Behind the Scenes of OMA’s Latest Tower with Sustainability Consultant Arpan Bakshi

Essence Financial Building. Image ©

Last month, we reported on OMA’s latest competition winner: the Essence Financial Building, a building that OMA Partner David Gianotten described as “a new generation of office tower” for the city of Shenzhen, . To talk us through the building’s cutting edge sustainable features, we spoke with Arpan Bakshi, an architect, engineer, and Sustainability Manager at YR&G, OMA’s sustainability consultants, who led the environmental design for the project.

Learn more about the Essence Financial Building, OMA’s collaborative approach, and Bakshi’s views on the future of sustainable design – for both China and the world – after the break…

Arpan Bakshi, the sustainability manager for OMA’s Essence Financial Building. Image via Arpan Bakshi.

AD: How was the experience of working with OMA on the Essence Financial Building (EFB)?

Working with OMA is exceptionally collaborative, and there is never a napkin sketch. The design is a product of a cerebral and often exhaustive process of research and experimentation. In my first project with OMA three years ago, a multi-use development in Jilin, China, I expected to receive some formal studies following the project kick-off meeting. Instead, I was given a 59 page document with research about trends in population, culture, economic development, urbanscales, land use, and program, among other topics. No one preemptively arrived at a solution without investigating the context. I have also observed [that] the lines dividing roles between OMA and their consultants are blurred to create an open working environment towards identifying relevant design drivers across disciplines. This is an ideal working relationship.

AD: The EFB hopes to spearhead a new, contemporary office tower typology for Shenzhen – where does sustainability fit into that typology?

Unlike the contemporary office tower, which provides only a visual connection to the outdoors, occupants on every floor of the EFB have the ability to open a set of doors and walk outside ofthe building to occupy an open air space shaded by an unglazed and open structural grid. What you cannot see from the renderings is that EFB is really a building within a building. The architectural enclosure is separated into multiple planes to meet modern considerations of energy, useful daylight, comfort and biophilia without the use of additional materials often found in the application of external shading devices. This is accomplished by pulling the structural assembly outside and away from the glazing plane. The structure no longer occupies interior floor space and serves the dual purpose of protecting conditioned spaces from the Shenzhen climate.

Plans for OMA’s Essence Financial Building. Image courtesy of OMA

AD: The facade of the EFB is supposedly “designed with reference to Shenzhen’s climate and urban context.” Can you explain how the facade does this?

We started the project with an assessment of environmental resources. We studied both the natural and the urban environment to understand how historical climate conditions intersect with the impact of neighboring buildings. For example, there is a variation in the EFB façade module size and depth, both horizontally and vertically. This was informed by the study of the interactive relationship between the movement of the sun, the city layout, outdoor temperatures and indoor activity which determine the experience inside the building. Balancing these considerations affects the size of mechanical equipment and the energy it consumes.

AD: One of the defining qualities of the EFB is its core, which is shifted to the edge of the floor plate, and its unique volumes; what are the environmental implications of these structural shifts?

The shifted core supports occupant health and wellness through active design, a growing focus in sustainability. The removal of a central core encourages mobility across the floor plate and between floors through voids cut into the massing to form a series of open atria.

The core of OMA’s Essence Financial Building. Image courtesy of OMA

AD: In what ways are you attempting to “adapt the design process to be informed by data and analysis in the earliest pre-design and proposal phase studies”?

We use design technology and analytical methods to understand the leverage points of a project, its personality. In pre-design, this is done using little information such as site location and climate, program requirements and common typological assumptions. By integrating analysis into the design process, we can develop a range of physical and material parameters to inform massing and spatial studies. Having that knowledge from the beginning reduces uncertainties and construction costs.

AD: Can you elaborate on what “points of conflict [led] to opportunities for innovation” during the design of the EFB?

Innovation is creating an elegant solution to meet competing and often contradictory forces in design. If you are looking directly at the sun, are you enjoying the view? If shades are drawn, is daylighting effective? If you are feeling cold from supply air and hot from window solar at the same time, are you comfortable? These are the types of considerations which gave shape to the way the boundaries of conditioned spaces were articulated in EFB.

Plans for OMA’s Essence Financial Building. Image courtesy of OMA

AD: Considering the speed in which the world, and particularly China, is developing, do you find it difficult to achieve your environmental agenda, when often familiar, unsustainable practices are quicker/easier to implement?

Sustainability is the only way China can continue to grow. It provides a framework for using resources effectively. As we have seen throughout history, there comes a time when it costs more to ignore an environmental situation than it does to address it. During our own industrial revolution, the strain on livability reached a point of saturation. This is when the clean-up started to happen, as it will in China and other rapidly industrializing nations.

AD: How important is sustainable design today for Chinese developers?

Businesses in China equate a sustainable building with a quality building. Project proposals clearly state goals like ‘ecologically-friendly’, ‘comfortable’ and ‘efficient’. This indicates a demand on developers for sustainable design from their tenants.

Rendering for OMA’s Essence Financial Building. Image courtesy of OMA
Rendering for OMA’s Essence Financial Building. Image courtesy of OMA

AD: What does sustainable design mean today? How can design tackle the many issues facing the world today?

Sustainable design today means working at the intersection of people and technology. For instance, technology helps us analyze complex design scenarios and operate building systems with precision. But technology only responds to inputs from the people who operate it. Understanding and informing human behavior, and coupling that with technological innovation can bring about massive change upstream.

AD: What concerns do you think will become more important in the future? Is architecture, as it exists now, equipped to respond to these challenges?

Today’s architecture is shaped primarily by the physical growth of urban areas as a result of rural migration. Urbanization will continue to be both a challenge and an opportunity. Buildings in the future will not only be efficient, they will be versatile. Professionals are equipped with the necessary design tools, but architecture doesn’t exist in a vacuum; finance and politics add complexity to implementing new ideas. Sustainability will inevitably have to shift from prevention to adaptability, as meteorological events become increasingly volatile.

Models for OMA’s Essence Financial Building.  Image courtesy of OMA
Cite: Quirk, Vanessa. "Behind the Scenes of OMA’s Latest Tower with Sustainability Consultant Arpan Bakshi" 06 Mar 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 24 Oct 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=339487>
  • Max

    Yes….but it is not beautiful

    • APT

      Actually, it is not beautiful at all..

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  • common

    This is why i love OMA..there is ‘no napkin sketch’..no eureka moment..all design outcomes are a result of ‘exhaustive research and experimentation’.Every single idea put forward is broken down,critiqued and analyzed.There are 160 model iterations in the last image.

  • John Olie

    Having so much (appreciated) in-depth research done, I doubt if this image is the right end result….

  • Harry Wolf

    “Unlike the contemporary office tower, which provides only a visual connection to the outdoors, occupants on every floor of the EFB have the ability to open a set of doors and walk outside ofthe building to occupy an open air space shaded by an unglazed and open structural grid…..This is accomplished by pulling the structural assembly outside and away from the glazing plane. ”

    In the days before hipspeak this was called a shaded balcony.

  • Julian Sutherland

    The core location seems counterintuitive for a low energy and sustainable building. Moving the core to one side creates a deep plan floor plate with no daylight from one side. Central cores create a shallow plan format with excellent daylight to all workplaces. This provides a high quality working environment and achives one of the most significant energy savings you can get for office buildings. Can you explain how you compensated for this compromise?

    • Hang

      This city is located in the hot climate area, which mean the priority goal is to reduce cooling consumption in day time. By moving the concrete core to the west, which is a big thermal mass, the west sunset is blocked and the thermal mass can slowly release the heat during night. It think it is good approach in this context.

  • Ervun Schömer

    Just not a good way to go. Now really flex at the plans. Enormous last of energy around the faces. ommon building system with a lot of annoucements.

  • Ben Haugen

    This looks like a very intuitive approach for a low energy and sustainable building. The east and west spaces have always been an issue with central core buildings because when the sun is there, it is glarey, and the rest of the day the sun is on the south. Looks like you’re able to put the working spaces on the north and south where you’re getting a lot of consistent daylight, and using the east and west for service functions like restrooms, conference rooms, etc. I also like how the removal of a central core lets you bring daylight into the office from multiple building faces. In a central core, you only are daylighting one side of the building at a time, throughout the day.

  • Jon Baker

    I’m impressed by OMA’s focus on the end user in a design world which is obsessed with creating buildings for postcards, not buildings for people. What they have done here is pushing and pulling just enough pieces to make the experience better, but not going overboard with curvy shapes and volumes that are unusable.

  • Chuck Nigell

    It’s refreshing to see this side of the design story. They covered all their bases on the issues in designing a high performance building. Really inspiring.

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