Tag Archives: Gordon Gill

Architect Gordon Gill on His Love of Nature, Design and Building Sky-High Towers

While other architects may feel inspired by looking at other buildings, Gordon Gill, an architect in Chicago who specializes in very tall, energy-efficient structures, would rather get his ideas by looking at lakes or trees rather than Chicago’s skyline. The Windy City’s notorious gusts of wind are another inspiration, like for the 72-story Pearl River Tower – due to open within a few months in Guangzhou, China.

As stated in an article by James Hagerty in the Wall Street Journal, “Gill came up with the shape of the Pearl River building early one Saturday morning while sitting in the living room of his family’s apartment, which had a panoramic view of Lake Michigan. He had two ideas for its shape: a catcher’s mitt or a sail, designed to catch wind from many angles; and an elliptical form that would keep the sun from striking the entire facade at any one time, preventing overheating. When he mashed together the two shapes, he came up with his basic form, which resembles a plush, upholstered car seat.”

Rough early sketches for the Pearl River Tower, now being completed in Guangzhou, China.

At a time when companies are realizing the importance of building offices that help preserve or enhance the environment, Gill has become a star in his profession and sought after architect. His Chicago-based firm, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill, is working on trophy assignments in the U.S., Asia and the Middle East. Their biggest project is the planned $1.2 billion Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. At nearly two-thirds of a mile high, the building is expected to be the world’s tallest, surpassing Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, which was designed by Adrian Smith when he was at another firm: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

When it comes to capturing his ideas, Gill typically scribbles into black bound notebooks However, at a construction site in China, he once illustrated a concept for a client by stacking a couple bricks and scratching lines in the mud.

“Ideas need to be seized whenever they erupt. You can’t say, ‘OK, it’s time to design,'” Gill said. “You’ve just got to let it flow.” He says that he works best when he is juggling several projects rather than focusing on only one. “I’d rather have 10 problems in a day than one,” he said. Too much focus on one thing can lead to dead ends: “You may be asking the same question over and over, but the question itself may be wrong.”

Gill is passionate about creating structures that are energy-saving, like for a proposed 40-story hotel and office building in Nashville. Him and his colleagues wanted to maximize the ability of the south facade and roof to catch sunlight on solar panels. The drawings call for a building whose base is a rectangle, but the building will twist as it rises from the ground, turning its south face toward the sunlight and tilting the roof to capture more rays. For a tower in Wuhan, China, Gill’s colleagues used a computer model to run 32,196 iterations of possible shapes to find the best one for energy use, wind control and views. Gill has many ideas. Some of which include connecting a building’s mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems via tubes to office furniture, so that occupants could tweak the cooling, heating or ventilation at their individual workspaces.

Photo: Wall Street Journal

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