Take note, record-keepers: There’s a new tallest on the books. The Cayan Tower, the tallest twisting tower in the world, opened in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates this week. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the 1,010-foot-tall tower twists a full 90 degrees from its base to its apex. The 75-story building holds 495 luxury apartments.
"One of the things that interests me in terms of design is sculptural form,” says SOM design director Ross Wimer, FAIA. “We’re really developing forms for buildings that are complex and dynamic. That is an emerging trend in tall buildings—buildings that you can mold in a more flexible way.”
But designing a 1,000-foot-tall twisting tower is no small feat—many similarly torqued completed projects cap out at fewer than 50 stories. (Perhaps the most famous example, Santiago Calatrava, Hon. FAIA’s Turning Torso, which was completed in 2005 in Malmö, Sweden, clocks in just over that at 54 floors.) “Typically a tall building wants to be an extrusion, wants to be a Miesian box,” Wimer says. “That is what has made SOM a great firm in the past. But if you can apply the same rigor and the same engineering, that still has sculptural potential.”
The iconic twist of the Cayan Tower—which was previously known as the Infinity Tower but was renamed for developer Cayan Investment & Development—is achieved by rotating each of the hexagonal floor plates around the building’s cylindrical core by just over one degree, totaling the building’s 90-degree twist. The resulting curved skin is, in fact, flat on most surfaces, allowing for repeated, vertical glazing units, except at the corners, which had to be carefully articulated. Inside, the perimeter columns are tilted in relation to the floor plate, but maintain an identical profile, whereas the core and interior columns twist, like the overall structure, as they ascend. Mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems are run through the central core, allowing for a straight path for utilities. This ability to maintain efficiencies across each floor plate allowed the team to create as close to a twisted extrusion as possible; “something that is very efficient, economical, and logical,” Wimer says, and “that has a very beautiful sculptural shape that makes this image on the skyline very memorable.”
Wimer notes that as much as the sculptural result creates an iconic identity for the building, some of the reason for the basis of the design was rooted in practicality. Master plan guidelines required that the tower face Dubai Marina, but twisting the tower allowed for better views out to the Gulf and, as such, better property values for the developer for the units at the top of the building. “For us, the idea came from giving the clients higher value and matching the guidelines set by the municipality,” Wimer says.
But not all of the design influence was so pragmatic. Wimer worked in SOM’s New York office (he is now based in Chicago) during the development of the early schemes for what has since become One World Trade Center. He notes that that early scheme, which also had twisting floor plates, also responded to context, that being, to “fit into the grid of Manhattan in a very specific way.” The experience of working on that project, of “slightly altering each floor” informed his work on Cayan. But now that the project is complete, Wimer also can reflect on the process of seeing the building under construction for so long, and seeing the sculptural form take shape. “My mom is an artist, and I respond to things that are about sculpture,” Wimer says. “As the building was going up over time, and it was just concrete, you could see the one degree shift floor by floor—you could see the movement in it. It’s very unusual to see a building that has that much movement in it, and, to me, that is very exciting.”