The Building Technology community is buzzing with conjecture about the new Pearl River Tower in Guangzhou, China. The question on our industry’s collective mind is: can a skyscraper pushing almost 1000 feet generate more energy than it consumes? To succeed, the designers must employ every sustainable technique in the book to build the planet’s most energy efficient skyscraper.
Designed by Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill (SOM), the Pearl River Tower is planned to contain 71 stories, enclose 2.3 million square feet, and stand 994 feet tall. Slated for occupancy in late 2009, the Pearl River Tower will serve as corporate headquarters for the China National Tobacco Corporation. It is being billed as a zero-energy structure; a building that generates as much energy through renewable means as it consumes. Adding to this challenge is the Tower’s geography. Situated 100 miles northwest of Hong Kong in Guangzhou, a city of 6.6 million, the Pearl River Tower is situated in China’s subtropical region. The hot, humid climate provides a particularly challenging set of conditions in which to build a zero-energy structure.
To achieve their zero-energy goal, the designers conceived a compelling multi-faceted design philosophy: “Reduction, Reclamation, Absorption, and Generation”. The building uses cutting-edge technologies like radiant slabs, geothermal heat sinks, and integrated photovoltaics, but the true beauty is how synergies between the various technologies are employed to enhance efficiency.
The centerpiece of this systems-based design is the Pearl River Tower’s sculpted façade. In addition to being architecturally striking, the building’s shape directs wind into turbines integrated into the energy generation system. SOM estimates that 15 times more electricity will be generated through this integrated structure than via stand-alone generators. Additionally, the passage of wind through the turbines mitigates pressure differentials across the building’s exterior faces, reducing the structural material required to reinforce it. To review additional sustainable techniques employed in the Pearl River Tower, check out “SOM Wins Design Competition for Sustainable Skyscraper in China” at http://www.skyscrapercity.com/ .
Despite its revolutionary design, the Tower’s potential to achieve zero-energy operation remains uncertain. For example, in their article, “China’s Ultra-Green Pearl River Tower”, Business Week interviewed Silas Chiow, director of China business development at SOM. Chiow said “I would be surprised if the Pearl River Tower was a 100% zero-energy building upon completion, because that would be 10 times the cost of a normal building that size.”
Whether it achieves zero-energy operation of not, the Pearl River Tower represents an extraordinary first step for renewable building technology in China, a country seeking to reinvent itself as a modern industrial powerhouse. For more on China’s renewable energy evolution, see my post “China’s Position on Global Warming”.