oct 08 | Metropolis

Innovation from the innovators


By Peter Hall, Paul Makovsky and Martin C. Pedersen

Metropolis asked some of the world's most forward-thinking architectural and engineering firms to name their newest green products and systems. Their responses provide a snapshot of state-of-the-art green building.

As the LEED ratings system grows and more stringent codes are implemented (such as the California Green Building Standards Code), a new generation of innovative building products and technologies has emerged. Today's green architecture must address increasingly complex systems in a sustainable and socially responsible fashion. With energy costs rising, developers and architects need to maximize a building's potential in ways that call for even smarter solutions. Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture's design for Masdar Headquarters, in the United Arab Emirates, for example, has wind towers that support a large roof canopy and also ventilate the building, creating a comfortable microclimate. And firms like Arup and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill are partnering with manufacturers and suppliers to develop new technologies and applications such as microturbines, prefabricated flooring systems, and the next generation of photovoltaics. We asked 11 leaders in sustainable building to identify an innovative building product, technology, or application that they used in a recent project. We think their responses--which range from an office space entirely lit by LEDs to a "green screen" that helps reduce temperatures by as much as 20F -- will inspire anyone to see the long-term benefits of innovative building. --Paul Makovsky

FIRM: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture
LOCATION: United Arab Emirates
INNOVATION: Wind towers

Planned as part of the world's first car-free, no-waste, zero-carbon city, the 1.45-million-square-foot Masdar Headquarters is being designed as a positive-energy building, with solar power providing an estimated 103 per-cent of energy use. The central feature of the design, by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, is a staggered arrangement of 11 wind towers that ventilate the building, support a canopy roof bearing an array of photovoltaics, and create large garden courtyards in their wide bases at ground level. Inspired by traditional Islamic architecture, the towers are bell-shaped to maximize their cooling function: winds entering at ground level will spiral up the cone, drawing cool air belowground.

Warm air is exhausted through the open tops of the towers, which are chamfered to limit direct sunlight and minimize hot desert winds. (Temperatures in Masdar, which is close to Abu Dhabi, can reach 115F.) Cool night winds from the Persian Gulf will be drawn in via facade panels, which will be closed off during sandstorms. A research team evaluated the environmental impact of the design options; its work can be seen in the use of recycled steel rather than concrete for the structure (cement requires heat-intensive manufacturing) and a construction schedule that builds the wind towers and roof first so that the rooftop photovoltaics can provide enough power to finish the rest of the building.

The project is scheduled to be completed in 2010.