Skyscraper Design that Casts No Shadow

As urbanization intensifies and the liveable spaces in cities become smaller and smaller, the only option developers have is to build upwards. Each time a building rises higher, the ground below becomes more and more overcast, making for a light-deprived and unhappy populace.

London, for example will become home to a staggering 250 new skyscrapers within the next five years. Pondering this scenario, NBBJ architects in London wondered whether they couldn’t find a way to build skyscrapers that cast smaller shadows. As Wired reports, the firm successfully discovered a building design that cuts a building’s shadow footprint by 60%.

Through the wonders of computer modeling, NBBJ stumbled upon a design which uses a pair of buildings, “one of which works like a gigantic, curved mirror. The glass surface of the northernmost building reflects light down into the shadow cast by its southern partner.” The curvature allows the sun to follow the shadow throughout the day.

“The relationship between the sun and shadow is the relationship between the two buildings,” says Christian Coop, NBBJ’s design director. This reflected light will be baffled and diffused, unlike the concentrated “walkie scorchie” beams cast by 20 Fenchurch Street that torment passersby and are powerful enough to fry an egg.

NBBJ, one of Fast Company’s 10 most innovative architectural firms, used the powerful Rhinoceros modeling program to come up with this design. Coop’s team plugged the footprints for offices and living space into the program and then told it to maximize the amount of light reflected onto the ground. The software analyzes each shape and then generates a series of preferred options. “Some are bonkers,” admits Coop, whose team adjusted the requirements for living space on the lower levels to arrive at the current design.

The design calls for buildings that are narrower on the lower level but widen and curve out as the stories rise higher. The design, which the firm has proposed for the Greenwich Peninsular site, reduces the shadow between the buildings by 60%, which will allow for a bright, green space between the buildings where city residents can congregate.

According to Coop, NBBJ’s ultimate design goal is “improving the quality of our urban environment… finding a way in which we can have the tall buildings we need without losing natural light on the areas below. The design ensures that the area between the towers is bright and pleasant, so is more likely to be used as a public space.” NBBJ’s design innovation might even be useful in cities like New York and Chicago, which have resisted building more skyscrapers for fear that they would severely overshadow Central Park.

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