Wednesday, October 10, 2012


“I have always regarded the desert as the greatest lesson in construction,” Wright wrote. “Form following function if you like - or form and function being one. The saguaro is the greatest example of a skyscraper that was ever built.”
Derek Fell, The Gardens of Frank Lloyd Wright, Frances Lincoln Limited, London, 2009, page 74 -

Foster’s Swiss Re HQ tower in London and Nouvel’s Torre Agbar tower in Barcelona tower come to mind. Perhaps Foster’s building should be called ‘cactus’ instead of ‘gherkin’? It is interesting that, in spite of Wright's intuitive understanding of organic structure, his schemes for skyscrapers were angular rather than cactus-like.

 Sagauro cactus

 Jean Nouvel's Torre Agbar tower, Barcelona

 Sir Norman Foster's Swiss Re HQ, London

So what was the inspiration?
According to Jean Nouvel, the shape of the Torre Agbar was inspired by Montserrat, a mountain near Barcelona, and by the shape of a geyser rising into the air. The Agbar Group, a holding company, has interests that include the Barcelona water company Aigües de Barcelona.   Wikipedia

Foster's building seems to have more 'rational' origins:
The building uses energy-saving methods which allow it to use half the power a similar tower would typically consume. Gaps in each floor create six shafts that serve as a natural ventilation system for the entire building even though required firebreaks on every sixth floor interrupt the "chimney." The shafts create a giant double glazing effect; air is sandwiched between two layers of glazing and insulates the office space inside.
The shafts pull warm air out of the building during the summer and warm the building in the winter using passive solar heating.The shafts also allow sunlight to pass through the building, making the work environment more pleasing, and keeping the lighting costs down.
The primary methods for controlling wind-excited sways are to increase the stiffness, or increase damping with tuned/active mass dampers. To a design by Arup, its fully triangulated perimeter structure makes the building sufficiently stiff without any extra reinforcements. Wikipedia

Still, one might presume that the form and function of the saguaro cactus might have provided some latent logic in the making of these buildings.

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