Gordon Gill Lecture

This past week, I attended Gordon Gill’s lecture about his firm’s work. He shows a rare concern for an architectural project’s overall life cycle and environmental impact. Although his firm, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill is only five years old, it employs over a hundred and the partners bring a portfolio of highly notable SOM works, such as the Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest building.

The presentation’s signature project was the Masdar Headquarters, the symbolic center of this near-mythical zero impact city being built in Abu Dhabi. The vernacular form of the desert solar chimney, passively drawing cool air to flush out warm air, has been extrapolated to skyscraper scale in size and material, combining to create eleven “village” oases. These chimneys all join at the high roof plane that contains the photovoltaic panels and create a sunshade. The building will comply with Estidama and all of Masdar’s very challenging criteria. While the project goal was for a zero energy building, computational fluid dynamics helped the building design reduce conventional energy use by 80%; with enough solar power then generated to make the building actually generate net energy.

Mr. Gill emphasized the teamwork necessary to create buildings that are this challenging. Teams must be multidisplinary and be established early. Along these lines were the proposed designs for greening the Willis (Sears) Tower and the core of Chicago, the firm’s home city. The diversity of buildings provides the ability for them to supplement and complement each other. A fine example of this is the calculation that the amount of energy that can be saved in retrofitting the 1976 Sears Tower will be greater than the amount of energy that the new adjacent hotel will utilize. The projects all showed a keen understanding of their environmental impact, notably energy. Metrics, including carbon, occupant patterns and energy use were amply displayed, with the presentation ending with a plea for a standardized carbon metric.

Many of Mr. Gill’s firm’s values are dear to us. We are working on a net-zero building and believe in the value of metering, building performance and integrated design. For example, through our work on the Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes we have been able to impact design decisions based on metric data of occupant and carbon usage. Without such data, the living building would be near impossible, and this assures that our work is not only carbon neutral but translates into an impactful experience for occupants.

The lecture was part of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Architecture Lecture Series. The lectures this year look great and we are excited to see the rest!

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