7 jan 10 | Lake Forester

Sky-high: Lake Forest's Adrian Smith designs world's tallest building in Dubai

by Linda Blaser

He stands 5-feet-11 -- considered average height for a man -- but there's nothing average about Adrian Smith's work.

The Lake Forester ranks among a handful of worldwide architects of supertall buildings, and he now has a new success to add to his resume: Burj Dubai -- the world's tallest building that opened Jan. 4 to worldwide acclaim.

At 2,684 feet, the Dubai Tower in the United Arab Emirates is the tallest manmade structure ever built.

Lead design partner at the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill at the time, Smith took his inspiration for the steel-clad spiraling structure from nature.

"The philosophy behind the design was to make it an organic structure in content, one that felt like it was growing out of the ground rather than a building that flew onto the site," the 66-year-old Lake Forest resident said.

Its Middle Eastern setting played an important design role.
"The smooth, undulating surfaces of the desert sands" and pointed arches indigenous to Islamic architecture "helped form the building," Smith said.

'Spiraling geometry'

Setbacks on a three-legged base continue as the structure ascends "to give a spiraling geometry" that can best be seen at a distance. "What it does is give the building a different silhouette depending on where you're looking from and it gives the building an asymmetrical silhouette," Smith said.

Avoiding wind vortices on the sides of the building was the biggest challenge to the design.

"It's a matter of how you design the building to keep the swirling winds from organizing and creating forces on the building," Smith said. The arid desert location of the building necessitated other firsts in supertall architecture.

It's probably one of the first buildings to have condensation collection system that actually collects non salt water to fill 25 Olympic-size swimming pools in the building and for irrigation of the landscape," said Smith. "That's pretty important in that region.
Concrete was pumped higher on Burj Dubai than on any other building.

"This is the first time concrete was pumped 600 meters vertically. The previous record was in the neighborhood of 450 meters," Smith said.

The extreme heat -- 130 degrees at times -- complicated the process.

"We actually put ice in the concrete to keep it cool enough so that it would cure without flaking or falling," said Smith.

Clad in stainless steel, the building also has high performance windows "to minimize the amount of heat that comes through the glass," Smith said.

The stainless steel exterior lent an unexpected result to the soaring structure.

Smith said he expected the silver exterior to "take on the character of the environment. If it was a gray day, it would be gray. If a blue day, it would be blue."

At sunrise, Burj Dubai looks very silver; at sunset, gold.

'Almost a halo'

"It is very close to what I thought it would be, very close to what I designed. The only thing that was a surprise to me was the way the stainless steel reflect the light," Smith said. At times, Burj Dubai "has a glow, almost a halo to it," Smith said.

To Smith the premiere landmark he designed for the region has met his expectations.

"There are not disappointments to it," Smith said. "It is what we designed."

Next year, when a tower he designed in China is complete, Smith will have four of the top 10 tallest buildings in the world.

On Sunday, Smith will learn if he has a shot at outdoing his own record. Smith and his firm Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture of Chicago are in competition for a new world's tallest building in Saudi Arabia.

That building, he said, "would be taller than Burj by 100 meters."