Decoding Design

SOM's Al Hamra Firdous, a concrete twist on skyscraper design

SOM's Al Hamra Firdous, a concrete twist on skyscraper design

Posting in Architecture

In Kuwait City, the country's tallest tower stands apart from the world's steel skyscrapers.

Recently completed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the Al Hamra Firdous Tower is Kuwait’s tallest building, and one of the 20 tallest skyscrapers in the world. In an era of supertall buildings, the 412 meter tower (about a quarter of a mile tall) stands out through its form and material.

Instead of a steel framework that traditionally forms skyscrapers, 500,000 tons of concrete went into the construction of the Al Hamra Firdous. The Al Hamra Firdous required all of that concrete to be pumped vertically. Placing the concrete isn't the only impressive structural feat of the project. The outermost corner of Al Hamra's main structural wall spans 150 feet away from the building.

Al Hamra Firdous is the world's only asymmetrical skyscraper. Inspired by the traditional robes of Kuwaitis, the massive concrete wall that wraps 130 degrees around the building and the concrete lattice of buttresses at the ground are meant to suggest Middle Eastern textiles and patterns.

The turning concrete wall, with carefully placed windows and openings, maximizes and directs views and minimizes solar heat gain on the office floors. The deeply set windows also emphasize the mass of the wall.

Because of the building's application of a traditional material to a non traditional building type, Time Magazine named it one of the "50 most inspired ideas, innovations and revolutions” of 2011.

Within its 80 stories, the Al Hamra Firdous houses a major commercial complex of offices and retail.

Even at 412 meters, the Al Hamra Firdous is not SOM's highest skyscraper. The firm is also responsible for the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, currently the world's tallest tower, which at 828 meters is more than twice the height of the Al Hamra Firdous.

Images: courtesy SOM, Pawel Sulima

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Sun Kim

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Sun Joo Kim is an architect and creative consultant based in Boston. Her projects include design and master planning of museums, public institutions, hospitals, and university buildings across the U.S. She holds a degree from Carnegie Mellon University and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure