Shanghai Tower: A ‘thermos flask’ to the sky

Shanghai Tower: A ‘thermos flask’ to the sky

The architect of the next addition to the city skyline, the Shanghai Tower, talks about how the new design will not only change the face of the city, but also how skyscrapers are built

The Pudong side of the Shanghai skyline is getting crowded: first there was the Pearl Tower, then came the Jin Mao and, more recently, the Shanghai World Financial Center, which offers views from its observation deck of the top of the once famously tall Jin Mao.

Developers think there’s room for one more as they plan to add the Shanghai Tower to the sky-scraping skyline in Lujiazui, the city’s financial hub. 

With a height of 632 meters with 124 stories and a capacity to accommodate around 16,000 people on a daily basis, the Shanghai Tower, which is set to finish in 2014, will overshadow Shanghai and China’s current engineering marvels (including Taipei 101) to be China’s tallest building and the second-tallest building in the world after the Burj Dubai.

Not only adding height to the city’s list of accolades, the Shanghai Tower will be an example of modern, sustainable architecture and design -- with a futuristic look that reflects the sustainable building technology that the tower’s designer, U.S. architect Marshall Strabala, recently detailed to Urbanatomy in an extensive interview.

Shanghai towerWorld Financial Center (left), Jin Mao Tower (middle) and the soon-to-be-built Shanghai Tower (right).In the interview, Strabala calls the building a “thermos flask” due to its design, twisting skyward at 120 degrees with a "double-skin facade system," used to deflect heat in the summer and insulate in the winter -- similar to how a thermos regulates the temperature of the contents inside. 

“Did you have a thermos flask as a kid? That’s exactly what the double skin does,” explains Strabala in the interview. “Insulation is the number one environmentally sustainable thing in the world. If I can put a coat on in the winter, I don’t have to turn on the heat. If I can take my shirt off and wear a T-shirt at home, I don’t have to turn it down so much. So if I have that ability to move that temperature around like I put a coat on or take a coat off, I can create a more sustainable building. The trouble is it costs a lot of money to do that.”

If it’s money he needs, that is one thing Shanghai can do, considering it put RMB 20 billion into the Pudong Airport pre-Expo.

Not stopping at insulating and cooling itself, the building will produce much of its own energy. Taking advantage of its height, Shanghai Tower will have vertical-axis wind turbines on top of the building, which Strabala describes as a “wind farm.”

“At this height I can get a lot of energy from wind turbines. If I put them down further, they would be disrupted by all the surrounding buildings, but at this height I’m free and clear. We can probably generate close to 350,000 kWh per year.”

Shanghai Tower has already been awarded a Gold pre-registration certificate by the U.S. Green Building Council, whose environmental standards are applied worldwide notes Urbanatomy.

Once finished, the Shanghai Tower will complete the Shanghai government’s master plan, which started 20 years ago, to have a set of three “super-buildings” in Lujiazui to define the city’s Pudong skyline, an update to the historic Bund skyline in Puxi.

“We always called it ‘the three brothers,’” says Strabala to the magazine. “You had the building of the past, the building of the present, the building of the future. The Jin Mao is China of the past, the famous steel pagoda, it references history. The SWFC is the building of the present, that is, the China that accepts foreign investment. Shanghai Tower is a building of the future, a very dynamic form.”

Strabala has now opened an office in Shanghai, 2Define Architecture.

It is unlikely, Urbnantomy writes, that we will see taller than this in Shanghai in our lifetime -- that is, we guess, until the local government sets its eye on developing another area of the city, then all bets are off.


A borough-bred Manhattanite, editor and writer Jessica Beaton lived in Shanghai for five years and has now moved to Hong Kong.

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