Interview with Adrian Smith from Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

Adrian Smith Founder and Chief architect of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture
Автор фото: Кеворк Тутунджян

Adrian Smith, the Chief Architect of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, widely acclaimed by his distinguished design of supertall buildings. During a specially organized video conference with representatives of SMART BUILDING, LLC and the editorial team of the Tall Buildings magazine spoke about the features of the project and how was the Akhmat Tower’s image born.

- Mr. Smith, you have a vast experience of designing skyscrapers, including the tallest building in the world - Burj Khalifa for Dubai. What were the tasks set by the developers of Akhmat Tower project?
- When we started working on the project for the SMART BUILDING company, a task was set before us - to design a building that would become a symbol of the Chechen Republic and gave a new impetus to the development of the Grozny city. The preliminary specifications initially provided required that the height of the tower exceeded 400 meters. It means that - Akhmat Tower after the completion of the construction will enter the list of the tallest buildings in Europe. This was the basic idea for its political and economic strategy.

-    Could you tell us how the architectural image of the building originated? How did you come to the idea that the structure should look in this certain way, and not otherwise?
- Design methods that we rely on to create the visual appearance of the building - are primarily studies of the geographical location, climatic conditions, and the local culture. These studies allow us to integrate the project into the space of a certain city and region, perfectly. In the case of the MFC Akhmat Tower, the structure will be much taller than the surrounding buildings. This is the exact reason why, while standing out against the general background, it will become the hallmark of the city and the starting point for further development of the surrounding areas around the complex. The Chechen medieval watchtowers served as the source of inspiration for the building’s design.

- What are your priorities as an architect - technology or design; functionality or comfort?
- The company Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture always considers the project as a whole, examining each process separately. Considering the numerous stages of design, we do not give preference to any particular stage. There are three basic principles, by which we are guided: firstly, it is the erection of buildings, which shall correspond to their functions; secondly, our philosophy is to anticipate how the structure will look and function throughout 25 or 50 years, that is to dip deep into the future and to consider its entire life cycle.

Durability is a major task, that is why the mega-structures should be well thought out, studied in detail, possess high strength characteristics, and have effective management and operation. In terms of environmental sustainability, it is necessary to use energy-efficient technologies and equipment for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, to make the project highly friendly for the environment. Only such buildings can live up to the expectations invested in them for a long time; Thirdly, every global project is a piece of art, which should not only be designed well but also trigger surprise and delight in people. We wish to bring aesthetic pleasure both, to those who see the building for the first time, and those who see it on a daily basis. It is necessary that it blends harmoniously with the surrounding area and corresponds to local cultural traditions. In my opinion, it is impermissible to misstep in any of these aspects; otherwise, the construction of the building will not be successful.

- What are the effects of the economic dimension on the project implementation?
- Our clients always have a budget within which we must perform works. For a more effective planning of all stages of the construction, it is necessary to initially set the priorities, plan spending targets and allocate funds. This is very important because many buildings never get completed because they were designed without regard to the cost analysis plan. 
For example, high-strength concrete is more expensive than low-strength concrete. However, if you use poor quality materials, the column will be thicker and will hence reduce the floor space index. That's what I mean. Lack of budget is directly proportional to the building efficiency, and there are numerous examples where it had an impact on its aesthetic appearance. As architects, we must consider this when designing.

- What is the difference between the design of the building super tall or just tall building? On what primary should pay attention the architect?
- I think that for most common people it is difficult to answer this question, what is the difference between just tall building and a skyscraper. However, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, CTBUH has defined that: any building with the height over 300 meters is considered a skyscraper. Currently, there are few of such mega-structures few - about 20-30 worldwide. There are of course several distinctive features and aspects that are understandable only to the professional community, pertaining to this field as well. Primarily, any skyscraper engineering design is aimed at ensuring the integrated safety and security of the entire structure; it is not simply stretching of a building. 

Thus, there are some focus points that must remain a priority: fire safety, aerodynamics and seismic resistance of the building. All this is provided by advanced scientific researches, complex technical solutions, and engineering systems. For instance, seemingly simple delivery of water to a height of 400 meters, and transferring it up and down vertically while maintaining a uniform pressure in the pipes requires the use of universal mechanical equipment. However, matters related to pipes diameter enlargement and narrowing, ensuring the temperature mode of the building, ventilation, waste disposal, and many others occur. That is to say, most of the problems are associated with overcoming of gravity, but technological development opens up many innovative features in designing of supertall buildings.

- What were the challenges you encountered during the design process of Akhmat Tower?
- There is a worldwide problem when it comes to the project adaptation conforming to the local regulations, and Russia is no exception. A serious challenge was the application of Russian building codes (SNIPs). We faced this challenge since this project was the first one for us to be built in the Russian Federation. The building codes differ significantly from those used in the US and European countries, most of which consists of international standards as the basis of design.
Russian building codes are rather different in the engineering part, and besides, they are more conservative. This is important because their requirements should be considered, starting from the initial design stage.

You cannot design a building, and then adjust it to the local peculiarities of regulations. For example, according to the Russian building codes, for a high-rise building, there must be a larger site area and its engineering systems should occupy 10-15% more space compared to designing according to international standards. Of course, all this has a great influence on the structural solutions and visual appearance of the building. Therefore, our engineers and we delved into these differences for the complete understanding of the substance of the matter.

- How were the structural stability problems of Akhmat Tower solved, given that the tower is located in a high seismic activity zone?
- When designing the structure, we worked in tense cooperation with the engineering design company Thornton Tomasetti, whose experience allowed us to optimally compensate the effects of wind loads and provide seismic stability of the tower. The desired effect is to be achieved by installing two inertial dampers of resonance oscillations in the upper part of the building and special connections made between the columns and beams that will aide in redistributing the loads. The structure itself resembles a perforated tube, where the loads will be absorbed by the outer walls and transmitted via beams to the central core of the tower. The outer frame also plays a crucial role, considering how the building will deal with the lateral loads and transfer them directly into the ground.

- How are the vibrations occurring due to strong winds suppressed?
- Wind loads on the building emerge as a result of the direct wind currents, and air flows around the building, whose impact on each other increases the speed and generates vortices on different sides of the building. The phenomenon, which we call the vortex, contributes to the horizontal forces that make the building deviate from its vertical axis as if it was pushed. Then it returns to its original position, but the force of inertia does not allow it to stop. Therefore, for some time, the building can fluctuate from side to side.

When simulating Akhmat Tower, we decided to design a series of inclined surfaces that will help suppress the effect of vortices, as the wind flow will just go round the building. Another way to mitigate this effect is to create patterned facades. Akhmat Tower has a ribbed outer wall surface, and the building envelope of this type helps confusing the wind flows, which in turn helps to reduce vortices. Another point to pay attention to - is the building top, which should be as small as possible. We would not like people to feel the altitude, nor have them experience ailments due to vibrations of the building. This is necessary to ensure the comfort of the residents and visitors of buildings with the height of 100 or more floors. It is very important.

- What kind of vertical transport will be provided for elevating people and goods?
- For significant reduction of the building’s core area, there will be modern systems of vertical transportation used. Recently, the manufacturers of lifting equipment have invented flat cables. They are light and increase rated load capacity. Now you can be lifted to a height of 500-600 meters without intermediate transfers. In Akhmat Tower using such a high-speed lift, which starts its motion at the stylobate level, it will be possible to go up nonstop to the observation deck at the top of the tower, while the rest of elevators will operate under the standard scheme with the interchange areas.

- The Akhmat Tower has a very interesting and unusual entrance configuration. What was the background of this idea?
- In the Chechen Republic, people tend to communicate with each other actively and it could be assumed that various social events would be held mainly at the lower levels in accordance with the local culture.
That is why we have considered the possibility of increasing the lobby area to provide a comfortable social interaction.
However, we did not want that the podium looked just like a box, on which the tower stands. We wanted it to become an integral part of the building when the outer wall gradually turns into the base with "roots" that radiate from the center of the building in all directions. This allowed us to focus on the spacious lobby in the office part, to design the entrances to the hotel and residences, as well as the area for passenger pick-up and drop-off, especially tourists that will arrive by bus to visit the observation deck and the museum at the top of the building. Thus, four separate entrances from different sides arranged on two levels will lead into different functional zones of the tower.

- In other words, the building is divided in accordance with four core functions?
- Yes. The entire range of functional zones makes it a kind of "city within a city." Where you can live, work and rest. At the lower levels, there are offices, and above them, there is the hotel, serviced apartments, and residences occupying most of the building. The penthouses are located on the uppermost levels, and higher – there is an observation deck. A truly special place: the Museum and Exhibition Complex named after Akhmat-haji Kadyrov is going to be located at its very top.
From there, visitors will be able to see all the sights and beauty of Chechnya to a distance of about 50 kilometers, and on a clear day, perhaps, even further. This will be an incredible sight! Another interesting fact is that, while on the top of the tower, the visitors will be able to see the elements of its structure, which will remain uncovered.

- What other features of the building could you emphasize?
- It is worth mentioning that in the tower; at different levels, there are 7 technical floors, on which will be a dispatch hall and engineering equipment systems installed, and fire-safety zones will be arranged as well at a distance of eight meters from each other. In the case of a forced evacuation of the building in the event of a fire, people can safely use these areas, since they are closely linked to the staircase landings. Incidentally, this is an important requirement and an exclusive feature of Russian building codes. Apart from that, there will be ecological technologies implemented in the building, such as the use of wind power, rainwater harvesting, and waste recycling.

- As you already mentioned, Akhmat Tower was your first project in Russia. How can you estimate working with the Russian customer - SMART BUILDING company?
- I would say that SMART BUILDING was a prominent customer. The company's employees have demonstrated a high level of organization of the process and an understanding of their tasks at all stages. They expressed their explicit provisions very accurately and clearly at the early stage of the work in terms of the importance of this building for the Chechen Republic and Russia as a whole.
We were given sufficient time to design the building and complete all stages in time, and this greatly facilitated our task. Working negotiations were always carried out according to the schedule, as well as maintaining communication with us, whenever it was necessary. If we had questions, we got answers immediately. Cooperation across this huge project with SMART BUILDING was clearly the best. That is of great importance because, in order to build a mega-scale building, it is only possible with a mutual understanding of matters. We hope that we have created a beautiful world-class building, worthy of admiration and love of those who will use it. It was an invaluable experience, and we look forward to continued cooperation.