High-tech Architecture: Can you name the architects of these buildings?
Can you guess who designed the eight skyscrapers known to be examples of high-tech architecture or Structural Expressionism?
November 16, 2020
Written by Patrick Kasingsing
Images from Wikimedia Commons
In this edition of Name the Architect, we are looking at famous examples of high-tech architecture or Structural Expressionism, where structural elements of a building are kept visible or made part of the façade or form. Can you guess who designed the eight skyscrapers that flaunt their technological DNA?
1 John Hancock Tower
This Chicago landmark was the world’s tallest building outside of New York in 1968, topping out at 344 meters. It is a well-known example of high-tech architecture, seen in its iconic X-braced façade which is an integral element of the building’s tubular system developed by our Colombian architect and Bangladeshi engineer tandem. The system enables the tower to stay upright despite heavy winds and earthquakes, with the X-bracing allowing for column-free floor plans. A pair of antenna masts installed on top of the tower completes its distinctive form and brings its total height to 459 meters.
2 Willis Tower
Our next entry is also a Chicago landmark, having the distinction of being the world’s tallest tower for 25 years before it was eclipsed by the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1998. Masterminded in 1969 by Sears, Roebuck & Co., then the world’s largest retailer, to consolidate its operations in a single building, the architect-engineer duo from this distinguished American firm came up with the bundled tube system that gave the tower its monolithic appearance. This system divided the tower into nine ‘tubes,’ which are basically separate buildings laid out in a 3×3 grid. This enabled the creation of one of the world’s largest office spaces, with a total floor area of 416,000 square meters distributed within 108 floors aboveground at an economical cost. The bundled tube system proved to be effective that it was used by many supertalls including the Burj Khalifa, currently the world’s tallest building.
3 Bank of China Tower
Another Hong Kong landmark whose geometric profile is an easily recognizable part of the skyline, the Bank of China Tower was for a time Hong Kong and Asia’s tallest tower at 315 meters (367.4-meter high to the tip of its twin masts) when it was completed in 1989 until it was overtaken by the neighboring Central Plaza tower. Designed by our Chinese-American Pritzker laureate, whose oeuvre includes the Suzhou Museum and the JFK Library, its structural expressionist form reminds one of bamboo shoots, Chinese symbols of growth, and prosperity. The building’s sharp profile and motif of triangles and X’s made it a subject of controversy after its completion, as the sharp edges and shapes were considered bad feng shui and a source of negative energy. This prompted neighboring bank tower HSBC to build cement cannons pointed in the direction of the Bank of China Tower to balance the negative energy said to be emanating from it.
4 HSBC Building
The fourth building in its historic address (HSBC has had three headquarter buildings on the same site since 1865), the present HSBC Building in Hong Kong was built from 1978 to 1985, when it was considered the world’s most expensive building upon completion, costing roughly $668 million dollars. The cost, however, led to the construction and development of one of the most technologically advanced and eco-friendly buildings of its time. Designed by our British Pritzker laureate, the HSBC Building is composed of five steel modules constructed in Glasgow and shipped to Hong Kong. Most of its different components and elements had to be prefabricated offsite to ensure an on-time finish, with steel parts from the UK, glass, cladding, and flooring from the US, and the service modules done in Japan. Another special characteristic of the building is its lack of internal supports, enabling the maximization of floor space. To conserve energy, sunlight is a major source of lighting, and seawater is used as a coolant instead of freshwater for the building’s airconditioning system. A façade of exposed steel trusses and columns has made the HSBC Building a memorable fixture in the Hong Kong city skyline.
5 Torre Agbar
You’ll be forgiven for thinking that this tower is a virtual clone of London’s ‘Gherkin,’ but the Torre Agbar is more than a copy. Inspired by the form of a geyser’s spout out at sea, the French Pritzker laureate responsible for the design paid homage to icons of Catalan culture and Barcelona—the tower was designed to have optimal views of the Sagrada Familia and the Montserrat mountains, the latter of which is home to Catalonia’s patron saint, Our Lady of Montserrat. The building is sheathed by a glass and metal façade with 4,500 window openings, painted in varying hues and opacities that give the building skin its unique mosaic-like façade. Temperature sensors outside the tower control the opening and closing of window blinds, helping lessen energy use. The third tallest tower in the city at 144 meters, Torre Agbar is a memorable fixture in the Barcelona skyline and has become one of its most-visited tourist attractions.
6 Leadenhall Building
A recent addition to London’s off-kilter skyline is the 225-meter Leadenhall Building—affectionately called the Cheese Grater by Londoners—designed by this renowned British firm headed by a Pritzker Laureate responsible for the Madrid Barajas Airport. Like its high-tech architecture neighbor, the Lloyd’s Building, the Leadenhall Building bares its structure and innards with pride, from its steel bracings to elevator shafts and motors that make up part of its façade. Unlike a conventional skyscraper which makes use of a concrete core for stability, a steel megaframe holds up the Leadenhall, an innovation developed by Arup. The skyscraper also features a 30m high atrium which is open to public use.
7 Lloyd’s Building
Nicknamed the ‘Inside-Out’ Building for literally looking a building with its innards bared on its façade, Lloyd’s Building is a distinctive London landmark that drew attention to itself not through its height (topping out at only 88 meters) but by its sheer presence. Stairs, lift shafts, ducts, and other building elements are relocated to the exterior to ensure maximization of floor space inside. Completed in 1986, this building is essentially six separate towers, three connected by a shared rectangular space. This formed a 60-meter-high atrium at the building’s core called the ‘Underwriting Room’ lit by a glass ceiling. All of its floors are modular in nature in that partitions can be added and removed to accommodate the user’s needs. The radical design and features of the Lloyd’s Building have led to its inclusion in the English Heritage in 2011, protecting it from demolition or alteration without special permission. The British architect responsible for this high-tech architecture is one-third of the trio who designed the groundbreaking Centre Pompidou and was also responsible for the city’s Millennium Dome.
8 30 St. Mary Axe
Built on the site of a destroyed historic building, the ‘Gherkin,’ as the 30 St. Mary Axe building is called by Londoners, had a lot to live up to. Designed by our British Pritzker laureate of Apple Campus fame, the 30 St. Mary Axe was commissioned to be the London headquarters of Swiss reinsurance company SwissRe. Standing 180m above the streets with 41 floors, its unusual shape turned it into a celebrated local landmark that can be seen 32km away from the M11 motorway. The SwissRe packs technological and eco-friendly features that allow it to cut its energy consumption to half as compared to buildings of a similar size. Floor shafts that promulgate a double glazing effect ensure the tower stays cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Because of the tower’s many virtues, it garnered the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize in 2004, its year of completion, garnering unanimous praise from the jury.