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Great Green tower of China

Rising high through the polluted air of Guangzhou City in southern China is a 71-storey tower block which, according to its designers, will be the most energy-efficient in the world.

Among a host of features designed either to make or save energy, the one that caught my eye was the shape of the Pearl River Tower itself.

It is built in a curve, facing the prevailing winds. And it has been deliberately sculpted to increase the speed of that wind and force it through slots in the building where wind turbines will be located.

Now, on many buildings, wind turbines are a waste of space because there's so much turbulence in cities. I heard an apocryphal story about a Japanese firm that installed a turbine which needed electric power to keep it turning to save the face of its would-be-green owners.


HOW THE TOWER SAVES ENERGY

High temperature fuel cells complement the sustainable systems
The outer skin controls glare and includes a photovoltaic system for energy
Wind turbines generate power which can be fed to mechanical equipment
The design incorporates a "high performance" building envelope
An air displacement system relies on raised floors
Cooling tower water passes through embedded tubes in the building
But the American architects of this tower - SOM - insist that their experiments in a wind tunnel show this building will generate economically viable wind power.

The vertical axis turbines will be located in the mechanical floors mandated by the Chinese government as emergency muster floors, so no usable office space will be lost.

SOM claims that by thinking carefully about the use of space combined with energy-saving and energy-generating technology, they have been able to make unprecedented gains, so this building will potentially create as much energy as it uses.

They are by no means the only architects to espouse the principle of integrated design, of course. But some observers believe that too many buildings are still being put up with a few bolt-on green features, without proper thought as to what could be achieved through a more considered approach.

Take the cooling system in the tower. Most of the time, air conditioning is done by fat air ducts which gobble both energy and space between floors and ceilings. Here the cooling is done by a cool water system.

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