Archive for March 8th, 2011

March 8, 2011

Tokyo Sky Tree passes the 600m mark on its way to becoming the second tallest freestanding structure in the world


Nikken Sekkei’s chainmail-style broadcasting, restaurant and observation tower in Sumida, Tokyo is hot on the heels of theCanton Tower (610m) on its journey to becoming the second tallest freestanding structure in the world. Now measuring an incredible 601m in height, the Tokyo Sky Tree (formerly known as the New Tokyo Tower) may soar above its neighbours in Japan but resides firmly in the shadow of SOM’s highly regarded Burj Khalifa (828m).

Construction commenced in July 2008 and the completed structure currently due to open in spring 2012. In October 2009, the projected height of the Tokyo Sky Tower was increased from 610m to 634m in order to make it the highest self-supporting steel tower in the world. The slender silhouette was inspired by historical Japanese architecture formed of Sori(concave curves) and Mukuri (convex curves), with a triangular base gradually transforming into a cylindrical spire.

Light plays an important part in the concept for the project, overseen by President of Sirius Lighting Office, Hirohito Totsune. Before construction had begun, shafts of light where projected into the site to illustrate the planned height of the tower as seen in the visuals to the left. On completion, two differing styles of light display will illuminate the steel structure on alternating days, as developer TOBU RAILWAY CO explains: “The operations are called Iki, the manly spirit held be the urbane commoners of Edo, and Miyabi, one of the traditional Japanese aesthetic ideals meaning elegance.

“The lighting is designed to enhance the beauty of the tower by integrating together the parts that are illuminated and the parts that are not. Beauty and energy conservation coexist in the design as a result of the advanced lighting technology.”

Although the building may incorporate various elements of state-of-the-art technology as a broadcasting facility, the concept design is firmly based in traditional ideals. The colour of the Tokyo Sky Tree is a base of white with the slightest hint of indigo dye, an original hue base on the traditional Japanese shade aijiro. It is thought this colour will give the building a ‘subtle lustre’ as the seasons change whilst ‘reflecting the sentiment of the old town’.


March 8, 2011

The John Hancock Center | Bruce Graham

The John Hancock Center is “gutsy, masculine, and industrial; reflecting the tradition of Chicago, where structure is of the essence.” – Bruce Graham, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill

Location: Chicago, USA
Completion: 1969
Height: 344 m (1128 ft)
Height to tip: 457 m (1499 ft)
Stories: 100
Area: 260,126 sq m (1,214,530 sq ft)
Primary Use: Residential/Office
Owner/Developer: Jerry Wolman Associates
Architect: Skidmore Owings & Merrill
Structural Engineer: Skidmore Owings & Merrill
Contractor: Tishman Construction

Over forty years after completion, the John Hancock Center has established itself as one of the world’s most recognized skyscrapers and an iconic example of late 20th century Chicago design, construction and engineering. The building’s structural, programmatic and architectural innovations combine to create a design which has become a symbol of the city in which it exists.


Chicago 1969: the bustling city of over 3.3 million (nearly 700,000 larger than today’s city) celebrated the completion of the world’s second tallest building, the John Hancock Center. At 344 meters in height, the building also became the world’s second supertall (300 meter +) skyscraper to be completed (the first being New York’s 1931 Empire State Building). Historic not only in height, but also in the realms of tall building design, structural engineering, construction and architecture, the John Hancock Center is now one of the world’s most well-known tall buildings, and an integral piece of the Chicago skyline.

When builder/developer Jerry Wolman approached Chicago’s Skidmore, Owings and Merrill about the tower project, he had already obtained a site for the building. Located on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, along the “Magnificent Mile,” the area was, in the 1960’s, primarily populated by upscale residences and boutiques. Wolman, however, believed the neighborhood could support a mixed-use tower containing commercial, office, and residential components. The SOM team, led by Bruce Graham and Fazlur Khan, proposed two potential tower schemes: a two-tower design consisting of separate office and residential buildings, and a single-tower, mixed-use option.

Figure 1. The Center’s facade

The single-tower scheme was advantageous in that it occupied a smaller portion of the site, allowing 60% of the block to be left open, and also encroached less upon the views of surrounding buildings. The site’s open area was designed as a simple urban plaza, something of an anomaly in Chicago’s dense downtown environment. Additionally, while the single-tower scheme’s significantly greater height would challenge designers, it would also allow the developer to advertise the project using the impressive slogan of “world’s highest residences.” Thus, the single-tower scheme was favored by both Wolman and the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, and was chosen to be developed and constructed.
As one of the world’s first mixed-use tall building projects, the John Hancock Center design was influential in its programmatic organization. The complex programmatic design placed commercial space on a sub-level concourse and the first five levels. This was followed by levels of parking, office, residential, and finally dining, observation, and broadcasting facilities.

The most difficult task for the designers of the John Hancock Center was the development of an acceptable structural system. While conventional structural methods available at the time could have technically achieved the desired 100-story tower, the high costs and low space-efficiency of such systems at significant heights were highly undesirable. Structural engineer Fazlur Khan therefore chose to employ a non-conventional structural system which combined a diagonal bracing and exterior column system to create a “trussed” or “bundled tube” structure. This system had been successfully implemented by Khan in Chicago’s DeWitt-Chestnut Apartments, but needed to be further advanced and developed to accommodate the John Hancock Center’s 100-story structure. The bundled tube system developed proved to significantly reduce steel usage while simultaneously increasing floor plan efficiency. The diagonal truss organization is clearly expressed in the façade, creating the building’s distinctive structural “X’s” on all four elevations.Due to soil conditions at the location of the Center and its proximity to Lake Michigan, caissons were sunk 190 ft into bedrock.  At the time, these were the deepest caissons employed in any building. At the height of construction, over 2,000 workers were involved in the project and its structure rose at a rate of three floors a day.
The architecture of the Center is informed by its expressive structural system and gentle sloping façades. This innovative form was designed to efficiently accommodate the large number of programs contained in the building. The gentle inward slope creates optimally-sized floor plans for both the lower parking and office levels and the tower’s higher residential floors, with the first level consisting of 47,000 sq ft while the roof is only 17,000 sq ft. Additionally, the tapered form significantly reduces wind loads and therefore allowed for a reduction of structural members. For Chicago’s busy streetscape, the Center’s sloping façades increase the visual verticality of the building; adding perceived height to an already impressively tall tower.

Figure 2. The Center’s tapered section and diminishing floorplans

The Center’s honest structural expression and simple tapering form, combined with its black aluminum cladding and extra-thick, glare-proof, bronze glass windowpanes create an architecture described by designer Bruce Graham as “Gutsy, masculine, and industrial; reflecting the tradition of Chicago, where structure is of the essence.”
Over forty years after completion, the John Hancock Center has established itself as one of the world’s most recognized skyscrapers and an iconic example of late 20th century Chicago design, construction and engineering. The building’s structural, programmatic and architectural innovations combine to create a design which has become a symbol of the city in which it exists.

Figure 3. Chicago Skyline

March 8, 2011

IBM Building | Mies van der Rohe

ibm9 © Jeffery Howe

ibm1 © Bluffton University

ibm3 © Bluffton University

ibm4 © Bluffton University

ibm7 © Bluffton University

ibm8 © J. Crocker

ibm6 © Bluffton University

ibm5 © Bluffton University

ibm2 © Bluffton University

Completed four years after architect Mies van der Rohe‘s passing, the  became one of the cities most prestigious addresses. A pure symbol of the architecture of the time, the almost 700 foot tall rectangle sits on a raised plinth that helps it to maintain a uniform height given the unevenness of the site; State Street to the structure’s west inclines steeply.

As architecture, the , along with many others designed by Mies van der Rohe, becomes synonymous with corporate power. Black anodized aluminum and gray-tinted glass are used together to create a uniform skin that gives the appearance of a single imposing and impressive volume. It’s strength and clarity of form are distinguishable and appreciated along the skyline, a tribute to the lifelong study of structural expression, organizational scale, material simplicity, proportion, and constructive detail.

Positioned on a riverside site, the  is open to views of the lake, and is very striking to passerby crossing over the river. It marks one of the last American buildings done by Mies van der Rohe, and also the tallest of all his buildings at 670 feet. His participation in it’s construction was comprable to that of an  observer, as he was growing older and even passed away a year before the completion of the structure.

In it’s initial context, the  dominated it’s surroundings, including the lower Sun-Times building to the east. This building was torn down and instead sits an under-construction behemoth of Donald Trump, standing 1,100 feet tall which may arguably block many of the views from the .

Recent news about the building has been centered around the conversion of the office building into residential rentals as IBM left for other quarters. This left the building with a new name, 330 North Wabash, and new intentions as a downtown building in . Currently 36% of the building’s space is not in use, and within a few years another 16 floors will empty as a result of the anticipated move of law firm Jenner and Block.

The current plan is to convert floors 3 through 14 into about 275 condos, and continue on with the conversion as more floors become vacant. Although sales prices are around half of those for the high-end Trump units that are right next door, the fact that the IBM is now blocked in by taller structures along the east and west facades may make it more difficult to sell.

Although as it once was, the  has not yet been declared an official landmark, meaning that there still is not legal protection against dramatic or destructive alterations.

Location: , Illinois
Project Year: 1971-1973
References: Werner BlaserJean-Louis Cohen
Photographs: Bluffton UniversityJ. CrockerJeffery Howe