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Uncommon Core: A Proposed Skyscraper Rethinks Tower Design

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Skyscraper technology is constantly racing to keep up with new designs and the needs of developers, and few places have seen and spurred on as much change as China. A new proposal for a city in the Pearl River Delta designed by PLP Architecture, a theater and arts complex bracketed by two towers, offers a new take on skyscraper design that meets a commercial request by breaking with tradition.

No matter the city or profile, towers tend to share a similar layout: a central core ringed by residential or commercial space. The Nexus Building, part of this new proposal, offers a slightly askew take on floorplates and function. By stacking then pivoting the rectangular floors of the 124-story tower, which are arrayed like pages around the spine of a book, the architects can avoid the standard central core design, since a tripod-like shape formed by the massing of different floors provides support. With support provided by a pivot point, the interior space remains open, free from bulky columns and supports.

"Our point of departure was to find a new typology for super high-rises that didn't rely on a central core," says Andrei Martin, a partner at PLP.

The Nexus Building, which would be topped with a hotel, would provide commercial tenants (PLP isn't at liberty to discuss the client or specific city) large floorplates with open views of the city. Each of the three sections of the tower would be aligned to view different parts of the surrounding landscape, including the city, park, and mountains. A supertall arranged as a stack of open, slab-like floors would fail due to the lateral load. The tripod configuration allows for a floor plan that commercial tenants seem to prefer, while still maintaining structural integrity. The atypical shape, along with terraced, sawtooth-style windows and rotating metal shades that protect the west side of the building, help reduce solar gain.

Each level boasts floor heights of 15 feet clear, and the way the building is massed— large blocks of floors are shifted so they cantilever over the site—gives tenants the ability to change layouts. The far edges of each floor might contain breakout rooms and meeting spaces to take advantage of the view. Since there aren't columns running between workspaces, dividers can be removed between floors, offering big tenants the ability to create atriums within larger blocks of space.

"It offers broad, floor-to-floor space," says founding partner David Leventhal. "The design is very open and offers a real connection to nature and the outdoors."

PLP also designed the tower with a more community-minded environment in mind. The elevators workers use to reach their offices are set up like a metro system, with express cars taking riders to the central floors where different masses intersect, which offer links to local elevators. At these points in the plan, the blueprint calls for startup spaces and urban gardens, which would take advantage of the ledges formed by the building's unorthodox shape.

The Nexus would form the centerpiece for a larger development, including a smaller building, the Lizhi Park Tower, the Platform for Contemporary Arts, consisting of a series of theaters, and the Concourse, a retail corridor connecting all three. While it's still in the preliminary phases—buildings won't be finished until 2020 at the earliest—there's a lot to consider with this proposal, including a different slant on supertalls.

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