Man of Many Storeys
City Times caught up with world-famous architect Adrian Smith, creator of the Burj Dubai and other iconic structures worldwide. ADRIAN SMITH has been a practicing architect for over 40 years.
His extraordinary body of work includes some of the world’s most recognisable landmark structures, including the Burj Dubai in the UAE - the tallest structure in the world, Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai, China and Rowes Wharf in Boston, Massachusetts.
Projects under his design direction have won over 90 major awards for design excellence, including 5 international awards, 8 National AIA awards, 22 Chicago AIA awards, and 2 ULI Awards for Excellence. His work has been featured in major museums in the United States, South America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
In a candid interview with City Times, Smith talks about his creative experiments and the challenges that lie ahead.
How does it feel to have been the architect and thus have your name forever attached with the tallest building in the world?
It feels great! The opportunity to design the world’s tallest building is rare: a lot of people talk about developing the next world’s tallest, but only a handful in history have ever actually accomplished it. Designing the world’s tallest comes with quite a few unique design challenges - but it also offers the opportunity to make a strong statement and contribution to the world of architecture and to the city of Dubai and its goals to become a world-class city.
Now that the Burj is close to completion is it all you imagined?
It’s pretty awesome. When I visit, I’m still struck by just how tall it is! I am constantly evaluating it and thinking of what is special and if I would do it the same way if I were to do it all over again, and so far I wouldn’t change a thing!
Who have been your influences in your work and who among your contemporaries do you admire?
I was greatly influenced by Ricardo Legoretta and Luis Barrigon. They taught me about contextualism and the benefits of seeking the qualities of the indigenous characteristics of a place. I was also greatly influenced by my mentor Bruce Graham who I worked under for the first 10 years of my career and who mentored me as a partner at SOM. I admire the work many of my peers are doing today. Sir Norman Foster steadfastly adheres to advancing technology in modern architecture and Renzo Piano has a keen understanding of proportion and culture and is able to define his work through the use of new materials and systems.
Did you ever foresee in your early career that you would have designed so many iconic buildings around the world?
Well I’ve always loved skyscrapers. I’m from Chicago, home of the skyscraper. I remember when I first became aware of the architecture there - I was in awe of the vertical nature of it, the fact that man was “making mountains” out of the plains. So it was something I pursued strongly in my career. When I first started work, I was assigned to work on the John Hancock Centre, a great icon of Chicago by Bruce Graham. I worked on ground floor details but the exhilaration of working on such an important building stuck.
Now that you are famous for creating such immense superstructures and have been for many years, would you ever like to focus on smaller projects?
I’m interested in architecture that can make a significant contribution to a landscape, to a place. Often times that kind of architecture is large-scale, but it doesn’t have to be. We’re working on several smaller scale and low-rise projects in our office right now - although a lot of our projects are high-rises! I strongly believe that every building is important to the development of a quality city and a quality environment. Often, there are opportunities on smaller projects for inclusion of special features that are not feasible on larger projects. Verde, our new residential and office project of ETA Star Properties in the Dubai Maritime Centre has given us an opportunity to include landscaped sky gardens and expansive terraces into the body of these towers in a way that adds a special character to the building and gives its tenants a piece of nature on the 20th floor. Also, both buildings contain sophisticated shading devices and systems that allow the building to be much more transparent and bring more natural light into the building’s interior.
Is there a place in the world where you have not designed a building that you would really like to?
I would like to have a building built in India. We’ve done some work there, but would like to do more. Paris and Scandinavia are special places that I think would be a great challenge and opportunity.
With regards to the environment, you are renowned for your zero-energy structures; do you believe that developers hold this issue in significant regard?
I think more and more, developers understand the significance of sustainability. The Verde Residence and Office projects are a good example of this - we worked with ETA to design both of these towers to work symbiotically with their environments The more projects like this are built, in Dubai and internationally, the more people will begin to understand that, not only is it environmentally responsible to build green, it doesn’t always mean a higher cost. Life-cycle costs of sustainable developments can actually often times be lower than non-sustainable buildings.
Will you use your influence to persuade others to ‘go green?’ How would you do this?
Well hopefully the buildings we’re designing in our office right now will communicate to the public that we think sustainable design is an important issue. A lot of people think that automobiles are largely responsible for polluting the environment - that’s not entirely true. In some areas, buildings contribute up to 40% of carbon emissions.
If some cannot achieve zero-energy for whatever reason, what fundamental change would you like to see in the designing of buildings?
I think someday all buildings will achieve zero energy. Or even positive energy - with positive energy projects, there is the potential to donate energy back to the grid and offset the energy consumption of other structures - which could lead to the creation of zero energy cities. I think there will be a time when people will say “we need more energy - let’s build another building.”
What is the future of construction in Dubai? If it continues at its current rate what can you foresee happening in the next ten years?
I think in ten years the city will have a much more extensive infrastructure and a number of highly sustainable buildings. They will build an extensive urban rapid transit system such as the system in Hong Kong or New York or Chicago. The densities that Dubai advocates will require this because road systems will be inadequate to service the needs of its people. This should be done sooner so that high density can develop around the transit station. Mass transit is also a very energy efficient means of moving people but it should be of the highest quality in order to attract everyone to use it.
What are you working on next and what are your plans for the future? Will you be creating another structure in the Emirates?
We’re working on a number of projects both in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. They are incredibly exciting places to work, and we’ve found that the clients in the Emirates have really embraced our design philosophy - that buildings should be high-performance instruments that respect and enhance the natural environment.
Adrian Smith, the world-famous architect, graced the grand unveiling of ETA Star’s Verde Residences and Offices in Dubai Maritime City (DMC). Verde is a Gold-rated green building, a rating recognised by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) programme. Keeping sustainability in mind, the building will harvest the maximum uses of the natural forces of wind, use natural light and geothermal mass, recyclable construction material along optimum use energy efficient systems and technologies into the design.