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​How Shanghai Constructed The World’s Tallest Wind Tunnel

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The intrigue of tall buildings lies not merely in expansive views from the sidewalk and roof decks, but also in the challenge of the different atmospheric conditions encountered at perilously high elevations. Consider the tales of Willis Tower, where occupants in the upper stories report feelings of wobbliness in the upper floors, a result of Chicago’s gale-force currents coming off of Lake Michigan. Of course, modern-day engineering ensures safety, but the myth of a super-tower being swept away by weather still fascinates us as, increasingly, the stratosphere becomes the final frontier in man versus nature.

Enter the Shanghai Tower, which was conceived as China’s tallest skyscraper (and the second tallest in the world). To battle the city’s extreme gusts of wind, architects and engineers needed to conjure a design that would keep its 128 stories safe and sound. Global architecture firm Gensler took a three-pronged approach to the challenge.

Tapered jeans have been on the fashion scene for a handful of years now, so it was only a matter of time that architects would superimpose narrowing silhouettes and turn the conical shape upside-down. Using Autodesk BIM solutions, the architects designed and modeled a tapered profile with a curved façade and spiraling form representing the dynamic emergence of modern China. Rather than the traditional placement of a ring of supporting columns choking a skyscraper’s circumference, four pairs of super columns were inserted into the Shanghai Tower’s interior.

The result? When a 1:85 scale model was tested in a precision wind tunnel—including internal temperature and air-flow distribution simulation—Gensler and structural engineer Thornton Tomasetti were able to validate iterations of the tower’s form that reduced building wind loads by 24%.

Image via Open Buildings

Bonus: As the super-tower nears completion in 2014, the greater wind resistance has yielded $58 million savings in construction costs, since lighter (and less expensive) materials can be installed up to the tower’s pinnacle 2,073 feet in the sky.

Aerial view inside the Shanghai Tower

This icon of innovation is the sort of cutting-edge architecture that we celebrate with the Architizer A+ Awards. And while gawking at a headline-making super-structure never seems to get old, it’s imperative as architects and architecture aficionados that we understand the particularly innovative software behind these projects.

That’s why we’ve partnered with Autodesk for this spring’s A+ Awards. Autodesk’s reputation as a leading provider of BIM solutions for building projects means that their software is behind so many of the amazing buildings that we’ll be honoring this year.

At Architizer, we aim to make visible the inside stories of today’s most compelling architecture—and Autodesk is a frontrunner in the behind-the-scenes stories of building. By revealing how Autodesk software solutions help make new buildings happen, we’re furthering our approach of making architecture all the more exciting and relevant. We’re stoked to celebrate another year of amazing architecture with architects, Autodesk, and of course, you. Stay tuned.

Images courtesy of Shanghai Tower Construction and Development Co., Ltd. Rendering by Gensler