in.''

Reaching unprecedented heights has been a thing of joy for the architect as he describes going up the Burj Khalifa for the first time. ''I will never forget when I went up to 600m or the 160th floor on the Burj,'' says Smith. ''I could not believe that I was looking at buildings which were 70 or 80 storeys and they looked like midgets. Sometimes when you are up there you see the shadow of the tower over the clouds. That's pretty unique.''

Where do I live

The architecture is also impacted by the location of the building, not only in terms of culture but also climate. ''As much as we are interested in the things we see physically, like context and culture, we are also interested in things that you don't see,'' says Gill. ''There is a whole invisible world around us that we react to. And we don't even realize it. Take a moment and just watch where people walk. In this climate you'll see that people immediately walk in the shadow line and walk on the edge of the shadow line — which is where the sun is and the sun is not. Here shade is to you what sun is to us [in Chicago].''

Calling it designing from inside, the architects share insights of design living and working spaces in Dubai. ''Today, most clients or tenants are asking for a fantastic floor-to-ceiling experience in terms of view,'' says Gill. ''At the same time we observe that because most people work on laptops and iPhones and computer terminals, when you walk into most offices that have floor-to-ceiling glass, all the shades are pulled. That is because there is a discrepancy between the inside quality of light and exterior quality of light. Pupils dilate when they turn outside and look at the screen and back and forth. So they pull the shades.

''Your residential unit could be self-shaded and protected so the glass is not really hot. And if you have a balcony or a terrace that is shaded, you can walk out and also not subject yourself to the bouncing light coming off from the floor into your living or dining room.''

Architects are therefore also responsible for controlling the temperature inside an office. ''The number one complaint in office buildings is that it is hot against the wall or cold against the floor or vice versa in our climate,'' says Smith. ''We balance the quality of environment that we can create so you don't have these kinds of complaints.''

Culturally speaking, the design of Burj2020 mimics movements of nature in Dubai, be it palm trees or dunes, says Smith. Of course, the design is faceted, with obvious connections to diamonds as the shining star of commodities.

Burj Khalifa, despite its modernistic architecture, is rooted in the design sensibilities of the region. Citing an example of many, Smith says, ''I studied Islamic architecture and relevant buildings in Islamic culture. In some there are these enclosures with a series of pointed arches. If you look at the Burj you'll see that every lay of that building has that form in it. The same pattern of geometry manifests in different ways and as it goes up it gets smaller and smaller.''

Similarly, Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai, despite its towering height, evokes the sense of a pagoda. ''Everything in that building was divisible by eight or had components of eight, which the Chinese said was a very lucky number,'' says Smith. ''So every module in that building is 800mm. The total number of floors is 88, which is double lucky. And it's an eight-sided core. So there is another matrix in use that is not responding to a physical performance, but to a mental performance.''

It changes you

Much as the building needs to belong to the city, and the city starts to be defined by it. ''Cultures change. You adjust your expectation and perception of a culture based on the architecture because it is what makes the place,'' says Gill. ''It's the only thing that does that other than nature or the landscape.''

Check out the Opera District which is ready to embrace the world

Source: Shalini Seth, Special to Property WeeklyPW


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