november 17, 2006
  Perforated Facade Defines New Dubai Tower
Unique exoskeleton combines style and sustainable function

by Russell Boniface
Associate Editor

Summary: O-14 (pronounced “oh-14”), a striking 300,000-square-foot, 22-story commercial tower in the Business Bay district in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), is scheduled to break ground next month. O-14 features a unique 16-inch-thick concrete façade perforated by 1,000 circular openings. The façade is against a window wall enclosure. A one-meter space between the facade and the glass surface creates a chimney effect to allow hot air to rise for passive cooling. The perforations provide light, air, and views while the facade acts as a sunscreen. O-14 was a collaboration between New York City-based Reiser + Umemoto, RUR Architecture PC, and Dubai Properties developer Shahab Lutfi.

Innovative design in Dubai—oh my
O-14 is a creative design that is part of a burgeoning architectural development plan of commercial towers in Dubai’s Business Bay district, a 64-million-square-foot “city within a city” that will serve as the new emirate business district. O-14 will be located along the extension of Dubai Creek, occupying a prominent location on the growing waterfront esplanade. Perched on a two-story podium, 0-14 is named for its site designation. Ironically, the unique perforations in the tower’s façade resemble “Os” upon first glance. A closer look shows that the openings more closely resemble oval or diamond shapes. Nevertheless, the O-like façade of multi-shaped openings will likely inspire architecture gazers to gasp with an appreciative “oh my.”

An experimental design by Reiser + Umemoto RUR, Architecture, the O-perforated shell was wholeheartedly embraced by Shahab Lutfi, Business Development Manager of Dubai Properties, who encouraged Reiser + Umemoto RUR Architecture to be innovative.

Jesse Reiser, AIA, principal of Reiser + Umemoto RUR, Architecture and lead architect of O-14, says O-14 began with a competition last year held by Dubai Properties and led by Lufti, who then commissioned Reiser to design the new tower. “The plan was originally mixed-use, but the market changed, so it became an office tower,” explains Reiser. “The tower evolved from a large tower of complex curves and curtain wall, all prohibitively expensive, into a window wall where there would be glazing from slab to slab. Since Mr. Lutfi wanted column-free space, we moved to the idea of just a core that works with gravity and an exoskeleton that takes the lateral forces. It is a very efficient structure that, in its simplest form, is a concrete diagrid with openings that modulate via four different scales ranging from 2.5 to 6.5 meters. This generated benefits because the concrete façade could work as a sunscreen in such a hot climate.”

The chimney effect
The space between the perforated façade and the window wall enclosure creates a chimney effect where hot air rises and draws cooling air along the glass surface. This contributes to the cooling-system efficiency for O-14, thus reducing energy consumption and costs. Reiser points out that mitigating the use of air conditioning for O-14 was a fortuitous byproduct of the design.

“In the development we realized we could generate a chimney effect, so we worked toward it,” says Reiser. “Essentially, there are slabs attached to the shell through little tabs or tongues. Even though the shell stands free of the slabs, the voids between those tongues allow an open zone to the ground, so that allows for that chimney effect. Reiser notes that passive cooling will ease the work of Dubai’s district cooling system, which is often overstressed by the extreme heat.

Dubai development echoes that of America’s past
0-14’s attractive design has led to it being completely sold, mainly to local clients. Says Reiser, “Lutfi told me that had he known how popular the building would be, he would have acquired another site. It is quite successful.”

Reiser describes the development and construction pace in Dubai’s Business Bay, with its commercial towers and hotels as astounding.

“There are no more sites. I was there last August and at that point there were just flags marking the sites, but when we went back in late winter, 75 percent of the groundwork was complete and the creek was filled with water. It is a great opportunity for architects. I compare Dubai’s development to the United States of the 19th century. Dubai developers are raring to go, opportunistic, and willing to try things.”

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Did you know ...
Reiser says that it is reported to be 140 degrees F at the bottom of a Dubai excavation pit!