Desert buildings that produce more energy than they consume may no longer be the stuff of mirages. Chicago-based Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture recently won a competition to design Masdar Headquarters, a 1.6-million-square-foot, zero-waste, zero-carbon facility that it predicts will generate not only enough power to run itself, but also surplus energy to help fuel buildings surrounding it. Masdar is Abu Dhabi’s multi-billion dollar initiative to further the development and commercialization of sustainable energy. The headquarters building will be the heart of Masdar City, a 2.3-square-mile city masterplanned by Foster + Partners just outside Abu Dhabi.

Masdar Headquarters
Masdar Headquarters

Images courtesy Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture recently won a competition to design Masdar Headquarters, a 1.6-million-square-foot, zero-carbon facility in Abu Dhabi.

Smith and Gill’s design features a sprawling canopy lined with photovoltaics, resting on 11 massive glass hyperboloids. Underneath the canopy, a series of interconnected volumes, topped by green roofs, provide space for offices, retail stores, and residences. The hyperboloids serve as cooling chimneys that exhaust warm air while also creating interior courtyards with water gardens; they are sculpted to bring diffuse daylight into the facility and prevent the glare of direct sunlight.

The design even aims to reduce energy consumption during construction. “It was designed so that the canopy, photovoltaic roof, and cooling tower structures could all go in first and shade the workers while the they’re building the rest of it,” says Smith, noting that they will use energy from the photovoltaics for construction. “Our philosophy is to really understand the way that buildings are made,” adds Gill. “We’re looking closely at the construction process, and anything that we can do from a sustainable standpoint to help that process, we’ll work into the concept and design of the building.”

Radically green, the facility is loaded with many other energy-saving and energy-producing features. For exterior walls, Smith and Gill have developed their own patent-pending glazing system to keep the building’s interior cool. The facility also will be equipped with wind turbines, air quality sensors, and a thermal-driven cooling and dehumidification system. In addition to energy savings, the project aims to use 70 percent less water than a conventional mixed-use facility of the same size.

Abu Dhabi has already broken ground on Masdar City, and Smith describes a construction start for Masdar Headquarters as “imminent.” No budget has yet been set for the project, but the scheduled completion date is late 2010.

Smith spent nearly four decades at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) before founding his firm in 2006 with Gill and Robert Forest. Smith was a lead designer of the Burj Dubai, which will be the world’s tallest skyscraper once it is completed. Gill formerly was an associate partner at SOM and a director of design for VOA Associates.