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Architecture Should Provide Real Benefits for the Society by Optimising the Use of its Resources

By: Alejandro Stochetti, CannonDesign

Could you Please Tell our Readers about your Firm Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill and your Practice?

AS+GG (Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill) Architecture was founded in 2006 with the goal to create designs that aid society, advance technology, sustain and enhance the environment and inspire those around us. As design professionals, we strive to create intelligent, high-performance, forward looking designs that exhibit timeless and enduring qualities. We prize innovation and experimentation.

We are not limited by known solutions utilizing our experience and knowledge to move forward and develop new methods and technologies. Clients count with our support in the realization of their visions, while delivering the highest standard of design in the international practice of architecture.

In order to support our goals, we collaborate with the world’s leading experts: scientists, artists, sociologists, philosophers and thinkers. We strive to expand our perspective and generate new discoveries and insights into the world of design. During their years at SOM and before founding AS+GG Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill, designed many remarkable buildings, including Burj Khalifa and Pearl River tower in China among many others.

After working with them at SOM in many of such buildings, I joined them at the start of Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill. We grew fast and we were soon working in amazing projects such as Masdar Headquarters in Abu Dhabi, 1 Dubai and Jeddah tower just to mention a few. Our teams use state-of-the-art physical and digital tools to inform the creation, test and present designs that have been very positively transforming their context.

What Inspired you to Become an Architect?

I grew up imagining and building things. I could not stand quiet and always wanted to create objects to add to our garden, my room, and my family rooms. To me, imagining and building was the preferred part of the day in between classes.

My home town in Argentina was also fairly humble. We had to re-use, recycle and find new ways of extending the reach of our resources. Energy, water and even food were resources that we had to take care and use very efficiently.

From the very early years of my architectural education and professional life, I combined both, my interest in creating new experiences, new spaces or enhancing the environment with the need to take care of resources. Environmental considerations were not common those days in education or media, however they were present in my everyday life and they helped in forming my approach to the design process.

Overall, architecture is a discipline where we can imagine “better places”, “better objects”, great experiences and put our energy and knowledge to materialize them for everybody to enjoy. The satisfaction of seeing others enjoy our “imagined spaces” as they use them is immense. I still happily remember the great calls from my first client Nora when she would tell me that the room that I added to their house was the center of the family life.

Birthdays, homework, lunches and dinners had moved to a central room full of light and plants (a glass roof) that was supposed to be the extension of their garage. Going beyond what we are being asked to do, surpass our client expectations is another good goal and practice. We can always do better.

Burj Vista UAE : A Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill Architecture Burj Vista, UAE – A Residential and Retail Complex with Two Towers Placed Along the Boulevard in Front of Burj Khalifa

What are the Current Technological Trends in Façade and Fenestration Industry in the Middle East?

We have been working in the Middle East for a long time. I personally started when I was working with Adrian Smith at SOM in Burj Khalifa. Then at Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill (AS+GG), among many other projects, we did Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia.

In both iconic towers, we could see the evolution of the façades. From their typical enclosure function and architectural expression to the more complex function as a platform for communication. As seen in Burj Khalifa the exterior walls added a feature that currently adds to the experience of the overall site.

Other cities around the world have been incorporating buildings with such function and technology for a while. The Middle East is becoming a champion on that front now too. The one consideration I have been very interested in, and I don’t know if it is a trend – is to make façades richer in materiality. And, this should respond to how these façades work, how they respond to their context. When we did Burj Vista in front of Burj Khalifa, we focused on the benefits of reducing vision glass to the areas where it was needed, in particular, to respond to views towards the Burj Khalifa.

Radiation and view studies provided us with the information to shape the building, the façades and define materials for every distinct part of the enclosure. This resulted in what we call the “language of performance”, where buildings are not just built with one façade, but every part of the enclosure is serving its distinct function maximising user experience, reducing energy use and impact on the environment.

The most important technological advancement would probably be coming from the advancement of artificial intelligence and its impact on the design process, the detailing of our built environment and the development of customized materials serving specific parts of a building. The understanding of the use of spaces – public and private, the way we use materials, detailing and the nature of the materials we specify, clearly be better informed by the revolutionary development of artificial intelligence and deep learning.

Such discipline has been impacting a wide variety of professions and industries during the recent years but has not shown its full impact in architecture or the construction industry. The deeper scientifically based understanding of every aspect affected by or being affected by our design discipline could significantly and positively impact the quality of our work and how it affects our environment.

What are the Major Challenges Faced by the Architects in the Middle East? How do you Cope up with these Challenges?

Expo Hotel Kazakhstan
The View of the Expo Hotel’s Atrium Space. A clear Cable Wall Masimises Daylight and Views to Entrance the Experience of the Hotel Atrium Space

The Middle East has matured as a market since the early days of my work in the region. One of the positive impacts of such maturity is that the proposals now tend to be more aligned with what developers or leaders are really intending to do, or believe they can deliver. Some overambitious projects of the past seemed to be screaming for attention. Architecture should provide real benefits for society optimizing the use its resources.

On the other hand, when a market is fairly established, it does not seem to need to challenge the standards. The standards seem to work well enough in a mature environment. This might sometimes challenge the feasibility of proposals that go beyond the norm but can positively add to the overall story of the city or the region. Just imagine how much more difficult for Dubai would be to do a new Burj Khalifa today in the current developed market.

However, even mature markets can find the need or the desire to develop untapped opportunities. Such was the case for Dubai competing, wining and currently building the Expo Dubai 2020 project. Through such an ambitious project, Dubai is calling for the world audience to appreciate its capacity to deliver a world-class event.

Such events and all projects associated with them, are particularly challenging due to the fixed nature of their delivery dates and the extent of the resources needed to accomplish such visions. We have experienced such fast track unmovable schedules in our Expo Astana project and are going through the same process in this amazing project in Dubai.

Tell us About the Current Technologies in the Façade and fenestration Technologies and Market in the Region.

We have been very pleasantly surprised with the level of sophistication achieved by local companies working with GRP and GRC. GRC in particular, has achieved a level of sophistication with form and finishes that are both technically advanced and architecturally pleasing.

in Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill, we have also worked with companies that count with 3D concrete printing technology, one such company called “CONCREATIVE” from Dubai, and other state-of- the-art materials that are looking for projects to test their advancements. It is good to know that in some cases the industry is ahead of the ability of most projects to use their state-of-the-art technologies.

On the other hand, we are still having issues procuring larger than typical glass panels at a competitive price. We know that these panels are internationally available but for cost control issues some of our projects had to procure only form local market where larger than typical panels seem to be not feasible at a competitive price.

How do you go About Choosing the Material of Façade?

Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill Architecture
The South Atrium of the Kazakhstan Pavilion Sphere

In our design process, “form follows performance” the expression of the buildings and their resulting spaces can be appreciated as the language of performance. With that in mind, every part of the façade should be conceived with the best possible material to respond to the local specific need. Daylighting, views, natural ventilation, protection from direct solar radiation, thermal control, etc. are all taken into account when considering the nature of the material to be used.

However, it is important to note that we are not only looking for materials. We are “developing” systems to achieve the stated goals. When considering the enclosure, “a system” to perform at the highest level, adjacencies, detailing, accessibility and maintenance considerations among others need to be taken into account. Furthermore, we, fortunately, live and practice in an era that benefits from the potential of “modelling” and testing our “imagined” spaces and façades before building them.

Consequently, modelling, analysing and comparing options or iterations of façades systems and materials is of imminent significance. We should not just use a material or a system in different contexts or environments without going through the process of understanding how they perform. During the design process, we would often test and change materials and systems as the projects advanced at the different stages. The earlier adjustments can be done for the better overall performance of the building.

This is also true during the review and construction process. Fabricators might have better options by the time construction starts. Otherwise, they might try to value engineer the developed system. In both cases, what happens at the review and construction phase is very critical and should not be taken for granted.

No matter how diligent the work a professional has been in designing the best system if his/her work is altered in a way that would negatively affect its performance. Clients should understand the importance of maintaining the main designers involved in the process all the way to the completion of the project. No one would be so interested and care about the design integrity as the group responsible for developing and testing the concept. Of course, apart from the client.

What are the Key Factors to Consider while Designing and Installing Fenestration?

As mentioned before, a façade is part of the overall building system that needs to perform holistically. The principles and goals that guide the design and detailing process need to be executed and materialized by the time the fenestration is installed. There are lot of forces that might impact this final stage – the installation.

Global or local market forces, technical and professional capabilities of fabricator/installer, project cost management, project schedule, lead time, etc. When any of these items can clearly create a limiting factor, for instance – lack of access to a certain material – and this is known during the design process time, it is important for owners or managers to make this clear to the design team early on. The lack of critical information in the early stages of development can lead to significant waste of time and ultimately to an unfeasible design solution.

Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill : The Congress Center The Congress Center Located Towards the North West Side of the Expo District Along the Cultural Axis

For instance, for the competition for Jeddah Tower, many years ago, it was clearly noted that competitors would obtain additional points for a scheme that was understood as feasible – not too complex to build to build. We used our experience in our first “tallest” building, learnt from that process and delivered a scheme with that goal in mind. Knowing the limitations and the objectives early on is a key factor in the delivery of a successful project.

What One Piece of Advice would you give to Young and Upcoming Professionals?

Be always open and willing to learn. At no moment, we should feel that we know enough. Not after doing one great building, not after you did 10. There is always room to learn, to improve, and to advance the profession. Great ideas are based on serving society, inspiring the community and protecting the environment. Great leaders are attracted to such ideas because they enhance the development of their countries improve their countries and move them forward in a sustainable way.

We are responsible for the resources that our buildings consume to be built and to be used. Technologies improve and change, our buildings will stay in place for a very long time. Our buildings should allow scientific and technological advancements to be implemented over time. In doing so, our buildings would “age” efficiently and will adapt to new demanding needs. Understand and use the best and most innovative technologies but do not design to showcase any one of them.

The prime goal of our profession is to imagine and help build a better place for humans and for nature to thrive. From small objects to large new cities, our legacy needs to show how we have succeeded in doing so. Do not stop short of doing your best to serve that goal.

Read More :

Expo Hotel, Astana, Kazakhstan |  Energy Hall, Kazakhstan
The National Congress Hall     | Kazakhstan Pavilion Sphere

Alejandro Stochetti, CannonDesign

Senior Vice president

Ar. Alejandro Stochetti, AIA, is building an impressive body of international work in all scales and typologies. Alejandro has been a design leader in a wide variety of projects, from the mega-tall Jeddah Tower to Astana Expo 2017 and Al Wasl Plaza in the heart of Expo 2020 Dubai. His built projects include residential, commercial, and cultural typologies. He has lectured, written and published internationally on topics that include “Form Follows Performance”, “The Challenges of a Supertall Building” and many others. Before joining CannonDesign, Alejandro was Director of Design at AS+GG, and Senior Designer at Skidmore Owings & Merrill, where he was involved with many other projects, including the design of Burj Khalifa. His experience includes work in the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and North and South America.

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